In seventeenth-century England, the role of servants was far more nuanced and flexible than readers today may realize.
Certainly, there was a long-standing patriarchal expectation that the head of a family would maintain a godly and dutiful order over his household.
In advice manuals, published letters and sermons, men were repeatedly admonished on how to treat the servants living in their homes. Men were expected to provide food, shelter, religious instruction, and a disciplined hand, much as they were expected to treat their own children and wives. They were not supposed to treat their servants as slaves; indeed, quite the opposite.
However, we must always consider the tensions between prescription and practice. Just because the expectations were stated, most certainly does not mean that the expectations were met.
For example, in Advice of a father, or, Counsel to a child (1664), men were admonished to: Anon. (1664). Advice of a father
- "Provide for their [servants'] support and their maintenance; let them not want in their work. Be punctual likewise in their pay. When the work is done, the laborer is worthy of his hire; if he deserve better, encourage thy servant in well-doing; this will encourage him for the future to do well."
- "Behave thyself so in thy family, so that those below will love and fear you."
It's clear from first-hand accounts, such as by the diarist Pepys and others, that the lines between servants and family members were often blurred. At the extreme, there were many affairs between masters and their servants. At a more benign level, the mistress of the household, might for example seek companionship from her female servants. There are many examples of the mistress of the household looking to her servants for guidance in pregnancy, child-rearing, household maintenance, and disciplining other servants. For this reason, as the last injunction suggests, discretion was particularly important (perhaps because it was not always be realized). The Early English Books are full of tales of servants blackmailing their employers, because they had discovered something the master (or mistress!) would rather have kept hidden (e.g. adultery, gambling debts, infanticide etc). Thus, the same advice manual warns:
- "Be not too familiar with thy servants, neither let them be too privy to thy secrets....Keep a distance with discretion, that others may know their places, do thou know thine."
This last point suggests that even the lowest servant in his employ should be treated as all the other servants were treated.While the master was expected to rule with a firm hand, he was more like a benevolent monarch than a tyrant:
- "Be not imperious, yet keep thy staff in thy own hand. Let them rather see thy power than feel it. .... Choose those that will be careful without chiding; and delight to see them cheerful in their business and to do it with delight."
- "Rebuke in private, public rebuke hardens."
- "The greatest master minds his meanest servants."
There's a pragmatic realization here that seems to transcend the ages. If you work someone without letting them "blow off steam," then you run the risk of having unmotivated, even hostile or violent, servants in your household. This holds with the reality of homicide trends in the 17th century: Far more servants killed their masters, than masters killed their servants!This injunction also fits in with the many accounts across the Early English books of servants getting some days off, attending the theatres and fairs, going to market, visiting family, even sharing in merriments with the family. While the author of this piece would mostly likely call for moderation, it's clear that masters did give their servants more freedoms than might be assumed.
- "Let not their business be a bondage. Their restraints ought to be reasonable; allow some time to unbend the bow; there is time to labor and a time for laughter. Be not unmerciful to a beast, much less to a servant. Consider as a man, and more as a Christian; allow him rest and recreation proportioned to his employment."
I want to point out one other piece of advice offered in this manual:
"Reckon thy servants among thy children; the difference is only in degrees; both make up the economy; thou art the father of the family; a wife servant is better than a foolish child; cast him not off in an old age, when he has spent himself in thy service; a faithful servant does well deserve to be counted among thy friends."
There was, without a doubt, a recognition that loyal servants could become more like members of the family over time. In this particular injunction, the master is told not to throw out his servants just because they have become old, but rather to take care of them. The best example I can think of, to help illustrate how a servant could become like a family member over time, is to draw on a 1960s reference: Would the Brady Bunch have thrown out Alice? In my recent novel, A Murder at Rosamund's Gate, I touch on a lot of these issues. I deliberately placed my protagonist Lucy Campion, in the household of a magistrate, at a time when Enlightened principles were starting to emerge in England. In my story, I deliberately juxtapose the reasoned household of the magistrate, with the less disciplined households that surrounded them. I wanted my magistrate then to be a more Enlightened thinker, more concerned with ideas, than the person who suggested those ideas to him. So he could have listened to and believed in the views of a servant with an intelligent lively mind.Perhaps I gave Lucy too many freedoms, perhaps I didn't. Ultimately, I do not think there is any blanket, all-encompassing way to look at the relationship between masters and servants in 17th century England. Arguably, these attitudes may have changed in the 18th and 19th century (although I doubt there was a monolithic understanding of this relationship even then), but the bottom line is this: The relationship between master and servant in the 17th century was far more nuanced and flexible than is often assumed. This is my story, and I'm sticking to it!
I’m joined today by Peg Herring, author of the Simon & Elizabeth Historical Mysteries, the Dead Detective Paranormal Mysteries, as well as the Loser Mysteries, our focus for this interview.I met Peg at Malice Domestic a few weeks ago when we did a panel together. When I heard about her protagonist Loser, a homeless woman who solves mysteries and speaks only thirty words a day, I had to learn more.
From the official blurb:
Loser returns to the hills where she was raised in search of peace, but even in lovely West Virginia, trouble manages to find her. One of her fellow foster children returns to the little town of Beulah, and the secrets she carries with her will lead Loser into a tangle of deception.
Nadine hasn’t got much to say about why she’s back in Beulah, and her son Eddie might be just a little too good to be true. Still, Loser’s willing to help them - at least until Nadine pulls a disappearing act.
Each time Loser learns the answer to a question, another one arises. Why did Nadine run from a comfortable life and a successful husband? Is Eddie a good kid or an opportunistic manipulator? What happened in the town of Romulus that was worth killing for? And most important: Can Loser protect the innocent and at the same time preserve her own life, the life she’s only recently begun to want?
Hi Peg! Thanks for joining me today! Can you tell us more about Loser?
PH: Loser is in her mid-twenties and quite dysfunctional. She can’t sleep inside; she counts how many words she speaks per day (under 30 is a must), and she doesn’t interact with people unless she absolutely has to. In the first book, Killing Silence, readers learned how she came to be so damaged. In the second book, Killing Memories, we see her start the long healing process.
What inspired your Loser Mysteries, and Killing Memories in particular?
PH: I spent several months in Richmond when a family member needed my help. She lived in one of the lovely row houses in the Fan, and I loved walking around the area every afternoon, gawping at the mansions, the statues, and the cobblestone alleys. However, there were homeless people, too, and the thought of someone so desperate living so close to such wealth made an impression on me.
How did you go about doing research for your Loser mysteries? I assume it was a little different than how you researched your historical and paranormal series!
PH: Definitely! Historical research (as you well know) means a lot of poring over books and websites to achieve historical accuracy.
I did most of the research for the Loser Mysteries before I knew I’d be writing the series. Wandering through the Fan was restful for me during a stressful period of my life, but I was soaking up details the whole time.
The actual writing means a lot of Internet time, because I live in Michigan, and I can’t just trot off to Richmond to confirm a detail that’s fuzzy in my mind. We’re lucky that so much is available on-line. For example, I located a picture of the DMV to help with Killing Mysteries, and lately I researched the Richmond police force for the third book, Killing Despair on the department’s website.
You’ve written three different series now (a feat I’m extremely impressed by). Was your experience with Loser similar or different from the other series? Do you switch between series, or are the other series finished?
PH: The idea for a story comes easily: it just floats into my head. I usually begin with a character, and the story builds naturally around him or her.
I focus on one book at a time when I’m writing, but I do switch among the series, because they’re all current. Edits for a book in one series might interrupt the writing of another, because they come when the editor sends them.
It’s a little rough sometimes to get started again when I start the next book. For example, I just finished one of the historicals, in which Simon is a contented tradesman of the Tudor era, a man who’s comfortable with himself. It took some thought to get myself back into Loser’s head and to put myself on the streets of Richmond with a woman who is definitely not comfortable with herself.
What is your favorite part of writing?
PH: My favorite thing is that day when the writing goes well, when everything falls into place and makes sense. I sometimes go away from home to remove the distractions of laundry and lawn care, but if I get in the zone at home, I can be productive there, too.
PH: My least favorite part of this job is keeping up with the technology, mostly because I’m not that interested. Way back when, I learned MySpace. Then I added Facebook and learned to get around there. Then Goodreads and a host of other reader sites. When Twitter came along, I established a presence there, though it’s pretty minimal. People rave about how other sites help their sales, but I’m reluctant. In the first place, I don’t have any more time, and in the second, I don’t enjoy being lost on Pinterest!
What has surprised you most about the writing/publishing process?
PH: I think everyone’s surprised by the same sad facts: You don’t get rich. You don’t get famous. You don’t just write the book and then relax. (Wait, what? I'm not going to be famous? --SC)
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
PH: I always start with one word: persist! Everything necessary for writing success requires persistence. You have to keep writing to improve your craft. You have to keep asking someone to look at what you’ve done. And you have to keep reminding the world that your work is out there, ready to be enjoyed.
What are you currently working on? What's next?
PH: The third Simon & Elizabeth Mystery, The Lady Flirts with Death, has a June 5th release date from Five Star Publishing. I got my author copies a few days ago, which is always an exciting time.
My other publisher, LL-Publications, has the next in the paranormal Dead Detective series, Dead for the Show, somewhere in the copy-editing phase. No release date yet.
As I said above, I’m at work on the third Loser Mystery, Killing Despair, and I just hit the place where it feels like it’s coming together, so it shouldn’t take more than a dozen years now!
Thanks for inviting me, Susanna. I enjoyed meeting you at Malice, and though I’ve only started A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, I already like the characters! (Aw, shucks, thanks! -SC)
Thanks again for stopping by! I hope you can come back again to talk about your historical novels, which are terrific!
OTTOMAN Water Wheel c. 1550 - 1850 Hama. Syria ©Kathleen Cohen
Because I think in metaphors, this Syrian water wheel perfectly explains my absence from my blog. Since A Murder at Rosamund's Gate released a month ago (has it been that long already?!), I've barely done any writing. I've been so busy with my day job (faculty development), my night job (teaching), my all-the-time job (family), not too mention all the fun book-related events I've been doing, that I've been neglecting my super-late-at-night job (writing). And I miss writing. For me, writing is just fun. The problem-solving, the research, the dreamy imaginings, the discovery of character and motives, the joy of putting down the perfect word at the perfect moment...It's all a process I truly enjoy. Yet, I'm conscious of being like the Syrian water wheel above. Immobile. Fixed. Dessicated. (Temporarily, I hope!). Normally, as each of my little cups bearing water gets emptied, it will soon swish down through the water to be replenished. Right now, I think I've emptied one too many cups. As the noted psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi might say, my flow of creativity has been halted. (Check out his Ted Talk on the secret of happiness and connecting with your creative self.) But I'm excited. In a few weeks, the academic year will have ended, I'll have turned in grades, wrapped up the programs I run, completed some work travel, and then I'll have time to write--and perhaps more importantly--the flow will return, and I'll get that water wheel turning again.
But I'm curious...do you have a metaphor or mental image for how you think about writing, (or anything else that you particularly enjoy?)
Cindy Silberblatt, Fan Guest of Honor
I just came back from my first "Malice Domestic." Held in Bethesda, this annual mystery convention focuses on traditional mysteries.
Some highlights for me:
1. This morning, I had the fun of being interviewed for two minutes by Cindy Silverblatt, the Fan Guest of Honor. Using the parlance of the convention, she was a hoot! Amazingly enough, she engaged 26 debut authors with ease...and even stayed on task (although the author Barb Goffman's expert use of the stopwatch no doubt helped rein in the writers.). My new friend, Lynn Raimondo, author of the much acclaimed Dante's Wood, was also a part of this stellar group.
I can't wait to check out these awesome books!
3. And the last highlight?
Well, it was meeting one of my literary idols, Charles Todd, or at least the female half of the famed mother-son writing team. I can only dream of collaborating with one of my own children as she and her son have done in writing their terrific books.I had Caroline sign a book for my mother, and as she did, I mumbled something about how reading her stories helped inspire to find my way in historical fiction. I'm sure I made no sense, but she was very gracious and asked for my card.
(Inside, I was dancing around, thinking 'Maybe she will read my book!!!' but of course I was totally nonchalant. Well not really.)But of course, some lessons were learned by yours truly:One day, if I remember, I'll post a longer entry about what I've learned from attending these mystery conferences. For now, I'll just say:
- Don't leave your nametag in your room like I did, especially if you are a completely unrecognizable debut author!
- Bring your own books, in case your own books do not show up. (sigh...)
- However, people do care when unfortunate things happen. (The incredibly kind booksellers from Scene of the Crime books went and got a few copies for me, so I would have something to sign at the conference!)
- Being gracious and humble goes a long way, and being the opposite is, well, uncool.
Maybe I'll see you at Malice Domestic next year!
My book started years ago, when I was a graduate student, pouring over 17th century murder ballads. The ballads served as musical 'true accounts' of murderers who wrote letters to their victims, urging them to rendezvous in dark deserted fields. I knew I had to write about these monsters. I drank lots of coffee. I spent years writing this first book, scene by scene, in little half hour bursts, at coffee shops, on the train, when the kids were sleeping, until one day--in 2010-- I finished. Even my husband--alpha reader extraordinaire--did not know much about the story. "It's set in the seventeenth century," I'd mumble. "A servant gets killed. Another servant tries to figure it out. Stuff like that."But eventually, I asked him and a few other trusted friends to read the book. I revised again, queried, queried, queried, while writing an entirely different book in the interim. In 2011, I got my wonderful agent who quickly connected me to my equally wonderful editor at Minotaur. My journey was no longer an imaginary jaunt; the path to publication was suddenly very real. In 2012, more changes happened. The title of my book got changed. My publication date got pushed back. My beautiful cover was revealed. Multiple revisions happened. Copy edits made me crazy, but I learned a lot in the process. I had my first public appearance as a novelist ("2 minutes at Bouchercon"). At some point, I received my ARCs.2013. Months still passed. My book began to be publicized. I reached the 100 Day mark. Another few months passed. My book started to be reviewed. My hardback copy came in the mail. And now...Be still my heart...
MY BOOK IS FINALLY HERE!!!!
Thanks to all my colleagues, friends and family--especially my husband--who made this possible!!!!
Date: 1688 Reel position: Wing / 853:61
Fans of Sherlock Holmes may be intrigued to know that the first known female sleuth in England was Anne Kidderminster (nee Holmes), a seventeenth-century widow who tracked down and brought her husband’s murderer to justice thirteen years after the crime. To find out more, check out my guest blog over on Criminal Element
, found under the excerpt of A Murder at Rosamund's Gate.
Lovely cover, don't you think?
I'm delighted to be joined today by the talented Nancy Bilyeau, author of The Crown and The Chalice, historical thrillers set in Reformation England. From the official blurb:
In 1538, England is in the midst of bloody power struggles between crown and cross that threaten to tear the country apart. Aristocrat-turned-novice Joanna Stafford has seen what lies inside the king's torture rooms and risks imprisonment again, when she is caught up in a shadowy international plot targeting the King. As the power plays turn vicious, Joanna understands she may have to assume her role in a prophecy foretold by three different seers, each more omniscient than the last.
Joanna realizes the life of Henry VIII as well as the future of Christendom are in her hands—hands that must someday hold the chalice that lays at the center of these deadly prophecies…
"In the midst of England’s Reformation, a young novice will risk everything to defy the most powerful men of her era."
The other day, I came across a comment you'd made about The Chalice. “I wrote a novel set five centuries ago, in a country I don’t live in, about a religion I don’t practice.” So, tell us, what in the world inspired The Chalice?
NB: Both The Crown and The Chalice come from my lifelong passion for English history, which defies all explanation. I know that the conventional wisdom in fiction is “Write what you know,” but I always love entering new worlds in my reading, far from my daily experience. There have been plenty of novels written about modern life in New York City and I am sure they’re quite good but I haven’t read them. I’d rather watch “Game of Thrones” than “Sex in the City.”
The Chalice, set at a key moment in the English Reformation--in 1538--is a carefully researched novel. What was your favorite part of doing the research? Least favorite?
NB: I have a sizable home library of nonfiction books on England, acquired at a steady clip since I was a teenager. I drew on that base of knowledge when coming up with the broad outline of the plot for The Crown and The Chalice. Then I would do deep dives into certain areas that I needed detail on: life in a priory of Dominican nuns; the mystery behind the missing body of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury; the menu of a dinner in an aristocratic household; travel by boat from England to Flanders. All sorts of things! I love finding the little details that I can use to make a scene come alive, such as what would be served as breakfast to Dominican friars in the 1530s. My least favorite is when I can’t find what I need and it’s delaying the writing. But I am stubborn; I keep going until I learn enough to help my story.
Joanna Stafford—a former novice—is an unconventional heroine for any time period. Tell us about your thought process as you developed her character.
NB: I wanted her to be genuinely pious but to be a real person too, with frailties and flaws, such as a quick temper. Strong but sometimes reckless. Intelligent but naïve. It was important to me that I create a dimensional person.
I'm still on a hiatus from this blog for a little while longer...but I've been having fun writing guest posts and doing interviews for other blogs, webzines and even my local paper. To see what I've been writing about, please check out my virtual tour. Also, I received the official HARD COPY of A Murder at Rosamund's Gate yesterday in the mail!!!! That's about as exciting as it gets!!!Oh, and my book was selected as a Barnes & Noble Booksellers' Pick for April! What an honor...I'm thrilled!
English: "A Mad Dog in a Coffee-House" (1809) by Rowlandson, showing a rabid dog terrorizing a coffee house in 18th century England (possibly Garrison's or Jonathan's, near the Exchange)
Such chaos! Such mayhem! Okay, that's all I've got. There's a caricature in here somewhere, but I'd have to do a little research to figure it out. Unfortunately, I don't have the time...Once again, I need to take an extended coffee break, aka temporary blog hiatus. I knew I was having a minor problem when I kept starting posts with no time to finish them.
- The introduction of chocolate into 17th England? A fascinating tale of politics and intrigue, but one that will have to wait.
- The real story of St. Patrick...Happy St. Palladius Day anyone? Yup, I wanted to tell that tale too, but ran out of time. I'll tell it next year.
So I'll be finishing gallons of coffee in my attempt to balance work, teaching and writing...all while doing publicity stuff for A Murder at Rosamund's Gate...did I mention that it's coming out April 23? :-) But I'll be back soon!
In the meantime, I'll leave you with the above image as a writing prompt. What's going on here? What schemes are afoot? Or most simply of all, Who let the dog in? Happy writing!
A QUICK EXPLANATION OF THE IMAGE!!!
I just had to research the meaning behind this image (despite being on my self-imposed blog hiatus). In doing so, I came across this interesting work by Joseph Grego, who wrote extensively about Rowlandson in 1922. He offers an interesting explanation of the painting that gets at the shifting economic concerns at the time.
In his own inimitable words, Grego writes:
"March 20, 1809. The advent of a nondescript animal, … assumed to be a ferocious mad dog, has produced the utmost terror and confusion amongst the grave frequenters of a mercantile coffee-house… All the city brokers, and pillars of change found therein are seared out of their sober senses; some…are paralyzed with fear; others are trying to creep under the tables; a few are seeking escape by the door which they are effectually blocking; and groups of affrighted fugitives are endeavoring to gain the refuge of the staircase….Comfortable citizens are thrown on their backs, like turtles, and trodden on, while the pressure of viler bodies above is expressing a stream of specie from the well-filled pockets of the overthrown…."
So what does all this mean?
Essentially, something seemingly innocuous has pervaded the economy, and it will cause mayhem. The explanation for this mayhem apparently can be found on the advertisment (notice) stuck on the back wall, which offers an important piece of shipping intelligence.
The notice warns 'lay off Barking Creek," the location of a large fishing fleet in London.
Barking Creek...rabid dog, get it?
(but now back to writing!)
Early English books tract supplement interim guide ; / E4:2 Date 16--?