22 Mar 2014

Historical Saturday#1- Medieval Matrimony

I have decided it’s time for a new feature, to fill those gaps when I’m not reading fiction and don’t post reviews for a while because I have vitally important academic research, Latin practice, or whatever other reason. So what better an idea for a occasion piece entitled ‘Historical Saturday’, devoted to tasty titbits from the past (hopefully) related to the general subject matter of this blog?

So here is my first try, which I admit is in part based on an article I wrote for an author’s newsletter. Hope she doesn’t mind…..

Historical Saturday#1- Medieval Matrimony

We must all have encountered it at some point, for it is probably the oldest cliché in Romantic Fiction. The pretty young girl forced into a marriage of convenience with a man she has never met that is usually horrible, abusive, old or in any other undesirable. The Medieval Era seems particularly associated with such circumstances, to such an extent they have become something of an established ‘fact’ in the popular imagination.
Indeed, even an educational page on the website of the Medieval Times park states that:
“In Medieval Times marriage was quite different than today. Women didn’t have a choice as to who they would marry, and, most of the time, women didn’t even know the man before they wed”.
Yet just how much truth is there in such assertions, and what was marriage really like for the men the women of Medieval Europe?
As with most things in history the customs, practices and laws surrounding Medieval Marriage was not as simplistic and straightforward as they may seem. 
Firstly, forced marriage was not necessarily the norm. The eleventh century Law codes of Canute (the first Danish King of England who ruled from 1016- 1035) state that:
 “neither a widow nor a maiden is ever to be forced to marry a man whom she herself dislikes, nor to be given for money, unless he (presumably the husband to be) chooses to give everything of his own free will”. 
So technically “by at least the eleventh century consent was regarded as necessary for marriage by both church and state”. Throughout the period which historians refer to as the High and Later Middle Ages- about the eleventh to the sixteenth century, the rule of consent proved vitally important.
William Langland, in his allegorical commentary on 14th century society Piers Ploughman even stated that a proper marriage truly in accordance with the will of God ought to "begin with the consent of the couple’s fathers, and advice of their families, followed by the mutual willingness of the pair themselves".
In fact, the rule of consent could prove problematic, as the stories such practices as a men exchanging vows with a women in the pub in order to go to bed with her demonstrate. Such may not be entirely accurate, but records show that cases of questionable marriage did come before church courts in England. One such case was that of Marjorie Paston in the 1400s, who had secretly married the family bailiff. 
Though originally of peasant stock, the Pastons has climbed the social ladder to become lawyers, landowners and even members of the royal court. Yet they were not nobles, and were anxious to protect their status, so Marjorie’s mother would not have approved of her marrying a man ‘beneath’ her.
When said mother found out, she tried to have the arrangement declared invalid, but the local Bishop of Norwich does not seem to have been so easily swayed “because he was convinced that it was entered into voluntarily
So what about marriage to strangers? Well, evidence seems to show that many people married within their own social circles and communities, but parents clearly did have had a deciding role in bringing their children together. Crucially, however:
 “in respectable circles … courtship customs allowed the would-be couple to get to know and like each other” before they married. 
It was quite possible that couple may not like each other, or could at least in theory refuse the match in defiance of their parents. This might land them in trouble, but it certainly does not seem to suggest they had no choice.
Tomb of Queen Eleanor, Westminster
There are also some famous examples of loving arranged marriages one of the most notable being that of King Edward I of England and his wife Eleanor of Castile. His devotion to his wife is so well known that is “has become something of a legend”. After her premature death he commissioned gilded monuments, known as The Eleanor Crosses at every place where his Queen’s funeral entourage rested on the way to her final resting place of Westminster Abbey- where her tomb may still be seen today.
Of course, not all arranged marriages were happy, and the laws and social customs recounted above were not always universally observed. Langland again lambasted those of his time who contracted "unions purely out of greed to get hold of property’ and expressed disgust at ‘a young girl paired with a weak, worn out old man".
Such things were clearly still happening in his Langland’s day, but this did not mean they were universal. In any age there will be those who contravene the law to fulfill their greed and selfish ambition. It may however be possible to derive some encouragement from knowing that happiness in marriage and courtship was not necessarily a remote fantasy for out medieval forbears. Admittedly, there may be less dramatic tension in nuptial happiness, but perhaps it is time the other side to the story was told?


‘Life in a Medieval Village: Marriage’, Medieval Times, Accessed 16th January 2014, http://educators.medievaltimes.com/1-5-marriage.html
Frances and Joseph Gies, Marriage and Family in the Middle Ages (Harper Row, 1987), p106.
William Langland, Piers Ploughman, edited and translated by A.V.C Schmidt (Oxford, 2000), p91.

A.J Pollard, Late Medieval England 1399-1509 (Harlow, 2000), p192.

Michael Prestwich, Edward I (California, 1988), p122.

19 Mar 2014

The Falcon and the Sparrow, Marylu Tyndall

Ransom Press New Kindle Edition Published 
October 2013, 344 pages

The second book I have read by Marylu Tyndall was sadly a disappointment. I didn't really enjoy Veil of Pearls and but gave The Falcon and the Sparrow a chance, one reason being that it is the only one of her novels set in Britain, but also because I did not want to give up on her work completely.

It had a promising beginning and premise, but was neither an especially good spy cum mystery novel nor a quality romance. In some respects, it had many parallels with the other, including assorted bunch of leering and lecherous aristocratic men, or jealous and snobbish aristocratic women one of whom was after the guy who was really falling for Dominque, a woman hiding the truth about her past or identity. Also a hero who has lost his belief in God because of suffering or difficult circumstances. Not an especially original characterization in the case of the last, and the former giving the impression of a somewhat formulaic or cliché ridden story. Also, the consistent depiction of almost all wealthy/aristocratic characters in such a way does make me wonder if author dislikes the upper classes as a whole.

The romance was fairly typical for the genre with a nice Christian partner falling for the hurting and unavailable/unsuitable other half. There were too many coincidental nocturnal encounters in unbuttoned shirts or only a nightgown for my liking, and the romance bordering on inappropriate or verging on the racy or even obscene. The attempted rape scene was almost enough to tip it over the edge- there are other novels which involve such things, but the way they were written did not seem appropraite. In fact it came across as obscene, almost stomach- turning.
With everything I did feel uncomfortable reading the novel on some occasions. Not good for Christian fiction.

I'm not certain how accurate the setting was, and the historical details were at times interesting, but other deficiencies detracted from this. As with other books, I felt the descriptions of the supposed dirt, unhealthiness, unpleasantness and squalor which supposed blighted most cities throughout the `old days' was exaggerated and overdone. Even affluent areas like St James' Park stinking of manure, seriously?

Dominque's nocturnal wanderings in seedy areas of London seemed a common enough occurrence for some books in this genre. Yet not clever at all so her almost getting into trouble was hardly a surprise- until the mysterious man who was quite obviously an angel appeared to protect her.
I don't mean to appear facetious or irreverent, as the scripture does teach God can send angels to protect his people, but this happened in Veil of Pearls too so it seems to be quite a frequently used device, almost making it seem like an easy 'get out clause'.

I thank the author for emailing me the Kindle edition after alerting her to a copy uploaded to the internet without authorization, but due to two bad reading experiences I sadly do think I will steer clear of her books in future.

13 Mar 2014

'Lady in the Mist' Laurie Alice Eakes

 Lady in the Mist- The Midwives Book 1
Revell February 2011
402 Pages

My second read by Laurie Alice Eakes and the first title in her trilogy The Midwives has romance, intrigue, mystery and a cast of colourful characters. The writing style and short chapters make it an easy read, and which I found quite compelling once I began to get into the story.
In some places story did drag and could be repetitive, perhaps it was a result of inexperience being the author’s first full length novel, but it could have been wrapped up sooner and been shorter.
Also, I think that some of Tabbie and especially Dominick's behavour would have been considered inappropriate and flirtatious in the extreme for an unmarried or not formally courting couple of the time, yet they seemed to sometimes wonder why people objected.

The War of 1812 and its preliminaries is a subject that receives a fair amount of attention in Christian Historical fiction- especially since the 2011 release of this novel was approaching the bicentenary. The author provided an original ‘spin’ on the subject matter in some ways, with a heroine whose work and connections bought her close the action, and perhaps something of the ‘other side’ with the British hero Dominick, as well as questioning the view that impressment was the official policy of the country he represented.

That said, a major complaint I have with not only this story but those set in this period in general is how they make out impressment alone caused the war- or the threat of war in this book. No mention made of the invasion of Canada or the policies and activities ‘war hawks’ in the American government. If anyone wanted war it may have been them, not the British. I don’t know whether Americans are simply taught that the 1812 war was all the fault of the British but to find that even Christian Fiction does not seem to tell the whole story strikes me as sad.
One pitfall of novels like this in my opinion is that they tend to represent the stereotype of what some Americans think British people and society are like, not necessarily the reality. Not all Brits are snobbish aristocrats, nor wealthy.The common mistake of using the terms ‘English’ and ‘British’  interchangeably and synonymously is also made-sometimes even within the same paragraph. England and Britain are not the same country as the latter includes Wales and Scotland- though not apparently in the minds of most of the characters including Dominick who ought to have known the difference. So the British navy was not comprised entirely of Englishmen.

Historical and cultural concerns aside Tabitha’s religious doubts seemed plausible enough considering how many people she lost, and her ‘faith journey’ was not easy. Her former fiancé and other characters struggling for redemption and freedom seemed credible.
His wanting real faith instead of hypocrisy or expediency was an idea which appeared relevant to real life, but perhaps the specifics of his background were not entirely plausible even for the time. There was a valuable message about not trying to make God fit into our plans, my only gripe was that sometimes that characters discussions of faith seemed like platitudes, or difficult circumstances descending into preachiness.

Altogether, Lady in the Mist was a well-written story with some great descriptive passages by an author who has clearly immersed herself in the setting, worth reading again but not a five-star read for me.
I received a copy free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, I was not required to write a positive one.

3 Mar 2014

New Release- 'Death by the Book' Julianna Deering

Drew Fathering Mysteries- Book 2
Bethany House, March 4th 2014, 
320 pages 

Another outing for the delightful Drew Fathering brings the inevitable mystery, and large serving of intrigue and a helping of romance… as well as the return of some other memorable characters. The indomitable Chief Inspector Birdsong, loyal and ever-reliable Nick Dennison and of course the lovely Madelaine Her formidable Aunt Ruth also makes a dramatic entrance, determined take Madelaine back to America and away from the supposedly harmful influence of Drew.

He however has proposed to her, and is determined to stay at Fathering Manor until she makes a decision. Of course, the genre being what it is murder soon ensues and all the inhabitants are caught up in another investigation. Its hard for thus mystery buff to fault the story itself with the collection of cryptic clues, red herrings, false leads, assorted suspects and motives, and an unexpected culprit.

However, as with the last installment Death by the Book I couldn’t help feeling the body count was rather high. It almost seemed as though when the pace of the book began to slow, another murder was thrown in to maintain interest- and that for me is not necessary or pleasant.
Also, there seems to be an awful lot of crime and intrigue for a small Hampshire village-considering how even today the city if Winchester. prides itself on being one of the safest places in the UK- with one of the lowest crime rates.
That said, I did take some pleasure from the regional setting, recognizing some of the Winchester streets.

Also, again I didn’t feel Drew and Madelaine’s behaviour was entirely consistent or logical. Aunt Ruth wanted to keep them from doing anything inappropriate. considering how they seemed to constantly end up kissing or displaying more intimacy than would have been acceptable between and unmarried couple at the time. Though they insist they’re not doing anything wrong – and generally are not- and protest much I for one could not help siding with Aunt Ruth as the moderating influence.

There was also the Christian content. Not ‘in your face’ or cliched, but sometimes hardly there at all. Its touching that Drew uses his new-found faith to help people, or say a timely word here and there, but I didn’t like the way that often misquoted and misunderstood scripture passages were used. I have been taught for instance Jesus didn’t condemn the woman caught in adultery because he had not witnessed the act- but he also told her to ‘go and sin no more’.
It seems to me many Christians ignore that part of the passage.
In my opinion it is not ‘judging’ or unchristian to tell a person their actions are wrong, harmful or damaging if that is the case.
Finally, whilst the American author generally did a spiffingly good job of accurately representing the speech and accent of the English characters without too many stereotypes there were one or two noticeable errors. For instance Drew and Nick say ‘someplace’ rather than ‘somewhere’ which is the term commonly used in Britain.

Overall, a good mystery with more than a passing nod to the classics, but also one which left me unsure whether I want to continue with the series. To see Drew and Madelaine’s relationship develop perhaps, but not if there are quite so many murders….

Thanks to Netgalley and Bethany House for approving my request for this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not obliged to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.

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