Anna Belfrage

Step inside and steal some moments in another place, another time. Welcome to my world!

Legislating for toleration – an innovative approach

In the 17th century, people were very much defined by their faith. Europe had splintered into a Catholic part and a Protestant part, and being a Catholic in Protestant England was as uncomfortable as it was being a Protestant in Catholic Spain. In both cases, unfortunates could be submitted to gruelling interrogations and torture, as the presumption was that people were more loyal to their faith than to their country.


His Restored Majesty

The Civil War in England added further divides to the issue of religion: being a Protestant was no longer enough, now one had to be the “right” sort of Protestant, which as per the Westminster Assembly in the 1640’s was to be a Presbyterian (the assembly was very influenced by the Scottish Kirk). Not a unanimous opinion, and once Charles II was safely restored, the only right Protestant was an Anglican, while Presbyterians were persecuted. The one thing Presbyterians and Anglicans had in common was their hatred of the Catholics, who ended up at the bottom of the dog pile no matter who was on top.

Not everyone was as narrow-minded as the various church representatives. Some (and I’d include Charles II here, despite the implementation of the Clarendon Code and all the suffering this unleashed on the members of the Scottish Kirk) felt faith was very much a personal issue, not something to be meddled in by the state. And one man decided to do something about all this persecution, sickened by what his co-religionists were subjected to. It helped that the man in question was a peer, filthy rich and endowed with a colony of his own…


Cecil Calvert

Lord Cecilius Calvert was gifted with the colony of Maryland in 1632, this despite the loud protests from neighbouring Virginia. Calvert was a Catholic, and in retrospect it is rather amazing that he was given the colony, but Lord Calvert senior had always been a loyal servant of the crown, and Charles I held no major beef against Catholics – after all, he was married to one. Lord Calvert senior died before the grants came through, and so it was Cecilius who became first proprietor of Maryland.

Now a colony without colonists was not much good to anyone, and Calvert could not hope to populate his new lands only with Catholics. He needed intrepid settlers, no matter faith, and besides he was not all that convinced that there was any major difference between a Protestant and Catholic – after all, both believed in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Calvert therefore decided that in his colony everyone was welcome – as long as they held to one of the Trinitarian faiths.

This was a very novel approach. In Virginia, the powers that were preferred Anglican settlers, even if they received boatloads of deported Presbyterians as indentured workers. In Massachusetts, there was a clear preference for Puritan (Presbyterian) settlers. (To preempt any discussion about Puritans contra Presbyterians, let me just say that both are Calvinist creeds and that the influence of the Scottish Presbyterian Kirk on Puritan beliefs in the 17th century was huge) In fact, the approach was so novel that potential settlers hung back, not entirely sure they believed in this “religious freedom” nonsense.

Large_Broadside_on_the_Maryland_Toleration_ActTo reassure his colonists, Calvert decided to draft a piece of legislation, converting religious freedom into law. This text was named the Act of Toleration and was approved by the Maryland Assembly in 1649. This innovative piece of legislation included some of the first attempts to curtail hate speech, and would in the fullness of time serve as a blueprint for some of the wording in the First Amendment of the American Constitution – but that was yet in the future.

The English Civil War impacted the colonies as well, and Calvert lost control of his precious colony in the early 1650’s. One of the first things the representatives of the Commonwealth did was to repudiate the Act of Toleration in 1654, and the Puritan settlers took this as an invitation to attack their Catholic neighbours, submerging Maryland in religious violence.

Fortunately, Calvert very quickly regained control over his colony, and in 1658 the Act was passed yet again. This time, the Act of Toleration would remain in place until 1692, when in the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution such fripperies as religious freedoms were firmly swept aside, forbidding Catholicism. Not, I fear, a development that made Lord Calvert all that happy, but by then he was safely in his grave, so maybe he didn’t care.

For the hero of The Graham Saga, Maryland beckons as a safe haven. Upon the restoration of Charles II, Matthew Graham finds himself in the very uncomfortable position of being persecuted for his faith and as the pressure increases he takes the decision to leave Scotland behind and find a new home for his family elsewhere. He chooses Maryland.

In the fourth book of the series, A Newfound Land, the Graham family is still struggling to find their feet in this new home of theirs. Settling virgin forest is not exactly easy, but at least they no longer need to fear persecution. And here, in Maryland, Matthew Graham can even dream of a future in which free men rule themselves. It helps, of course, that his time travelling wife Alex has told him this is what will happen – here, in Maryland, where many years later the Treaty of Paris will be signed, thereby formally recognising that a new country has been born – the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Below an excerpt from A Newfound Land in which Matthew tries to explain what the future will bring to his young son. Enjoy!

9781781321355-100dpiJacob had never ridden so far before, and by the time they made their way into Providence, three days after setting out, all he could think of was the sore, chafing skin along the crease of his buttocks and down the insides of his thighs. For three days he’d listened to Mr Leslie and Da while they discussed the latest incidents of burning and pillaging, and he could hear in Da’s voice that he wasn’t happy about leaving his own home unprotected to go and protect elsewhere.
“It’s them that provoke the Indians that should handle it themselves,” Da said at one point. “I’ve had no problems with them; none at all.”
Thomas Leslie agreed, saying that the colonists were in flagrant breach of the treaty lines, and he could understand that the Nanticote and Powhatan settlements were irritated by this encroachment.
“In Virginia in particular,” Mr Leslie said, “it’s not that long ago since Berkeley fought them to submission and signed treaties with them that are now being trampled underfoot.”
“Long enough.” Da smiled. “About the time you and I were fighting for the Commonwealth.”
Jacob listened avidly. Rarely did Da talk about the four years he had served in the Horse, and then mainly to bewail the futility of war or to tell them harshly that war was not about glory and honour; it was about blood and pain and being hungry and cold and wishing desperately to be back home with your mam. Needless to say, none of his sons believed him, and in secret they played out long battle sequences between Roundheads and Royalists, with Ruth and Sarah being roped in to add to the numbers.
“When we were both young men.” Mr Leslie twitched at the ancient buff leather jacket that strained over his middle despite the extra panels in it.
“Did you both serve in the Horse?” Jacob asked.
“Aye, but not in the same regiment.” Da twisted in his saddle towards Mr Leslie. “Did you ever meet him? The Protector?”
“Not as such, no. I saw him at the battle of Naseby, and once I saw him in London. And you?”
Da hitched his shoulders. “Nay, but then why would a man such as Oliver Cromwell notice an eager farmer’s lad with his head and heart full of convictions but nothing much else?”
Mr Leslie smiled. “It was people like that who changed it all – at least for a while. It was all those that burnt with these new ideas of self-governance and equality that achieved a time when England was not ruled by a king but by free men.”
“A very short period, all in all,” Da said.
“A precedent.” Thomas Leslie nodded. “And one day that precedent will be followed by others.”

“Do you think he’s right, Da?” Jacob asked later. It was a relief to be walking, not riding, and he hurried as best as he could to keep up with Da through the narrow streets of Providence.
“Who?” Da shortened his stride.
“Mr Leslie. Is he right when he says you all set a…a precedent with the Commonwealth?”
“Shh!” Da looked about before returning his attention to Jacob. “These are things you don’t discuss openly and never with people you don’t know and trust.”
“Sorry,” Jacob mumbled, allowing his thick hair to come down like a curtain before his face.
“Aye,” Da said some moments later, “I think he is. And it will all start here.”
“Here?” Jacob surveyed the small, nondescript town around him.
Da smiled and straightened up to his full height. “Aye, here. I won’t see it, you won’t see it, but mayhap your children, or at least your grandchildren. This is the cradle, and it’s already being set in motion.” He laughed and ruffled Jacob’s hair. “That’s what happens. Most people you see here have come on account of convictions, lad. They have come determined to build a new life for themselves, free of persecution and ancient constraints… There is no turning back the flood, and this particular tide will build until it one day washes away all vestiges of the old.” He peeked down at Jacob. “You didn’t follow, did you?”
Jacob shook his head ruefully. “No, I don’t understand. Not yet.”

Of identities, delusions and a fertile imagination

I’m having an identity crisis. Not an exactly novel experience, as I’ve had them now and then throughout the years. As a child, it was more along the lines of not wanting to be who I am – what fun and adventure was there in being a 20th century person when one could have been born in the 17th century? Or in the 12th? (This was prior to fully comprehending just how wonderful such things as hot showers and washing machines are)

As an adolescent, I struggled with the visible changes to my body – didn’t like them one bit as it is darn uncomfortable to play rugby or football with budding breasts. Okay, so this doesn’t qualify as a full-blown identity crisis, and by then I’d given up on sitting in the dark of my wardrobe in a witch’s circle and attempting to travel back in time. (I blame the inefficacy of my attempts on the lack of cat)

Since then, there have been various moments in life when I’ve sort of had to take a step back and look at myself dispassionately (well…) and decide what I am. Career focused high-flyer or mother? Ambitious CFO or wife?

Fortunately, one can combine various parts of one’s personality, and since several years back I’ve managed to balance the mother in me with the wife and the drattedly ambitious career person. Plus, of course, as icing on my multi-faceted cake, I am also a writer.

Browne,_Henriette_-_A_Girl_Writing;_The_Pet_Goldfinch_-_Google_Art_ProjectThis writing thing is similar to an addiction. It grows exponentially on you, even more so when your characters start taking on face and form, start expressing opinions about your previously so neat plot line. You see, I mostly start out with a plotline. Not necessarily all that detailed, but still, there’s a planned structure to the novel, a defined starting point and a defined end. Somehow, my characters and I do make it to the defined end, but the route to get there is often entirely different from my original plan – a case of reality being nowhere close to the map, except of course that it isn’t reality, it’s all make-believe and STIll it doesn’t conform to the make-believe map. Gah!

One would have thought by now I’d given up on plot outlines. Nope. The structural fascist in me – a side to my personality that has been nurtured through years and years working with finance – will not give up. Heck, my plot outlines are great, a balanced mix of action and introspection, love and hardships. The end result is, strangely enough, generally just as balanced, except that things happen in a different order.

In the Shadow of the StormWhen writing historical fiction in which real people play a role, I can’t allow my invented characters to go all wild and crazy.
“Why not?” Adam de Guirande scowls, testing the heft of his broadsword. “Would the world truly be a worse place if I just offed Lord Despenser now?” Adam has valid reasons to hate Hugh Despenser, but In the Shadow of the Storm ends while we’re still in 1323, and so our Hugh has a number of years of life left to him.
“Yes. You’d be tampering with history.”
“History?” Adam limps over to me. “History? This is my life! Look at what he did to Kit, look at…” He chokes.
I decide this is not an opportune moment to remind me that he is only alive because I’ve invented him – and actually, that probably means he isn’t alive at all, even if both Adam and I are firmly of the opposite opinion.

Anyway, in this particular case, I cannot allow Adam to tamper with the outline.

To catch a falling star-100dpi 201501Same thing happens in To Catch a Falling Star.
“He’s too young to die,” Alex Graham tells me, her mouth softening into a tender smile as she studies John Graham, a.k.a. Viscount Dundee, at present fast asleep at her kitchen table. “Too young, too vibrant, too…” She wipes at her eyes. “Can’t you just have someone whack him over the head and he can suffer a bout of amnesia and then we can send him off to France or somewhere?”
“You know I can’t do that. His death is a historical fact.” I share a look with Matthew Graham, leaning against the opposite wall of the kitchen, arms crossed over his chest. My leading man is less than comfortable with his wife’s obvious affection for Dundee. In fact, he’s jealous – but not to the point of suggesting I kill Dundee off before his time.
“But you’re the author! Do something!” Alex twists her hands together.
Beyond changing the book into alternative history, there’s not much I can do, I try to tell her, which just makes her give me a frigid look as she reminds me that I do take certain liberties, don’t I? After all, Alex Graham herself was born in 1976.
“That’s different,” I say.
“Really? How?”
“You’re not real.”
Need I say that resulted in several days of radio silence from Alex? Took me ages to cajole her back into speaking to me…

To me, of course, they’re all real: Adam and his wife Kit, my Alex and her Matthew, enigmatic Jason and his vibrant Helle. At times – like right now – I feel as if my brain is playing multiple movies at the same time:
I have Adam staring down at the lifeless body at his feet, while from outside the chapel comes the sound of booted feet, approaching fast. If they catch him…
There is Alex, overcome by grief at yet another loss, and Matthew is crouching beside her, trying to heal that which cannot be healed with his presence and warmth.
And Jason has just been shot, so there’s too much blood, and Helle is crying and wiping at her face with blood-streaked hands.
All of them are looking to me. All of them expect me to somehow move them on, save the day. Thing is, it is up to them. I just write what they tell me to write. After all, once they’ve meddled with my plot line, they’d better sort things out themselves.

After writing this post, I realise I am not suffering yet another identity crisis. Phew! After all, by now I should know who I am, right? No, what I am suffering from is an excessive bout of creativity, resulting in a head thronged with snippets of conversation, fragmented images and all my wonderful characters. And despite what I said to Alex, I do consider them to be real. As real as me and you, as loved as my family and friends – which of course begs the question whether I might be borderline delusional. If so, allow me to let you in on a secret: all writers are – more or less.

A spoonful of sugar – of trade and slaves

Say the West Indies, and most of us think of sun and sea, of palm trees and the soft swaying rhythm of calypso music. We don’t automatically think big business – well, beyond the fact that most of us know there are a couple of attractive tax havens in the Caribbean – but once upon a time the West Indies were a fundamental part of the global economy, part of that lucrative triangular trade in which slaves, sugar and rum were the major components.

Sugar cane The cultivation of sugar was a jealously guarded secret. The Spanish – and Portuguese – colonists wanted to retain some sort of monopoly on this cash crop (Pernambuco in Brazil was the world’s largest sugar producer), but the commercial forces were having none of it, and so sugarcane arrived to Barbados in the 1650’s, where it went on to become the dominant crop.

Interestingly enough, sugar was brought to Barbados by a group of Sephardic Jews, since several years established in Brazil but increasingly dissatisfied with their lot in life. As some of you may know, the Jews had been expelled from England by Edward I in 1290, and since then the Jews had stayed well away from England and its dominions – at least officially. But in 1655, a representative of the Jews approached Cromwell and asked that they be allowed to settle in London. Cromwell readily agreed – the man had a grudge the size of an elephant when it came to Catholics, but was substantially more tolerant towards the Jews. Plus, of course, he may have realised the benefits a strong Jewish community would bring to England as a trading nation. And in Barbados, the Sephardic Jews and their extensive knowledge of sugar cultivation were received with enthusiasm.

slaverySugar is a labour intensive crop. The Sephardic Jews brought with them the technological knowledge of how to crush and prepare the cane, but the actual work needed to be done by someone else. It was a lot of work. The harvested cane was tied together into huge, unwieldy bundles (cane can easily grow to close to two metres), was carried to the closest mill, where someone fed the lengths of cane into the hungry maw, a dangerous operation that now and then cost someone a finger or so. In Pernambuco, sugar had been grown by a multitude of small free-holders, resulting in low yields and too much administration. On Barbados, a slave-based approach was implemented. The economic results were fantastic. The resulting human suffering was inexcusable.

Not all slaves were black – at least not initially. Cromwell, that model of toleration vis-à-vis the Jews, had over 30 000 Irish men carried over the seas to work themselves to death under the Caribbean sun. Why? Because they were papists. Some years later, the officials of the restored monarch, Charles II, sent off boatloads of vociferous Scottish Presbyterians, condemned to servitude on the Barbadian plantations – a harsh and inevitable march towards death, very far from the country and people they loved.

By the time the Monmouth rebels were deposited on Barbados, the sugar production was fuelled by black slaves, brought over en masse from Africa. The pale, undernourished prisoners of the Crown who arrived in 1686 carried little economic value. The men were there to be punished for their rebellion, the Crown hoping to recoup on some of their costs by selling them off as slaves. None of the rebels were expected to live long – in fact, the idea was that they should expire, worked to their limits and beyond.

James_ScottSo who were these Monmouth rebels? Well, in 1685 the Duke of Monmouth decided to claim the English crown for himself, this based on the fact that he was the eldest son of the recently departed Charles II. Problem was, the Duke of Monmouth (James Scott in more informal circles) was illegitimate, even if he maintained that his parents had been secretly married. Hmm. Whatever the case, the flamboyant duke launched an invasion with the aim of overthrowing James II, the new king (and Monmouth’s uncle). The duke hoped that his countrymen would rise in spontaneous rebellion when he landed, this due to James II being Catholic while the duke was a staunch Protestant. Didn’t happen, and so the rebellion failed, with several thousands of young men being either executed or transported to the West Indies.

Charlie Graham, the Monmouth rebel depicted in Whither Thou Goest, seventh book in The Graham Saga, was a young man with more passion than sense – which is how he ended up as a rebel to begin with. He had no understanding of the complex trading triangle he indirectly became a part of, all he could think about was surviving.

He had no idea that his endless days on the cane fields resulted in barrels packed with raw sugar, nor did he Whither-Thou-Goest_Anna-Belfrage600pxby949pxknow that these barrels ended up on Rhode Island or in England where some of them were converted to rum. Good rum, far more sophisticated than the cane liquor produced by the various stills on Barbados. That rum would travel the world, was traded for beads and for textiles that were carried to Africa by the slave traders. In Africa, the slavers loaded their holds with men and women who were born free but ended up enslaved – casualties of local wars and local greed. And so sugar became rum, became produced goods, became more slaves, which became sugar, rum…The plantation owners grew rich, the traders grew rich, while those at the bottom of the dung heap, whether white or black, lost everything – including their freedom.

sugar slaveryBy the time the slavers returned to the Caribbean with their human cargo, almost a year had passed since the sugar left the island. By then, many of the slaves brought over the previous year were dead, and the off-loaded cargo was easily disposed of, angry, bewildered and frightened people subjected to being sold like animals before they were dragged off to a life that quickly became a vicious circle of too much work, too little food.

No, Charlie knew nothing about the triangular trade, but he knew everything about that vicious circle. He stole, he bullied, he crawled – all to ensure he survived. There were days when he didn’t want to, when he no longer knew why he struggled so hard to stay alive.

Occasionally, there were things that reminded Charlie of what it was like to be a man. Like when Mr Brown stepped from his house with a book in his hands, and Charlie recalled that he had once read for pleasure, or when the overseer sat smoking a pipe and drinking beer, and Charlie was transported back to evenings in a Dutch inn, with his friends and his hero, the now dead Duke of Monmouth. And then a sharp word would be thrown at him, and he would remember: he was a slave, a branded man, and his life was no longer his own nor would it ever be again. In such moments, he vehemently wished he could die, that the sky would open and fling a bolt of lightning to obliterate his sorry existence. But every morning he woke to yet another day of drudgery, and his heart was far too strong, his body far too young, to allow him to give up on living.

Fortunately for Charlie, he had an uncle named Matthew Graham, a man with his own bitter memories from his time as an indentured servant. Together with his wife, Alex, Matthew set off on an expedition to find Charlie – if nothing else to accord him a decent burial. That made Charlie an exception. Most of the Monmouth rebels had no one who came looking. Most of them would have died before the ten year sentence expired – except, of course, that James II was ousted and replaced by a Protestant king. The surviving rebels were pardoned, even if their new owners were reluctant to let them go. By 1691, more than half of the rebels had been freed, but with no money they remained stuck very far away from home. Maybe they consoled themselves with cane liquor.

sugar-factory-West-Indies-631.jpg__800x600_q85_cropThese days, the best rum is mostly produced locally. These days, there is no triangular trade in which sugar becomes rum becomes slaves becomes sugar and so on. These days, Barbados is an island of golden sands and blue seas, a little slice of paradise. But if you leave the beaches and go exploring, if you take the time to visit the interior where the cane fields still rustle like carpets of giant grass, chances are you may hear them, the whispered voices of the unfortunates who were yanked away from homes and loved ones, to end their days as slaves.Inexcusable – for most of us incomprehensible. But it happened, over and over again.

The serial addict in me

Recently, I have allowed myself to splurge – long days spent reading book after book. For once, not books I’m supposed to review, nor are they books within my preferred genre, which is (no surprise) historical fiction.

When I read for pure relaxation, I tend to read crime. Nothing relaxes me quite as much as a good murder or two – especially when in the company of detectives I know will solve the crime in question. Good wins over bad – it often does, in crime novels, and I think this is one of the reasons the genre appeals. Deep down, we all want to believe good always wins, despite overwhelming proof to the opposite.

Anyway, my summer joy this year has been re-reading Barbara Nadel’s books about Cetin Ikmen and Mehmet Suleyman, police officers in Istanbul. Ms Nadel ensures this magnificent, vibrant city is given ample room in her stories, as is the long and colourful (if at times dark) history that imbues this meeting point between east and west. (And yes, this is where my constant appetite for history is adequately fed)


Istanbul skyline, by Ben Morlok (Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike)

I am a big fan of Istanbul. If someone offered, I’d be glad to live there for a while, preferably in Sultanahmet or Karaköy. Not, I fear, about to happen. But what has me stuck in Ms Nadel’s books (and this despite a rather irritating tendency to head-hop constantly) are her main characters. It is difficult not to love Cetin Ikmen, it is darn difficult not to fall in love with handsome brooding Mehmet – although at present I am somewhat pissed off with him, serial philanderer that he is.

Most of us who read series do so because we develop relationships with the characters. In Ms Nadel’s case, Ikmen has been gifted with a big family, a wife who loves her police husband even if she rarely agrees with him about anything. The marriage trundles along, nine children grow up, leave home, and still the marriage endures, testament to Cetin’s and Fatma’s love for one another. Mind you, some books back, it was all touch and go, with Fatma blaming Cetin for the tragic events that befell one of their children. Very heart-wrenching, that was.

In difference to Cetin, Mehmet is a lonely man – he has always been lonely, somewhat aloof, somewhat disdainful – if only to hide just how lonely he is. This is probably why Mehmet has wormed himself into my affections, why I forgive him over and over again, why I hope he will find some happiness in his hitherto rather sad life. Preferably with that flamboyant gypsy he keeps returning to…

In effect, these two Turkish gentlemen have taken on life and form. I eat what they eat, I see what they see, I experience (well) what they experience, I cry for them, I shake my head at them – and I so want to take Mehmet by the shoulders and give him a good shake (right now, that is) . I care about them, ergo the seventeen books on my Kindle – and my fondness for Turkish cuisine, which, BTW, must be one of the best cuisines in the world.

Graham Saga BannerI have always loved reading series – which is probably why I’ve ended up writing series. To the great amusement of my other half, to this day there are scenes in my books at which I will say “Cad!” and scowl (in particular in relation to one very specific scene in Serpents in the Garden when Matthew…gah!).
“You wrote it,” hubby reminds me. Well excuse me, yes I did – but Matthew Graham has a very clear perception of who he is and what his values are, and he isn’t about to let this writer have too much of a voice in his character development.
Likewise, there are scenes at which I cry, which leaves hubby somewhat concerned – he’s seen me cry as I first drafted the scene, cry through the edits, cry again through the proofreads, and cry when I read the book.
“But you know it’s going to happen,” he tries, and I wipe my eyes and glare at him. I do, but I don’t WANT it to. I’m sort of hoping that next time I pick up the book, some little fairy godmother has been there and waved away the pain and hurt. Of course, if she did, it would take away a lot of what is relevant and powerful in my books – in any books – namely human emotions.

And this, of course, is one of the main reasons behind the appeal of series. Book after book with the same characters, and they develop into real people, people whose experiences affect us – deeply. We keep on hoping the flawed characters will grow up, that the good guy will never be hurt and that the bad guy gets his comeuppance, but the skillful author has presented us with human beings – and we all know just how inadequate we all can be at times, so we know that one day soon the hero will be badly hurt, or the heroine will suffer a devastating loss. They do, we cry, we cry some more, and then we read on – because the well-written series charters the course of humans who grow and hurt, mend and continue this messy, wonderful business of living.

Series allow us to invest in characters – both as readers and writers. As a writer, it amazes me just how much say my invented characters have in their own destiny – not in the factual events, as those remain firmly in my control, but in how they face up to their defining moments, how they somehow find the strength from within to continue on.

Matthew Graham, as an example, has suffered unjust incarceration, humiliating servitude and religious persecution. He could have turned out bitter and intolerant, but instead he develops into his full potential, a loving and caring husband & father, a man of convictions with a well-developed sense of right and wrong. Or maybe that is because of Alex, his headstrong time-travelling wife. Come to think of it, those two needed each other, so isn’t it lucky me as the writer came along and created that rip in the fragile veil of time? But that was all I did: I ripped the veil – the rest, they’ve done themselves, creating an interdependency that makes them so strong when they’re together, so vulnerable when they are not. As Alex reflects in the sixth book in the series, Of course she would die if she were dragged back in time – how could she survive with half of her yanked out? And he, she saw in his eyes, he would dwindle and die as well. Bit by bit, the fire in him would falter and go out, and he would float away like top soil in a drought.

Series-One-RowSo, as a writer, I will continue writing series. The next one, The King’s Greatest Enemy, is already in the works, and yet again I am swept away by how Adam and Kit go their own way – a nod and wink in my direction, no more, as they proceed to set out in search of their own destiny. I smile, juggling the imaginary dice I hold in my hand. One flick of the wrist, and the dice will roll, one way or the other. You see, Adam and Kit, just like Matthew and Alex, may well be in control over who they are, but me, their creator, will be the one that gets things moving. And in Adam’s and Kit’s case, they’re about to face adversity after adversity. But hey, that’s good for you,isn’t it? After all, without recurring challenges, how are we ever to grow?

Too much strife, too little love – a Scottish marriage and its consequences

IMG_0317These days, we tend to have a romanticised view of marriage. It is white dresses and orange blossoms, it is love shining out of teary eyes and promises to love and to hold until death do us part. Today, most of us assume people marry for love. Okay, so there are different types of love – some people seem to marry out of love for their intended’s money rather than the intended’s qualities as a person, but in general the presumption is that first we hold hands, then we kiss, then we fall irrevocably in love and get married.

Marrying for love has its downsides. Like people falling out of love – or falling in love with someone else. In historic times, people married for various reasons, but rarely was one of those reasons love. After all, it is difficult to love someone you’ve never met, as in those arranged marriages that were the norm during medieval times (at least if you had land or wealth). I suppose this means that people married with very different expectations from the ones we have today, when we view all that marriage stuff through rose-tinted glasses and sigh at the happily ever after.

Historic couples got married to safeguard their respective families’ wealth and position – and to make heirs. Once that was concluded, the married couple could either rub along happily, or choose to spend as little time as possible together. No one really cared, as long as appearances were upheld when required. This was a pragmatic solution to marriages that were destined to last your entire life – after all, divorce was rarely an option.

In actual fact, divorce was more common than we tend to think. Mostly on the grounds of consanguinity, a sort of “oh dear, I forgot to get a dispensation on account of us being second cousins, and as I utterly hate your guts and you haven’t given me any sons, I’m going to divorce you”. Sometimes, divorce was granted due to lack of consent – although I imagine it was a bit difficult to come back six year after the fact and say that you’d never agreed to the marriage to begin with – or due to the discovery of a pre-contract. i.e. a promise to marry someone else.

However, all in all, divorce before the 20th century was rare. Very rare.  So, most married couples did, in fact, live together until parted by death – quite often through the wife’s death in childbirth.

Knox,_JohnIn England, acquiring a divorce remained a messy thing well into the 20th century. The accepted grounds for divorce were essentially adultery, but further to that, a spouse had to prove cruelty and abuse of some kind or another to be free of the philandering partner. In Scotland, however, things had been much, much easier since back in the 16th century. Personally, I think John Knox deserves a pat on the back for this – but then I am quite ambivalent to this fascinating man, on the one hand vilifying female rulers in his famous “First Blast of the Trumpet”, on the other a man who clearly enjoyed the company of women – and respected them.

So what did Scotland do back in the 16th century? Well, they decided to allow divorce, that’s what those savvy Scots did. Furthermore, the issue of divorce was transferred out of the ecclesiastic courts to be handled by lawmen rather than priests – which makes a lot of sense when one considers that most marriages at the time were contractual arrangements that involved property moving hands. (This is not to say the powerful Scottish Kirk did not keep a beady eye on proceedings – it most certainly did!) However, divorce was still a last remedy, and was essentially only granted for two reasons, one of which was adultery.

These Scots were progressive types, very much into gender equality (well…) How else to explain their decision that both men and women could demand a divorce on account of adultery – quite unheard of in a world where a man’s indiscretions were just that – indiscretions – while a woman’s adventures with another man than her husband were a sin, a grievous, grievous sin, very much in keeping with women’s general lack of morality and propensity for uncontrolled lust.

Interestingly enough, no law was ever passed confirming the right to divorce due to adultery. Instead, it was assumed that the prohibition against divorce on account of adultery went out of the window together with the allegiance to the Pope, and a decade or so later, divorce due to adultery was an established common law practice.

Had the Scots left it at that – divorce on account of adultery – that would have been an improvement, but maybe not a major improvement. However, due to the antics of two people with that intoxicating combination of money and clout, Scottish divorce legislation came to recognise another reason for divorce, namely desertion by either party. This had the benefit of being much easier to arrange – and prove – plus it did not tar one of the parties as being an unfaithful git. But let me introduce you to the main protagonists in all this, namely the Earl of Argyll – Archibald Campbell – and Lady Jean Stewart, one of James V’s many by-blows.


James V

Little Jean might have been born out of wedlock, but her royal father was well-practiced in handling such sensitive issues and in general took good care of his offspring. On her mother’s side, she was related to the Beatons – a powerful family which counts among its more (in)famous members Cardinal David Beaton, Archbishop of St Andrews who instigated the trial and execution by burning of religious reformer George Wishart, and who some time afterwards was assassinated by William Kirkcaldy and a couple of aggravated Leslies. Beaton’s body was hanged from the window of his castle for everyone to see, and in many ways his handling of Wishart was the fuel that led to the roaring bonfire that was the Scottish reformation.

Enough about David Beaton (a man who deserves his own post, what with his relaxed attitude to celibacy, his constant focus on Number One – this being Davie, not Our Lord – and his strong Catholic and political convictions). Suffice it to say that little Jean was of good lineage on both sides, no matter what side of the blanket she was born on.

Archibald might not be a royal bastard, but his family was wealthy and among the most powerful in Scotland. Very early on, our Archie became an ardent Protestant. During the long regency that followed James V’s death, he, together with James Stewart – yet another of James V’s bastards, later to be Earl of Moray – became a vociferous opponent to Marie de Guise and her pro-French policies, fearing that the little Queen’s mother had every intention of keeping Scotland a loyal member of the Holy Roman Church. Probably a correct assumption, but Argyll’s decision to seek help and support from the English did not endear him overmuch to his countrymen.


Marie de Guise

Jean was fond of Marie de Guise. The Queen Mother treated her husband’s bastards with kindness, and she was very protective of Jean, the young queen’s only sister. Jean was raised at court and became one of Marie’s most trusted maids, living in close familiarity with the beleaguered regent.

Archie and Jean were married in 1553. Maybe they disliked each other on sight. Maybe their differing opinions on matter religious drove an immediate wedge between the young spouses, at the time still in their teens. Whatever the case, the marriage quickly deteriorated, with Archie living openly with various mistresses, fathering a number of illegitimate children while Jean remained childless. Things did not improve when ardent Archie became a prominent member of the Lords of Congregation, the Protestant faction that led the rebellion that resulted in the Scottish reformation in 1560. Jean couldn’t forgive her husband for siding against her beloved Marie de Guise.

Jean decided to get her own back by taking a lover. The Campbell clan roared in anger at this dishonour to their chief, and Jean was effectively held prisoner. Through the efforts of her – and Archie’s – extended family, the couple achieved some sort of reconciliation in 1561, very much at the hands of John Knox, who seems to have had quite the vested interest in this couple’s marriage.


Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots returned to Scotland from France in 1561, and Jean quickly became a favoured lady-in-waiting, while her husband was one of the Queen’s chief political advisors. This didn’t help the marriage. Things went from bad to worse, one could say, with Jean complaining to the Queen, who was quite torn between her loyalties to her sister, and her dependency on Argyll to maintain peace in her realm.

(c) Museums Sheffield; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Mary and Knox as per W Powell Firth

In 1563 the Queen decided to rope in some help in attempting to heal the breach between Archie and Jean. She contacted John Knox. Picture this scene for a moment: The devout Catholic queen turns to her foremost adversary when it comes to matters of faith and asks for a tete-a-tete. In a low, concerned voice, she expresses that something must be done to save the fragile thing that is Jean’s marriage. John Knox agreed, and in 1563, the Queen and the Reformer had a number of sessions with Jean and Archie. Ultimately, it didn’t help – but it was nice that they tried!

Archie was becoming desperate. He needed an heir, and whether it was because Jean refused him access to her bed (in itself a mean feat in the 16th century) or because she was barren, so far there had been no reconciling patter of little feet. Plus, the two spouses obviously hated each other’s guts. So Archie offered Jean a settlement if she would agree to a divorce on the grounds of adultery, with him taking the blame. She refused – as the so called injured party she could.

The Queen was deposed, the realm was in upheaval, and in all this chaos Jean took the opportunity of fleeing for ever from her husband’s tender care. In 1567 she ran away, and the couple’s very public separation forced the Scottish Kirk to attempt to deal with it. Archie needed a full divorce, not a separation. He wanted to be free to wed again and beget children. Jean had no intention of making anything easy for him, and so the Kirk’s leaders – such as John Knox – sucked in their lips and mulled this little conundrum over.

In 1573, the Earl of Argyll succeeded in having the Scottish Parliament pass an Act that allowed divorce on the grounds of desertion. This time, when he pushed Jean for a divorce, she didn’t protest. Her own position was far too shaky at present, with her royal sister imprisoned and her brother, the powerful Earl of Moray, busy with other matters. And so, in August of 1573, Archibald Campbell became a free man again, hastening to re-marry. Unfortunately for him, six weeks later he was dead… Unfortunately for his hapless widow, Jean decided the time was ripe to protest the divorce, insisting she had been forced.

After years of squabbles, a final settlement was made four years later. Jean retained the title of Countess of Argyll (very important to her, apparently), received a generous lump sum and retired to live out the rest of her life at her Canongate residence in Edinburgh. I’m thinking she laughed all the way to the bank, our Jean – or maybe she didn’t. Maybe now and then she felt genuine regret for what could have been a marriage and never rose above a constant bloody strife.

The legal outcome of all this was that in 1573, Scotland implemented an Act that allowed for spouses to be divorced, assuming they could prove desertion by the other. Suddenly, all those unhappy marriages had a “get out of jail” card. Not a bad thing, all in all, even if divorce continued to be rare in the following centuries. A failed marriage was a stigma – especially for the woman, who, as we all know, probably was to blame for its failure to begin with. After all, either she was a nag, or she was barren or, worst of all, she was a lewd and immoral creature, far too tempted by carnal sin. Duh!

Getting his own back: of Charles II and the persecution of the Scottish Covenanters

The 17th century was a period of much instability and religious strife throughout Europe – and especially in Britain. Ever since the Reformation, there’d been a lot of tension between Catholics and various Protestant factions, such tensions coming to a head in The Gunpowder Plot of 1605. As the century wore on, the Protestants fell out amongst themselves, united only in their distrust of all things papist.

In this environment, it was perhaps not the smartest of moves for the future Charles I to marry a Catholic princess. On the other hand, it wasn’t as if there was a huge selection of eligible Protestant princesses, and Henriette Marie came with the benefit of being French, thereby creating some sort of tenuous treaty between France and England.

Book_of_common_prayer_Scotland_1637It was even less of a smart move for Charles I to attempt to impose his brand of Protestantism, the Anglican Church, on all his subjects. Scotland exploded in flames at having a Common Book of Prayer thrust upon them, and Scottish nobles, ministers, gentry and common folk streamed to Edinburgh to sign the National Covenant (a document that in principle told Charles I to back off, or else…) King Charles I had a religious war on his hands – a war that would escalate well beyond the borders of Scotland and ultimately result in the deposition and execution of Charles himself.

EHFA Anthony_van_Dyck_-_Five_Eldest_Children_of_Charles_I_-_Google_Art_Project

Charles I and his queen were gifted with a large nursery, headed by their eldest, the future Charles II. By all accounts an intelligent person, Charles II lived first-hand the violent upheaval of the Civil War, and upon his father’s beheading he was promptly pronounced Charles II by the die-hard royalists – which included the Scots, who in general were quite shocked by the execution of Charles I. In an act of belligerence against Cromwell’s Parliament that now ruled England, the Scots promptly proclaimed Charles II as their king and the young man was whisked off to Scotland for a coronation.


A young Charles II

For a couple of years, Charles II remained the guest/hostage of the Scottish Covenanters. Surrounded on a daily basis by the stalwarts of the Covenanter cause – most of them rather dour men who intended to use the young king to push through their own ideas – Charles developed a permanent dislike of Covenanter religious ideas.

As we all know, Charles made a desperate attempt to regain his kingdom with the aid of the Covenanter Army, but in September of 1651 he saw his troops bite the dust at the hands of the Parliamentarian Army and was forced to flee from the Worcester battlefield, spending anxious days and nights in hiding before he was finally smuggled out of England and back to the continent.

In 1658, Oliver Cromwell died. With him died the passion for keeping England a republic. There were no obvious leaders to take up where Oliver left off, and as no one wanted a return to Civil War, overtures were made to Charles II. He was offered to return to his kingdom assuming he promised not to wreak vengeance on Parliament and its long serving officers. Charles promised to grant a general amnesty – excepting the regicides, the men who had signed the Execution Order for Charles I. This was seen as a fair compromise, and in May of 1661, Charles II was restored to his kingdom amidst much joy and celebration.

Charles_II_by_John_Michael_Wright_or_studioCharles II was marked by his years in exile, and excelled at navigating the turbulent waters of Restoration England without giving anybody much of a glimpse into what he truly thought. Instead, he retreated behind the façade of the carefree Merry Monarch, a man who seemed more interested in the pleasure of the senses than in statesmanship. He was also not about to do anything that jeopardised his restoration, and when the men closest to him started pushing for the implementation of the Clarendon Code, a whole new set of laws aimed at restricting the forms of worship to the Anglican Church, he went along, even if it appears that Charles perceived issues of faith to be of a very personal nature, not something the state should meddle in.

He did, however, have a deep-seated distrust of Scottish Covenanters – indirectly, they were the cause behind his father’s loss of head. Actually, come to think of it, the Scots were the direct reason behind Charles I’s decapitation as it was the Scottish Covenanter Army that captured the fleeing king and returned him to Cromwell’s not so gentle care. Maybe this is why Charles II chose to turn a blind eye to the potentially violent consequences of the Clarendon Code in Scotland.


Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon & very anti-Covenanter

In Scotland, the new laws were a punch in the face of the Scottish Kirk, as among other things they required people to recognise the king as the head of the church. Anathema to the Scots, and stubborn ministers refused to kowtow which lead to them being evicted from their livings and in some cases being branded as outlaws when they continued preaching the word of God as they knew it, often out on the moors somewhere.

The men and women who clung to their Presbyterian faith were to pay a high price. With an open season on anyone who refused to acknowledge royal authority in all matters of state and church, they were in many cases forced to abandon their homes. Many were fined, quite a few were bonded out as indentured servants overseas, and just as many would pay for their stubbornness with their lives.

9781781321713-Cover.inddIn conclusion, Restoration Scotland was not the most salubrious of environments if one was a convinced Presbyterian – something which my protagonists in The Graham Saga were to experience first-hand. In The Prodigal Son, Matthew Graham is at constant loggerheads with the powers that be, and more than once he places his life – and the life of his wife and children – at risk to save dissident minister Sandy Peden. At times, this leads to substantial strain in the Graham marriage. At others, it is through proximity to each other that Alex and Matthew can escape the fears and concerns that colour their everyday life. Which is why I chose the below excerpt from The Prodigal Son…

This is ridiculous, Alex berated herself, he’s been gone for a day and you go all weak-kneed at the sight of him. He’s your husband, for God’s sake, calm down, woman! Except that she’d woken with a hunger for him, and he hadn’t been there, and all day half of her had been thinking of him and the things she wanted him to do to her. Now he stood on the other side of the clearing, and she was squirming inside with lust, but was rooted to the spot by his eyes, and so she just remained where she was, waiting. A dull ache sprang from a point in her lower back, spread like tendrils down into her sex, up into her womb. Like a contraction, a huge, burning contraction, and she was aware of thousands upon thousands of nerve ends, all of them shrieking for him.

At his continued silence she drew the pins from her hair and shook it out, hearing his loud intake of breath. She undid the bodice and let it drop to the ground to join her discarded straw hat and cap, and shifted from one foot to the other to bring her thighs together in a soft rubbing motion that almost made her moan.

He gestured at her skirts. The look in his eyes made her clumsy, her fingers struggling with uncooperative knots, with fabric that slipped through her sweaty hold. She wriggled her hips and the heavy wool slid down her legs to puddle round her feet. It was an effort to breathe, to move. Her knees folded and dipped, her heart was pounding against her ribs, and for some reason her mouth was dry, she had to lick her lips to moisten them.

The grass below her feet tickled her soles, sunlight danced through the foliage above her, touching his hair, gilding his shoulders. She raised her hands to the lacings of her shift, the thin linen an oppressive weight she had to discard. Her skin screamed for his touch, her mouth begged for his lips, and there was a hollow sensation between her legs that only he could fill. The shift fluttered to the ground and she was as naked as the day she was born.

Lord, but she was beautiful, quivering like a cornered doe below the spreading branches of the oak. Matthew kicked off his breeches and advanced towards her in only his shirt, aware that his cock protruded like a prow before him. Her mouth… he wanted her mouth, and then he was going to use his own, and… his cock jerked. He beckoned her to him and she stumbled, nearly falling before she righted herself.

He traced her brows, her nose, the line from her jaw to the hollow between her collar bones. He so wanted to say something, to put words to the emotions that surged through him, but all he could do was kiss her, softly at first, a bare brushing of lips that changed into an intense, hungry possession, with her as hungry as he was, her fingers closing painfully in his hair to hold him still. And then she knelt before him… he swayed, his hands on her head, eyes closed against the glare of the sun.
“No,” he backed away, “not yet… I want…” He fell to his knees beside her, and now he had words, telling her she was his heart, the sun in his life, the single thing he could never do without, and Alex laughed and cried at the same time, her hands on his arms, his chest.

Together they rid him off his shirt, and he held her eyes as he eased her down to lie on her back. There was the softest of exhalations when he entered her. She tightened her hold on him, he pressed his groin against hers, bracing on his arms to keep his weight off her rounded belly. Her mouth fell open, her eyes closed, and she lifted her hips towards him. He was drowning in a sea of sensations; the sun on his back, the rough texture of the grass under his knees and shins, but most of all his wife, the softness of her skin, the urgency of her hold on his hips and the moist, welcoming warmth of her cleft. Heat surged through his loins, his cock twitched and roared, and Matthew came, wave after wave of bright red pleasure washing through him. 

Afterwards he spooned himself around her.
“I missed you,” she said, making him laugh.
“Aye, I gathered that.” He nibbled her nape. “I missed you too, but then I always do.”
“Liar, I bet you didn’t think of me once last night.”
“Too much beer.”  Too many other things to think about, but he had no desire to ponder upon them now, so he scooted closer to her and pillowed his head on his arm.
She took his hand and lifted it to lie between her breasts, toying with his fingers. He yawned, slipping into that agreeable state halfway between wakefulness and sleep. Alex turned fully in his arms, raising her hand to his face.
“I once read in a book that making love is something you get better at with practice – a lot of practice, preferably with the same person. We’re getting pretty good at this, Mr Graham.”
He opened one eye and smiled. “Aye, but practice is always good, lass.”
“Now?” she asked huskily.
“Now,” he nodded and rose on his elbow to look at her before he lowered his head to kiss her.

Thank you, Lord, for my marvellous wife, this woman that drives me to the precipice of lust and beyond, who holds me so tenderly, who loves me so entirely.

Oh God; oh God, oh God, oh God… This is my man, God, and you gave him to me.

The historic consequences of rainy summers

IMG_0314So far, this summer isn’t exactly hitting top of the pops when it comes to the weather. June disappeared in rain. July has mostly been the same, except for a week of heat. For those of us on summer vacation – and us Swedes have a religious approach to our four weeks of statutory vacation – this means more time spent indoors than outdoors, and yes, some of us complain. A lot.

This is when yours truly clears her throat. (Yours truly doesn’t much mind the rain, but that is neither here nor there) To have your vacation rain away is an irritant. No more, no less. And, yours truly adds with some severity, imagine what it was like for our poor forebears, say two centuries ago. A summer like this was not an irritant. It was a promise of famine come winter, of having to bury the babies and the old ones.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, weather conditions throughout northern Europe were pretty dismal. Sweden was to experience the worst years ever in the late 1860s, one year after the other of failed harvests. One year farmers could survive. Two were a stretch – parcels of precious land had to be sold, the plough horse ended up on the table. Third year, and the children started dying.

Now when the crops rot in the fields, when entire families are left without sustenance, those who have sufficient funds – or strength – take off. The rest die – or are reduced to menial servitude. In Sweden, family after family made their way down to Karlshamn and the waiting ships, hoping for a better life on the other side of the Atlantic. Years of seeing their harvest rot on the stalk, of too much rain, too little rain, had left them thin and hollow, sinewy people who had nothing left to lose.

Did they want to leave? To judge from letters, not really. Most of them left under duress, what future they’d had here wiped out by bad luck and rainy summers. Some left due to religious persecution – Sweden was very big on ensuring people conformed to the Swedish Lutheran Church, well into the late nineteenth Century. All of them left because they had to. All of them left family behind, people they would never see again, at most exchange an annual letter with. It was a painful severing of roots, ancient family structures rent apart. And still they went, clinging to the dream of better tomorrows.


Anti immigration propaganda: Dream vs reality

The Swedish authorities were less than pleased. They needed the farmers to remain, yoked to their lands. Strong able-bodied men were needed in Sweden’s embryonic industries, they were the backbone of the agricultural system whereby farmers were obliged to work certain days for free on the fields of the rich landowners. The priests offered long and fiery sermons, attempting to dissuade their parishioners from leaving. God would be displeased, the priests said, God did not like it when the order of things was questioned. Sitting silent and hungry in their pews, the people listened. Some quailed and lost their nerve. Some became even more determined to leave, tired of tugging at their forelock whenever their betters rode by.

By the 1860s, almost all Swedish people could read. Mandatory school had been implemented in 1842 (for both boys and girls) most of the time at school spent learning the Bible, the glorious (and censored) history of Sweden and a dutiful approach to your elders and betters. No languages other than Swedish were taught. As a consequence, the people leaving for the beckoning shores of North America knew no English, would be incapable of communicating in their new home. Silent Swedish men became even more silent, nervous Swedish wives wondered how on earth they would survive. And still they went…

Immigrants gravitate towards landscapes that remind them of home. The Swedes were no exception, happy to disappear into the forests that covered large parts of present day Minnesota and Illinois. They were familiar with the hard work involved in clearing land, of uprooting tree stumps and shifting rocks. It suffices to study the landscape of Southern Sweden to realise just how much rock Swedish farmers had moved over the years.

These our forebears (well, not mine. Mine stayed put in northern Sweden, half-dead of starvation but so poor a ticket to the New World was an impossible dream) worked their butts off in their new homeland. No vacations for them, no matter the weather, but at least they were taming land with their name on it, building a better future for their children.


Leaving home for ever

Hard work was never an issue for the Swedish immigrants. They bowed backs and shoulders, added more and more land to their holdings, and the letters back home spoke of endless fields, of land there for the taking. What was only a dream in Sweden could become a reality in America, and young Swedish men left by the boatload, eager to carve themselves a new life.

It is estimated close to a million Swedish people left Sweden during the last decades of the nineteenth century. Close to 25% of the population up and left – a veritable exodus – and by the end of the century Chicago was the second largest city in the world when it came to Swedish speakers. Over a couple of decades, Sweden was drained of people – mostly the ones visionary enough, determined enough to try again, elsewhere.


Emigrants, E.Petersen

For many of them, their journey started because of a summer like this. Days of rain, of seeing the barley flattened in the fields, the potatoes rotting in the ground. Some despaired, fell to their knees and prayed for divine intervention. Others pulled themselves together, light eyes lost in the western horizon. A new life, a new home – right at the end of the rainbow.

Roma Nova – a place to visit in your head

Recently, Alison Morton released the fourth book in her Roma Nova series, Aurelia. Interestingly, this the fourth book is actually the first book as it details events that are already in the past when the first book in the series opens. Confusing? Not really. Book four simply moves fifty odd years backwards in time. Plus it means it is perfectly okay to start your acquaintance with Ms Morton with Aurelia – not having read the three previous books is not a drawback.

RomaNova booksI am a Roma Nova fan. Ms Morton writes characters I can relate to (and once you’ve read the books, how about mulling that one over…I clearly relate to kick-ass women who excel at deadly combat) and to her characters she’s added an intriguing alternative history angle, in that Roma Nova is a remnant of the former Roman Empire, tucked away in a corner of the alps. In Ms Morton’s world, Hitler never happened, the French never sold Louisiana to the US, and the Spanish retained hold of California and other territories. As to Roma Nova, Ms Morton breathes life into her invented little country, this very much thanks to her obvious familiarity with Roman traditions. In fact, Roma Nova has become my next “to-go-to” destination, which was why I was thrilled to discover this little article recently. What? Roma Nova doesn’t exist? Pshaw! Details, schmetails. Use your imagination, people.

Roma Nova is trending as one of the must-see destinations this year. Sol Populi travel journalist Claudia Dixit reports on what’s on offer for visitors.

Visiting Roma Nova? Well, you won’t find too many orgies – such a myth! – but you will receive a very warm welcome. Roma Novans love showing visitors round their city and countryside, and many of them speak English. Here are my top places to visit and things to do.

ArchConstantine_v.smFor history buffs, there is the forum with the colonnaded public buildings and the Arch of Maia Apulia. Not quite on the scale of ancient Rome, but some of the oldest columns date back to the sixth century. Don’t miss the smaller temples, especially that of Mercury Esus which may look tiny, but like Mercury himself, is deceptive!

You can book a guided tour around the Senate house including the famous Altar of Victory, saved by the first ruler, Apulius and his friend, Mitelus, in the late fourth century. For tickets to sit in the public gallery and watch a lively debate, ask at the information desk. You’ll have to brush up on your Latin, though!

The Golden Palace, which you can see halfway up the hill behind the city, is not open to visits as it’s the imperatrix ‘s private home, but there are guided tours of the gardens.

You’ll probably hear about the Twelve Families, but at present, no tours of their historic homes are available. But as many of their members work in high profile government posts, you might see them speaking in the Senate debates or on the news…

Rome walkabout - 22And shopping? Don’t miss the little shops in the Macellum among the international brands. You’ll find the famous Roma Novan silver jewellery, every electronic gadget you could wish for, plus fine glass and the modern version of Samian ware. A must-see is the daily produce market – you’d be surprised at how many different types of olives and olive oil there are!

Pons Apulius – A treat for engineers to appreciate and the rest of us to gaze at in wonder! The unique design with a single row of three towers and network of support cables is a practical but breathtaking piece of modern design. You can walk or cycle along it in a dedicated lane on the south side. Would it be immodest to mention that Romans have a long history of bridge building?

Learn to sail at the marina basin next to the river port or take a canoe out on the river. Do keep to the designated lanes whatever you use – you don’t want to get boarded by one of the imperial navy’s patrol boats!

Although Roma Nova has an excellent public transport system, you may want to hire a car to explore on your own. Car rental is easy and as long as you can present a points-free licence and a valid ID, you’ll soon be driving on Roma Novan roads. Take a moment to study the speed limits or you’ll hear the siren and see the blue flashing light of the custodes, the Roma Novan police. They can be strict and issue spot fines if you exceed them!

Fancy yourself as a gladiator? Most Roma Novan gyms are happy to issue day passes and several run beginners’ classes. They do blunt the weapon edges for visitors, though! And don’t forget to chill out afterwards in the traditional Roman baths!

For excellent service and fine dining, visit Dana’s in the Via Nova. It’s retained the charm of its origins as a simple bar, but now offers high quality Roma Nova and international cuisine.

Further afield, Castra Lucillan wine is tops – visit one of the vineyards south of the city for a tasting session. You may well be seduced by the fruity, but subtle, white wine – my favourite!

green fields_smBe sure to bring your walking or hiking boots – a complimentary map showing all the paths and trails is available from city tourist centre. Serious climbers will need a permit (35 solidi) to climb the twin Gemini Peaks in the north. You’ll also need to show a certificate of adequate insurance. Contact the mountain watch centre at for further details.
Roma Nova has one of the lowest crime levels in the world; the public CCTV and restorative justice system make this a very safe environment for law-abiding residents and visitors alike. A word to the wise: do sample the delights of Roma Nova to the full, but please note that using or dealing in illicit drugs is prosecuted without exception.

And lastly, you’ll see a lot of women and men in uniform, not the stereotype Romans in films – that armour must have scratched – but modern military. They are there to guard the safety and integrity of Roma Nova. I know they can look intimidating, but they’ll be happy to talk to you and answer questions. However, do please remember they are usually on duty.

This is just a quick round-up of things to do and see in Roma Nova. Drop the tourist centre at a mail and they’ll be delighted to send you a full information pack and answer any specific questions.

Happy touring!


Well, that was that – Roma Nova in a nutshell. For more information about Alison Morton, why not visit her website or her Amazon page?

And as to Roma Nova – it lies just a book away.

AURELIA_cover_image600x385Late 1960s Roma Nova, the last Roman colony that has survived into the 20th century. Aurelia Mitela is alone – her partner gone, her child sickly and her mother dead – and forced to give up her beloved career as a Praetorian officer.

But her country needs her unique skills. Somebody is smuggling silver – Roma Nova’s lifeblood – on an industrial scale. Sent to Berlin to investigate, she encounters the mysterious and attractive Miklós, a known smuggler who knows too much and Caius Tellus, a Roma Novan she has despised and feared since childhood.

Barely escaping a trap set by a gang boss intent on terminating her, she discovers that her old enemy is at the heart of all her troubles and pursues him back home to Roma Nova…

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live

Mother Godess Brooklyn_NY_Nov-2005_0023_7

The Mother

In the lost mists of time, long before the advent of monotheist religions, man worshiped Mother Nature. Time passed, civilisations developed, and somewhere 4 000 years ago, the old veneration for Mother Nature – a most female deity – was replaced by the decidedly male God of the Hebrews, soon to become the equally male God of Christians and Muslims.

A Patriarch God preferred male servants – or so the male servants said. Scripture abounds with examples putting women in their place – below men. St Paul states that “woman was created for the sake of man” and men like Thomas of Aquino did women a disservice when he described us as being intellectually inferior to men, weak vessels that did best in acknowledging man’s supremacy. (Huh: consider the notion of men going through childbirth – repeatedly – and then let’s talk about who’s weak and who isn’t…)

Adam and Eve Peter_Paul_Rubens_004

“Here, have an apple, honey”

Further to this, woman was much more susceptible to sin than men – after all, it was Eve, not Adam, who ate that famous apple. And let us not get into the myth of Lilith, that ultimate apocryphal seductress, proving once and for all that woman was susceptible to lust, a creature ruled by her carnal desires and adept at entrapping men in her web of sensual pleasures. Ugh, said Thomas of Aquino, wrinkling his nose. Seriously, he added, sex for pleasure is a sin, and women are most sinful of all.

It suited the powerful Church to relegate women to the fringes of things. By combining a subtle defamation campaign along the lines described above with the often repeated “truth” that women are weak and need male protectors, women were eased out of almost all positions of power – at least officially.



Women who chose not to listen, or who continued to draw on ancient knowledge to heal and help others were viewed with distrust. Witches, their uneducated neighbours would whisper – but more in awe than in fear. Initially, however, the Church scoffed at the concept of magic and witches, stating that such things did not exist, and it was very rare for anyone to be accused of witchcraft. But in the 15th century, things began to change.

For one thing, the Church was battling an increased number of heretics, and secondly, popular belief began to equate witches with heretics – in the sense that a witch, per definition, worshiped Satan. A papal bull late in the century and the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum (The Witch Hammer) in 1487 effectively created an open season on witches – most of whom were female (of course, what with us being weak and sinful to begin with…)


Execution of so called witches, late 16th c

Things didn’t explode until late in the 16th century. The tensions of the Reformation coupled with the general instability of the times created fertile ground for witch hunters, and suddenly there were witches crawling out of every fissure in the ground, both on the Continent and in Britain. No matter how many voices were raised protesting the barbaric practices of torturing a woman to extract her confession of being a witch, they didn’t help – especially not when such prominent figures as James VI of Scotland loudly argued that witches did exist and had to be fought with whatever means possible. (He wasn’t alone: his royal Danish brother-in-law, Christian IV, expressed exactly the same views)

Enter the Witch-finder, usually a man, who claimed to have the ability of identifying all potential witches. One such man was Matthew Hopkins, and what childish dreams he may have had regarding what he wanted to be when he grew up we will never know, as essentially nothing is known of Matthew Hopkins until that day in 1645 when out he pops of the woodwork, a self-proclaimed Witch-finder General.

At the time, Hopkins was a young man, some years and twenty, and over the coming years he was to more or less single-handedly cause the death by hanging of 300 witches (mostly women) Given that it is estimated the total number of people executed for witchery in England is around 500, one can but assume that Hopkins took to being a Witch-finder as fish take to water.

He extracted confessions through various creative procedures, such as sleep deprivation and “pricking”, whereby the accused was shaved of all body hair and submitted to being pricked with a long, sharp needle. Should the needle hit upon a point that didn’t bleed – well, obviously the naked terrified woman being inspected was a witch.

MatthewhopkinsFortunately for the women of England, Hopkins died in 1647 – still a number of years shy of his thirtieth birthday. At the time, his methods were already being questioned, and a number of people were speaking out against him, accusing him of being a cheat (duh), more motivated by the money involved than by any genuine desire to cleanse the world of real evil.

Unfortunately for several women in the New World, Hopkins was very proud of his methods – so proud he wrote a handbook, called The Discovery of Witches, published the same year he so opportunely died. This book was taken as the ultimate guide in how to find witches – at least in the Colonies – and indirectly Hopkins would thereby cause a number of further deaths in America – long after he was dead.

This little handbook offered a number of alternatives as to how to reveal a witch. Sleep deprivation and pricking have already been mentioned, but Hopkins was also a warm advocate of the swimming test, whereby the unfortunate woman was tied up and thrown into the water. If she floated, she was a witch, if she sank she was innocent. Most people float – at least initially – when thrown in water. And once they start sinking, chances are they’re already more dead than alive… (Incidentally, if you want to read an excellent fictionalised depiction of a woman being subjected to all this, I warmly recommend Ann Swinfen’s Flood)

Witches John_William_Waterhouse_-_Magic_Circle

“Double double toil and trouble…”

Over the coming years, Hopkins’ methods would be applied to a number of unfortunates, starting with poor Margaret Jones, a Boston midwife who was hanged as a witch in 1648. His suggested approach to witch discovery was also used at the notorious Salem Trials of the 1690’s, and the swimming test would continued in use for a number of decades after that, as testified by the sad case of Grace Sherwood, who was ducked in 1706, had the misfortune (or not) to float, and accordingly spent the following eight years in prison for witchcraft. (Grace’s story I’ve covered in a previous post)

Over time, the voice of reason prevailed. Over time, men would yet again scoff at the ridiculous notion of witches. Sadly, that reaction came too late to save the estimated 50 000 people, 75% of which were women, who were executed during those centuries when it sufficed to point finger and yell “witch” to bring that person’s life tumbling down.

The miracle plant – of medicines and alcohol

20150713_194316_resized_1This time of the year, I spend a lot of time outside. Other than weeding my few flower beds and calling down eternal curses on those foolish monks who decided to introduce ground elder in Scandinavia (it’s edible – but it’s also wildly invasive) I rather enjoy studying the plants that grow on our meadow.

I love our meadow. Our sons were all for converting it into a football field, but I have adamantly refused, citing such things as plant variety in my defence. These days, my boys have resigned themselves – plus I suspect they’re pretty much in love with the beauty of the meadow, even if they don’t admit it. That’s guys for you…


Meadow sweet

Part of our land is borderline marshy, and at this time of the year this means a dipping sea of meadow sweet flowers, the plant itself standing well above my waist, the heavy cluster of miniature white flowers brushing my shoulders. Meadow sweet smells of almonds – or rather of newly baked almond cake. It is one of the more versatile medicinal plants around, can be used for everything from disinfecting open wounds to alleviating pain. In fact, meadow sweet is a natural source of aspirin, and in dire need one can dig up a piece of the root and eat it to bring that galloping headache back in control. My dear friend Nicholas Culpeper (well; that may be an exaggeration, seeing as Nicky boy has been dead these last three centuries past) has the following to say about meadow sweet:

“It is an excellent medicine in fevers attended with purgings, and may be given to the quantity of a moderate bason full, once in two or three hours. It is a good wound-herb, whether taken inwardly or externally applied. A water distilled from the flowers is good for inflammations of the eye.” Up here in Scandinavia, we also know this plant does wonders with acidic stomachs – and its roots are a natural source for black dye.

Second son, who is a fount of knowledge on everything from wormholes to Roman Emperors, would add that meadow sweet has also been used since time immemorial to clean out the vats prior to setting a new brew of beer or mead. Actually, the plant served dual purposes: first it was used to disinfect the vats, then it was added to the brew, an elegant little whiff of almonds accompanying the finished product. Seeing as second son has a major interest in brewing, this counts as a point in favour for our plant of the day.


dog roses – before they become hips…

These last few years, second son has been experimenting with various concoctions, all of them with the purpose of achieving an alcoholic beverage that is
a) cheap
b) potent
c) drinkable.
In this, he takes after his father, who drove me crazy with his youthful attempts to make something resembling wine from rose hips. When second son started talking about making sherry from carrots, I was therefore somewhat skeptical, and after two years of watching this potent brew bubble and darken I can report that carrot sherry fulfills two of the above. It also looks very nice, a deep golden brown colour that brings to mind high end whiskies. That’s the only resemblance it has with whisky, high-end or otherwise. On the other hand, compared to his father’s efforts he is one up: hubby barely achieved a) above with his hip concoction.

Second son, however, is not easily discouraged. Being of a scientific bend, he analyses the results, compares outcome with expectations, and sits down to consider just what in his brewing process he needs to tweak so as to achieve his goals. His friends cheer him on, no doubt very keen on the a) and b) part above. Seeing as his friends have downed sizeable quantities of that carrot sherry, we know for a fact they are less concerned by such aspects as taste. Anyway, I cheer second son on too, because his experiments expand beyond the realm of alcoholic beverages, and so it is second son who will surprise us with jars of homemade strawberry jam – or who fills the entire house with the delicious smell of baking bread.

Last year, second son developed a fascination with meadowsweet. Personally, I think he’d overdosed on Amaretto, which was why he hovered like a drunk bumblebee round the flowering almond-scented plants.
“A cordial,” he said, “wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
“Hmm,” I replied. A cordial? Yeah, right!
“A cordial,” he told his sister, “What do you think?”
“Hmm,” she said. “Stick with the elderflowers.”
He gave her a disappointed look. “People like you don’t drive evolution forward.”
Being the big sister, she just raised an eloquent brow.

Anyway, to make a long story short, second son made cordial. The kitchen smelled of almonds, the entire house smelled of almonds. The cordial smelled of almonds and was quite, quite undrinkable. As per second son, this was just a matter of not having set it to brew. Hopefully, he suggested mixing his cordial with more sugar and leaving it all too bubble along happily in a nice secluded corner of the country house. Did not happen.


Bog-myrtle, an unassuming little thing…

This year, second son is back to hovering around the meadow sweet – in between crouching in front of one of our impressive stands of bog-myrtle and sighing happily. Bog-myrtle is an excellent flavouring in schnaps. Excellent. Once upon a time, it was mixed with yarrow and rosemary and used to flavour beer – before people caught on to hops. It is also a fantastic midge repellent, good for combating fevers, stomach aches, pulmonary infections and unwanted pregnancies. In fact, bog-myrtle is almost as useful as meadow sweet – but it is nowhere near as pretty.
Not that second son cares about such superficial things as beauty: no, second son inhales the scent of crushed bog-myrtle and turns to beam at me.
“Pretty much a miracle, huh?” he says, gesturing at the meadow sweet, at the bog-myrtle. “Two plants – weeds, almost – and they’re more or less a complete pharmacy.”
“Yup.” A miracle indeed. I hunker down beside him, and there we sit, two people with wide smiles on their faces as we inhale the scents of our magic meadow. It makes me think of Ferdinand the Bull – you know, the bull who preferred flowers to fighting.

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