Babbitt, Het, history, Mrs Cromwell, ponderations, present, religious ponderations, women

A Little Commonwealth – some thoughts on romantic fiction

I hate genre romantic fiction and I can’t write it
There, it’s said. I joke about it but I was once signed off work for a month with whiplash, and amused myself by reading the entire canon of A N Other writer of Regency romance. (Who will remain nameless.) The first one, I thought, what a hoot, fluff, frolics and frocks. The second one I was starting to know what was coming. By the third one I was actually rather scared.
See – and this is me being serious – though a straight down the line Dissenter and thoroughgoing Independent, with (dare I say) atheistic leanings, I am increasingly inclined to agree with the Puritans’ view of marriage, to wit, it’s all about companionship and affection and mutual respect. Genesis 2:18 – And the LordGod said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. Since sexual intimacy in marriage was part of God’s plan for man before the Fall, it could not be less so following the Fall, and therefore sex within the confines of a loving relationship was not the ultimate transgression that caused man’s expulsion from the Eden.
And this book – these books – portrayed relationships about as far from companionable, equable, loving marriages as my cats are from bars of chocolate. Brave, feisty, innocent heroine meets arrogant, tortured, handsome hero with a dark past. Misunderstanding in which hero thinks heroine is more experienced than she is and treats her with sexual contempt. Heroine falls in love with this pillock in spite of the fact that she is fully well aware that he’s a toe-rag. Misunderstanding upon misunderstanding, at the end of which tragedy of errors even hero realises that he’s a bloody idiot, does the decent thing and falls in love with the heroine. The End.
That appalled me. Because there is a whole genre of these books, these peddlings of the Cinderella myth – that love is all about passion conquering all, that sexual desire is the be-all and end-all of a relationship, that a man (and it’s almost always a man, as if, poor things, they are little better than beasts driven at the mercy of what my mother discreetly used to call their “urges”…) if he really loves a woman should be made unreasoning by violent passion.
I think I can safely say that my Hollie desires his wife. (Makes no secret of it, the libidinous creature, but then after several months apart, she rather misses having her bed warmed by that lolloping great object as well.) Would he ever be driven to lay ungentle hands on her, shout at her, abuse her in a jealous rage? Would he bloody hell as like. I think – I hope– that there has never been any dramatic will-they won’t-they tension about the relationship of Het Sutcliffe-as-was and her gallant captain. They meet. They like each other. After a while, they love each other. And isn’t it that way for most of us? We meet someone, we like them, one day we wake up and realise that we love them, want to spend the rest of our lives with them. We don’t want to hurt them, or frighten them, or control them, or humiliate them.
And yet we encourage our fictional heroes to be emotionally retarded – to be abusive. To commit acts of sexual violence on women. The number of “forced” kisses and torn gowns I’ve come across in that certain genre, defies belief. It’s a funny thing, but I’m in a line of business where I work with victims of crime. Dealing with a young man at the moment who’s come my way because he “forced” himself on a girl. He didn’t rape her, didn’t hurt her physically, but frightened her and distressed her: he touched her in places she did not want to be touched. In certain books, if he’d been a strong, silent alpha-male, that would be her fault, you see – that the strength of his desire was such that he just had to have her. That she encouraged him, led him on. It’s a compliment, girls. Did you not know that you only have to leave the house for those poor lust-maddened menfolk to be tearing at your clothes, such is the power of your womanhood?
That’s not emancipation, that’s just tricking out an old whore in new paint, and calling it escapism. And life throws up enough intrigue and uncertainty, without a need to invent some more.
I leave you with a quote from the 1598 “Godly Form of Household Government”, by Robert Cleaver –
“Matrimony, is a lawful knot, and unto God an acceptable yoking and joining together of one man, and one woman, with the good consent of them both: to the end that they may dwell together in friendship and honesty, one helping and comforting the other, eschewing whoredom, and all uncleanness, bringing up their children in the fear of God: or it is a coupling together of two persons into one flesh, not to be broken, according unto the ordinance of God: so to continue during the life of either of them.”
Take out the religious references, if you like. But – to dwell together in friendship and honesty, one helping and comforting the other?
In all honesty, can you see Christian Grey and Anastasia in twenty years’ time, one helping and comforting the other?
Because I’m damned if I can. 
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Het, history, Mrs Cromwell, religious ponderations, society, women

Kitty, My Rib – the story of Katie von Bora

Now I have two heroines in this world, and one of them is Elizabeth Cromwell (well, dear, if you wanted orange sauce, you shouldn’t have made war on Spain, should you?) and the other is Katharina von Bora, die Lutherin. After those two stubborn, domesticated, marvellously level-headed females is Het Babbitt patterned.

There is an argument which I often hear, and it goes something like – but women in the 17th century, they were the weaker vessel, right? Poor dependents, meek and milky and subservient…. right?
Well – some names to look up, to begin with, then. Bess of Hardwick. Elizabeth Cromwell. Elizabeth Lilburne. Brilliana Harley. Anne Fairfax.

All noblewomen? Hardly. Elizabeth Lilburne and Elizabeth Cromwell were merchant’s daughters – and Bess of Hardwick knew how to make a penny work for its living, by all accounts.

But die Lutherin is sadly neglected. Her 16th-century life-story reads like something from a lurid romantic fiction – convent-educated, she was brought up in cloisters until at the age of 24, she started to become interested in the growing reform movement and became unhappy with her secluded life within the Cistercian monastery. Now, the weaker-vessel argument would have die Lutherin meekly submitting to male domination, right? Um, nope. She wrote to Martin Luther, a 41 year old rebel, subversive and politically active cleric. An excommunicated priest, mind, who was not known for his tactful expression of his opinions. Katie von Bora wrote to Martin Luther – a man she had presumably never met formally in her life – and asked him to bust her and another twelve nuns out of the Cistercian monastery.

And he did. They were smuggled out in the back of a cart, in herring barrels. A credible fiction author could not make this up.

Luther, despite being the man behind the Reformation, now had twelve rogue nuns on his hands. Their families wouldn’t take them back, this being a breach of canon law, and so he found them all husbands. In the end, there was only Katie left. He found her husbands. Nope. Eventually she gave him the ultimatum – sorry, Martin, the only man I’m taking is either you or Nicolaus van Amsdorf, your friend. (Check out the portraits. She made a good call in Martin.)

Katie von Bora then took on the massive tasks of a) running the enormous monastery estate atWittenburg, where they boarded at the Cistercian monastery, b) running the brewery there, c) running the hospital, d) looking after all the students and visitors coming for audience with the notorious rogue priest behind the Diet of Worms, and e) keeping an eye on Martin, who had not been exactly the most promising of eager bridegrooms – he admitted himself that before his marriage his bed was often mildewed and not made up for months on end. By the sound of Katie, she’d have put up with neither the mildew, the unmade bed, nor the grubby husband.

The Luthers had six children (not all of whom survived to adulthood, sadly), Katie had one miscarriage, and they brought up another four orphans. This was not, clearly, a nominal marriage of platonic and dutiful affection. Martin freely admitted prior to his marriage that despite his clerical celibacy he was aware of the existence of the female form, even in spite of the mouldy bed. Had it not been for the admittedly rather pretty Mistress van Bora, it’s not impossible that the Protestant clergy would have remained formally celibate for many years – not that Martin and Katie were the first, but their wedding set the seal of approval on clerical marriage. It was a long and happy marriage, if often short of money, and even then it seems that she had the habit of accepting gifts from benefactors on his behalf, and putting the money away for the rainy day that seemed to follow the Luther household around.

They were married for almost twenty years, and he had counselled her to move into a smaller house with the children when he died, but she refused. A sentimental attachment to the marital home where she’d been happy and useful for so long? Struggling financially without his salary, she stayed stubbornly put until soldiers in the the Schmalkaldic War destroyed farm buildings and killed the animals on their farm, and she was forced to flee, living on the charity of the Elector of Saxony until it was safe for her to return to Wittenburg. Bubonic plague then forced her to flee a third time, this time to Torgau, but she was thrown from her cart near the city gates and very badly bruised, and died less than three months later.

She was not buried near to her Martin in Wittenburg, but since one of the Lutheran doctrines was that “It is enough for us to know that souls do not leave their bodies to be threatened by the torments and punishments of hell, but enter a prepared bedchamber in which they sleep in peace,” – she probably didn’t mind too much.

Ladies  and gentlemen, a toast to die Lutherin, Katie von Bora – the role model for the Mrs Cromwells and Mrs Fairfaxes, the domestic rock on which a political citadel stood firm.

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free stories, humour, Mrs Cromwell, new books, ponderations, present

Shameless hussydom

I have spent a productive day today tidying up (not toadying up!) my Amazon author pages.

I’m thoroughly sick of the dreadful author photo, in which I appear to be sighting down a pistol and am in fact squinting at a small cheap digital camera held at arms’ length. Regrettably I have burned most of my skin off after an unfortunate interlude with some cheap colloidal silver cream to deal with a rash I often get on my nose when I wear the glasses I need to read by (I know, I know, vanity…) so I refuse to appear on any kind of film until my horrible red peeling skin retains its customary elegant pallor.

I’m also heartily sick of describing myself as food historian and mad cat lady, although I am both and it was funny to start off with.

I wonder if anyone will notice if I replace my photo with that of Elizabeth Cromwell – occupation: Lady Protectress and She Who Must Be Obeyed.

Anyway – here they are for your edification and amusement:

M J Logue’s Amazon UK page

M J Logue’s Amazon US page

PS do feel free to pass unhelpful remarks. It’s ever so lonely here in 164*thinks about it*5, now….

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Cromwell, food, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, Mrs Cromwell, ponderations

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (Except They Are In Oliver Cromwell’s House)

In my wanderings throughout the internet I came across this splendid gem on a website called “The Foods of England”. Wouldn’t it be marvellous if it were true?

“There is a curious story that roast veal in Orange Sauce was Oliver Cromwell’s favourite dish, and that when no oranges were available, his wife Elizabeth used beans instead, saying something along the lines of “You should have thought about orange sauce before you declared war on Spain.” This tale is told at Cromwell’s House in Ely, in ‘Old Cookery Books and Ancient Cuisine’ by William Carew Hazlitt (1902) and may originate in a spurious little cookbook titled ‘The Court and Kitchin of Elizabeth, Commonly Called Joan Cromwel, the Wife of the late Usurper, Truly Described and Represented’ published in 1664.

This cookbook was originally written by triumphant Royalists with a perverse sense of humour, intended to show Elizabeth Cromwell up as a frumpy provincial housewife, more fitted to life on a backwater country estate than at Whitehall – and just as a by the by, this was published in 1664, and she died in 1665, so I hope she thought it was as funny as I did. I love the idea of the Lord Protector of England’s foreign policy being dictated by what his wife wanted on the table, though. And oranges, believe it or not, are quite popular in 17th century cooking, although normally with capon or fowl rather than veal. Perhaps Mrs Cromwell didn’t like chicken?

The Good Huswife’s Jewll for the Kitchen (1594) suggests that Mrs Cromwell should… “take red wine, Synamon, Sugar, Ginger, the grauie of the Capon, or a little sweet butter: slice an Orenge thin, boyle it in the stuffe, when your Orenges be tender, lay them vpon your sops, mince some of the rynde and caste on the sops, and so serue them.”

To boil a capon with oranges, after Mistress Duffield’s way, ...“take a Capon and boyle it with Veale, or with a mary bone, or what your fancie is. Then take a good quantitie of that broth, and put it in an earthen pot by it selfe, and put thereto a good handfull of Corrans, and as manie Prunes, and a few whole Maces, and some Marie, and put to this broth a good quantitie of white wine or of Claret, and so let them seeth softly together: Then take your Orenges, and with a knife scrape of all the filthinesse of the outside of them. Then cut them in the middest, and wring out the ioyse of three or foure of them, put the ioyse into your broth with the rest of your stuffe, then slice your Orenges thinne, and haue vpon the fire readie a skellet of faire seething water, and put your sliced Orenges into the water, & when that water is bitter, haue more readie, and so change them still as long as you can finde the great bitternesse in the water, which will be sixe or seven times, or more, if you find need: then take them from the water, and let that runne cleane from them: then put close Orenges into your potte with your broth, and so let them stew together till your Capon be readie. Then make your sops with this broth, and cast on a litle Sinamon, Ginger, and Sugar, and vpon this lay your Capon, and some of your Orenges vpon it, and some of your Marie, and towarde the end of the boylin”

There’s also a thickened version of Mistress Duffield’s recipe in the same recipe book, using egg yolks to thicken the sauce into a sort of Christmassy custard. I’m happy to say that Robert May in “The Accomplish’t Cook” gave a much plainer and simpler recipe: “Take slices of white-bread and boil them in fair water with two whole onions, some gravy, half a grated nutmeg, and a little salt; strain them together through a strainer, and boil it up as thick as water grewel; then add to it the yolks of two eggs dissolved with the juyce of two oranges.”

On the other hand, there’s mutton with lemons.
When your Mutton is halfe boyled, take it vp, cut it in small peeces: put it into a pipkin, and couer it close, and put thereto the best of the broth, as much as shall couer your Mutton, your Lemmons being sliced verie thin, and quartered, and Corrans, put in pepper grose beaten, and so let them boyle together, and when they be well boyled, season it with a litle Uergious, sugar, pepper grose beaten, and a little sanders, so lay it in fine dishes vpon sops. Jt will make three messe for the table.
This version sounds a little less – festive, sorry Oliver – but in the early 17th century (and earlier) sanders, ie sandalwood, was used for colouring rather than flavouring. It’s red, but I’d be inclined to replace with a little saffron, just to give it that slightly aromatic, musky taste.  

So – apologies to the Lord Protector, but I’m with Elizabeth on this one. A much better use of oranges can be found:
TAke your orenges, and lay them in water a day and a night, then seeth them in faire water and hony, and let them seeth till they be soft: then let them soak in the sirrop a day and a night: then take them forth and cut them small, and then make your tart and season your Apples with Sugar, Synamon and Ginger, and put in a peece of butter, and lay a course of Apples, and betweene the same course of apples, a course of Orenges, and so course by course, and season your Orenges as you seasoned your Apples, with somewhat more sugar, then lay on the lid and put it in the ouen, and when it is almost baked, take Rosewater and Sugar, and boyle them together till it be somwhat thick, then take out the Tart, and take a feather and spread the rosewater and Sugar on the lid, and set it into the Ouen againe, and let the sugar harden on the lid, and let it not burne.

And failing that, you can always use them to make marmalade – after all, everyone in the 17th century knows of the aphrodisiac properties of marmalade, don’t they?

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