Hearts Through History Romance Writers

Marriage and Sex in the Middle Ages

The concept of marriage that existed in the Middle Ages was a different thing entirely from what we think of when we think marriage today.  Was it about love?  Was it about happily ever after?  Or was it a cold and heartless contract?

Well, actually, the truth is that it was something both between those two extremes and entirely different from them.

Marriage has always been the focal point of family life.  In the world of the upper class, marriage meant the successful continuance of the estate or the alliance of one family or estate with another.  It was an important political bargaining chip, used to make or break peace with neighboring people of power.  Did the bride and groom have any say in it?  Well, not really.  A little bit.  But there seems to be this mistaken concept that nobles were married off when they were still children and because of that their lives were loveless pieces on a chessboard of politics.  The truth is a little stickier.


White Nights in St. Petersburg

It was a lovely night, one of those nights, dear reader, which can only happen when you are young.

~White Nights, Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1848~

From June 11th through July 2nd, St. Petersburg experiences White Nights (Beliye Nochi), where there is sunlight 24 hours a day. The phenomenon is caused by St. Petersburg’s northern location, which is roughly the same latitude as Oslo, Norway and the southern tip of Greenland. St. Petersburg is the world’s most northern city with a population over one million, and few other cities can rival the experience and atmosphere on the streets of St. Petersburg during the summer.

Made up of more than one hundred islands and criss-crossed by some 60 canals, St. Petersburg is often referred to as the “Venice of the North.” Some of the city’s great sites include Imperial palaces along the Neva River, the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Hermitage Museum, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the Summer Garden, and, of course, the Mariinsky Theater.


Burial Battleground

Things had come to a crisis in Victorian London.  What to do with all the bodies?

It had always been known that the occupation of grave digging held peculiar risks.  Generally an unhealthy lot, those performing the task faced increasing risk of accidently striking a coffin already buried while making room for a new one.  The gas released was so terribly noxious men had been known to fall dead on the spot as if they had been shot.  One Valentine Haycock was asked about his experience in these matters:

“When you have been digging yourself, have you felt yourself affected immediately?—Yes, I have been obliged to get up in the best way that I could, and I have been in such a tremble that I did not know whether I was going to die myself or not; I have gone indoors, and have sat a little time to recover myself.”

Things were getting worse.  Grave diggers were not the only ones who were struck down “beneath the breath of the dread king of terrors.”  Churchyards, historically the only places where one could be buried in London, were beginning to reek.  Clergymen were resigning their offices to seek work in country parishes, even at lower wages.  Doctors were advising their patients to “remove from the neighborhood of such places.”  Cholera and fevers among the living were most prevalent where the dead congregated the most.


Me and Bodiam Castle

In 2004 my husband and I took a trip to England & Scotland.  This was one of my dream trips as I have a MA in History (specializing in Tudor and Stuart England) and taught Western Civilization at the college level.

After a week in London, we rented a car and took off to tour the country, staying in B&Bs.  At one point we stopped in a small village to get snacks, and the store keepers, knowing we were tourist by our accents, asked we we’d been to Bodiam Castle and recommended we see it.  So next morning we went to see.  As you can tell from the photo, Bodiam Castle was a moated castle built in the 14th century, the very iconic fairy tale castle with crenellated four towers.  The castle was partly dismantled in the 16th, but in the 1829 was partially restored.  Now it belongs to the National Trust and open to us tourist.  The exterior is almost complete, and even the gatehouse has the original wooden portcullis.

Since we arrived early before the castle opened, we visited the souvenir shop.  While in the shop we talked to one of the locals who ask about our visit.  Learning I was a history teacher, he mentioned that later that evening the local historical society was having a reading of Rudyard Kipling and would we still be in the area.  He asked, “Do you like Kipling?” A pause while my inner American/Groucho Marx took advantage of an opening too good to pass up.  “I don’t know,” I replied, “I’ve never kippled?”  Apparently even old American jokes are new in England and everyone laughed.  Then I apologized as we would have to miss Kipling as we were leaving that afternoon.

The castle is only about half there as the timbers are and wooden or lath walls are gone.  Was really interesting, you cross the moat, and at the barbican, the murders’ holes.   Once inside, it’s quickly obvious that medieval people were much smaller that we are.  I’m not a tall person (5’4”) anyone taller than I probably would have to duck to get through the door ways.  Once inside one of the room that was still complete accept for the roof, it would have been very dark.

The really fun part was going up one of the towers.  AS we’re going up the clockwise staircase (with very little steps, couldn’t get my whole foot on the steps), I’m explaining to my husband that the stairs are this way so that most people being right-handed, any invaders wouldn’t have room to swing their swords.  And right after I said this, we met a husband and wife coming down the stairs, the husband swing his cane to show his wife how the defenders would have the advantage over any invaders.  I forget if we backed down or they went back up, but there was no room to pass on those stairs.

Once we got to the top of the tower, here was a great view over the country side.  You could have seen anyone who was coming a long way off.  We had a great time at Bodiam Castle all because we stopped and talked to people in small shop.

Have you ever stopped and without planning found an interesting place?

The Victorian Honeymoon with Niagara Falls

Remember when Niagara Falls was considered THE place for honeymooners? Would you be surprised to know that all started back in the early 1800’s?

According to the website, www.infoniagara.com, Niagara Falls was established as the ideal honeymoon destination by the French in 1803. “It has been said that Napoleon’s brother, Jerome Bonaparte, travelled by stage from New Orleans to spend his honeymoon in Niagara Falls, after his marriage to Elizabeth Patterson, daughter of a Baltimore merchant, and returned home with flowing reports.” Historian Sherman Zavitz, however, traces the notion to Theodosia Burr, daughter of Aaron Burr, who, in 1801, took a wedding tour of the falls after hearing about its wonders from the Mohawk Chief, Joseph Brant. Upon her return to New York City she extolled the beauty of the falls to her New York Society friends and the rest, as they say, is history.