Friday, November 26, 2010

The Irish Act of Union 1800
by Laurel McKee/Amanda McCabe

Thanks so much for inviting me to the blog today!  I’m so excited to see the release of Duchess of Sin, the story of Lady Anna Blacknall and Conlan McTeer, her wild Irish duke.  I loved meeting Anna in Countess of Scandal and was very nervous to see everything work out for her in her own HEA.  It’s been quite an adventure keeping up with the Blacknall sisters of the Daughters of Erin series!

Anna’s story takes place against the background of a very tumultuous moment of change in Irish history.  The hotly contested Act of Union was actually two acts, the first passed as an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain on July 2, 1800 and the second an Act of the Parliament of Ireland on August 1, 1800.  The two acts officially united the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, which came into effect on January 1, 1801 (the time of Duchess of Sin).  In the Republic of Ireland, the first Act was not repealed until the passing of the Republic’s Statute Law Revision Act in 1983.

Before these Acts, Ireland was already in personal union with England since 1541, when the Irish Parliament passed the Crown of Ireland Act proclaiming Henry VIII as King of Ireland.  (England and Scotland were united into a single kingdom in 1603 with the accession of King James I).  The Parliament in Dublin had gained a measure of precious independence by the Constitution of 1782, and its members guarded this hard-won freedom fiercely (one of the most notable being Henry Grattan, the hero of the anti-Unionists—he makes a brief appearance in this story at the debates!).  They rejected a motion for Union in 1790 after the upheaval of the Rebellion by 109 votes versus 104.  (Not that the Irish Parliament was a truly democratic body, open to all Irishmen—only Anglican landowners of a certain class could become Members of Parliament and the biggest landowners often controlled the boroughs and thus the vote).  But Britain was scared—the Revolution in France and the Irish Rebellion made them fearful and determined to make the wild Irish settle down once and for all.  The final passage of the Act in the Irish Parliament was achieved in large part by determined bribery, such as awarding peerages, estates, and money to get the needed votes.  The measure passed 158 to 115 amid riots and protests.

A few good sources on the Act of Union and this period in history are: Alan J. Ward’s The Irish Constitutional Tradition: Responsible Government and Modern Ireland, 1782—1992; WJ McCormack’s The Pamphlet Debate on the Union of Great Britain and Ireland; Edward Brynn’s Crown and Castle: British Rule in Ireland, 1800-1830; Patrick Geoghan’s The Irish Act of Union: A Study in High Politics, 1798-1801.

Duchess of Sin, book 2 in the Daughters of Erin series, will be published in December 2010 by Grand Central Publishing. For excerpts, more historical background, and a great Christmas contest, please visit my website at

Friday, November 19, 2010

'Necessary Articles for Seafaring Persons'

A month ago I wrote about a new cookery book I had found on Google Books 'The London Art of Cookery' by John Farley published in a Twelfth Edition in 1811.

Near the end of the book there is an intriguing section titled, as above, 'Necessary Articles for Seafaring Persons'. As Britain was, and is, a seafaring nation and as many families would be closely connected with those at sea, I expect that recipes for food that could be taken aboard ship were eagerly sought.

The captain of a large naval vessel probably had little to do with his galley's food preparations, but like the mistress of a large country house, he had a need to understand every aspect of his establishment. If he could provide a suggestion or two to the cook, he improved the diet of the entire crew.

On the other hand, the owner of a small ship likely had intimate acquaintance with the sustenance he and his crew would need for their journey, however long. He probably chose the supplies and if his wife could suggest methods of preparation to keep the food edible, it was all to the good.

The article begins "As pickled mushrooms are very handy for captains of ships to take with them to sea, we shall here give directions for that particular purpose." Two methods of preservation are included:

Pickling involves boiling the mushrooms, then bottling with vinegar spiced with pepper, ginger, bay, mace and cloves. The vinegar is topped with 'mutton fat fried'. Then 'Cork them, tie a bladder, then a leather over them, and keep them down close, in as cool a place as possible.'

Drying the mushrooms is less labour-intensive but more time consuming. They are washed then put in a cool oven until completely dry (no time estimate is given). Then, 'put them into a clean stone jar, tie them down tight, and keep them in a dry place. They will keep a great while, and eat and look as well as truffles.'

A section entitled 'Ketchup to keep twenty years' intrigued me. The receipt begins with a gallon of strong stale beer: 'The stronger and staler the beer, the better will be the ketchup.' To the beer you add anchovies, shalots, mace, cloves, pepper, ginger and mushroom pieces. These ingredients are simmered, strained, cooled and finally bottled. "This may be carried to any part of the world; and a spoonful of it to a pound of fresh butter melted with make a fine fish sauce, or will supply the place of gravy sauce." One question occurs--how often do you obtain fresh butter at sea?

"Dripping will be very useful at sea, to fry fish or meat, and for this purpose it must be...potted." 'Good beef dripping' was spiced and sieved, let stand til cold, and covered. "The best way to keep any sort of dripping, is to turn the pot upside down, and then no rats can get at it." Oh, dear...

'Directions for steeping dried Fish' complete this section of the cookery book. "Every kind of fish, except stock-fish, are salted, or either dried in the sun, as the most common way, or in preparing kilns, and sometimes by the smoke of wood fires in chimney-corners..."

Fish were often steeped in milk and water, as much as twelve hours, though whiting, herrings and salmon took less time. Herrings were steeping in small beer rather than milk and water. After steeping, broiling while basting with sweet oil, was the preferred cooking method. "A clear charcoal fire is much the best, and the fish kept at a good distance, to broil gradually." Larger fish were usually simmered in milk and water. 'Some people broil both sorts after simmering, and some pick them to pieces and then toss them up in a pan with fried onions and apples. They are either way very good, and the choice depends on the weak or strong stomach of the eaters.'

I think a strong stomach was required indeed for Regency food at sea. But all of the above sounds better than the weevil-infested biscuits common in tales of the British Navy.

Next week, award-winning author Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee will be here discussing the Irish Act of Union 1800. Amanda/Laurel wrote her first romance at the age of sixteen--a vast historical epic starring all her friends as the characters, written secretly during algebra class (and her parents wondered why math was not her strongest subject...)

She's never since used algebra, but her books have been nominated for many awards, including the RITA Award, the Romantic Times BOOKReviews Reviewers' Choice Award, the Booksellers Best, the National Readers Choice Award, and the Holt Medallion. Her new release, Duchess of Sin, under her Laurel McKee name, will be released by Grand Central Publishing in December. Please visit Laurel at

'Til next time,


Friday, November 12, 2010

A Nation at War

It is easy enough to forget that the Great Britain of the Regency era was a nation at war. Jane Austen's books rarely mention the war though two of her brothers were actively involved in naval service. Many Regency romances do not speak of war--most of mine do not. War was something soldiers made, something that happened to other families and, except when invasion threatened, it was something that happened 'over there'.

Yet the newspapers, throughout the Regency period, were full of war news. The British were fighting on many fronts. The Derby Mercury of May 2, 1805 reports on conflict in India:

"We drove the whole of the enemy under the Fort of Deeg, when the people in the fort opened a very heavy fire on us. The number of guns is not yet ascertained, nor that of the killed and wounded, but our loss has been severe."

In that same year, the British fought their greatest sea battle, after several years of war at sea. The Times of November 7, 1805 carried a report of the fighting:

"The commander-in-chief immediately made a signal to the fleet to bear up in two columns. The enemy's line consisted of 33 ships, of which 18 were French and 15 Spanish, commanded in chief by Admiral Villeneuve. As the mode of attack was unusual, so the structure of the enemy's line was new."

As the same time, the British were fighting in North America--the War of 1812-14. That war was fought on the sea as this report from August 1812 shows:

"The privateer schooner, Active, of 2 guns and 22 men, from Salem, has been taken and burnt by the British frigate Spartan."

On land, from April to December 1814, the British sent a cavalry regiment, 33 infantry battalions and 10 artillery companies. Newspapers in the United States reported:

"General Wilkinson has left Grenadier-Island with his army, and gone down the St. Lawrence in boats. They...were attacked by the enemy from the shore. On returning the fire, the enemy dispersed, and the army advanced without molestation."

Hostilities on the continent culminated in Belgium in June 1815. Newspapers around the country reported--

Hampshire Telegraph, June 26, 1815
"Fleurus, June 16--The battle of yesterday lasted till ten o'clock in the evening. We are still in pursuit of the enemy, who has experienced a terrible overthrow. We have hitherto 3000 prisoners, 20 pieces of cannon and several standards, many officers of rank, among others Count Lutzow."

Liverpool Mercury, June 30, 1815
"The armies were so intermingled, that the Duke of Wellington encountered Marshal Grouchy. The enemy, who would not believe that it was possible to be defeated under Napoleon's command, long fought with the greatest ardour."

London Gazette Extraordinary, Thursday, June 22, 1815
A despatch from Lord Wellington reporting on the Battle at Waterloo ended:
"I have not yet got the returns of killed and wounded, but I inclose a list of Officers killed and wounded on the two days, as far as the same can be made out without the returns...
Colonel De Lancey is not dead, and strong hopes of his recovery are entertained...
Major General Sir William Ponsonby is killed, and, ...I have to add the expression of my grief for the fate of an officer, who had already rendered very brilliant and important services, and was an ornament to his profession."

Our newspapers are still full of war information--Afghanistan, terrorists, and until recently Iraq. Threats abound, countries still tear themselves and others apart. Soldiers, sailors, and airmen and women die. As I write this blog, Remembrance Day services are taking place here in Canada. Britain also is commemorating November 11 with ceremony, and in the United States Veterans Day honours military service. 

As we remember those who gave their lives--across the centuries--for their country's greater good, surely it is also time to contemplate peace, and direct all our energies toward that greatest good of all.

'Til next time,


Friday, November 5, 2010

The Sound of Bells

I live in a noisy world: cars, trucks, planes, trains, machines of all kinds--indoors and out--and the ever-present electronic hum that is, it seems, our very being. But something I seldom hear is bells. Even church bells are very rare where I live in western Canada.

This was not so in the Regency era in England. A predominant sound on the air of Regency London was that of the bell.

If one was in a house, the ring of church bells still penetrated. If one considers how many church bells existed in the confines of the City and its districts like Mayfair, the din must have been continuous. In addition the servants heard, near incessantly, the call of the mechanical bell system, first advertised in 1744. There might also be a silver tea bell in the drawing room, or an invalid's bell beside a bed above stairs.

Within doors, one could still hear the other bells from the street. When a person stepped outside, the cacophony of bells must have been overwhelming. The muffin-man alone made such a racket that eventually his bells were silenced by law. Other street vendors--the scissors grinder, the rag picker and the peddler--might, in addition to their cries, carry a bell to attract custom.

There were also harness bells, like the 'beautiful sets of four or five that were put on the leading horse of a team, and were known as team bells'. There were warning bells on fire engines, and bells on the animals who trailed through the city to the markets. And there was the bellman or town crier, who plied his trade from the earliest days through to the Georgian era. He marked the hours with his bell and heralded his reading of proclamations, warnings, and news bulletins with it.

On the street the church bells could be deafening, depending on the size of bell. Their sound routinely carried three miles, and in good weather large bells could be heard for nine miles. They marked the hours, pealed for a wedding, beat out a death knell. There were Passing Bells, Sanctus Bells, and Alarm Bells and peals of bells to announce the new year..

The church bells rang in the country towns as well, with even more regularity. There were Harvest Bells and Market Bells, Fire Bells and even, in a few places, a Pancake Bell rung on Shrove Tuesday. The bells rang out across the fields, reminding those without watches or clocks of the hour, and perhaps the half, calling them to church, sending them news of their community and in many cases ringing out the curfew, or 'cover fire'--the time for all folk to be within doors.

In the countryside, the air was often a-quiver with the sound of animal bells. Sheep, cows, and even geese were belled, to keep track of their flocks and herds. Dogs as well wore bells to identify their whereabouts.

The materials used in bells' manufacture varied. Iron and bronze predominated but silver was not unknown and even wood might be used for animal bells.

The shapes as well were variable. Harness bells were often 'crotal' bells, technically not a bell at all, but a rattle. We call them 'jingle bells' nowadays, their rounded shape enclosing a loose clapper. They were used as well for hawk bells and morris dancers' bells.

From an old sampler comes a rhyme about bell messages:
"When we lament a departed soul, WE TOLL.
When joy and mirth are on the wing, WE SING.
To call the fold to church in time, WE CHIME.
When threatened harm, WE ALARM."

It could be a noisy place, the Regency world. But it was easier, I think, to find quiet there than it is in our current age. Seek out the quiet, if you will, but also enjoy whatever bells you can hear.

'Til next time,