Michaelmas in Medieval Britain

Today I am participating in a blog hop to celebrate the release of volume 2 of Castles, Customs and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors, edited by Debra Brown and Sue Millard. See the information at the end of this post to order this treasure. Participating blogs in this hop have chosen a custom or tradition from the past to highlight. Follow the links below to read them all.

Michaelmas in Medieval Britain
The 29th day of September is the feast of St. Michael and All Angels, also known as Michaelmas. In medieval times, it signified the end of the agricultural year. Harvest – hopefully a good one – was in. It was a time to celebrate.

Tapisserie de Bayeux - Scène 43 : l'évêque Odon bénit le banquet.

Tapisserie de Bayeux – Scène 43 : l’évêque Odon bénit le banquet. (public domain)

In England, it was custom to eat a goose, which was supposed to protect against money problems for the coming year. With the end of the harvest, servants were hired and debts were paid. Geese may have been given to the lord of the manor to appease him when payment might be late or in lieu of payment. Apparently, Michaelmas also became a time when officials were elected.

Horse races – with prizes – were popular in Scotland. (St Michael was also the patron saint of horses and horsemen.) Scots also celebrated by having the eldest daughter cook a Struan Micheil – a large scone-like cake – made of oats moistened with sheep’s milk, and cooked on lamb skin, on Michaelmas Eve. The Old Foodie has a recipe for oatmeal bannock if you’d like to give it a whirl. Traditionally, he says,

“The dough is then placed on a “struan-flag” – a large stone which your menfolk brought in from one of yon bonnie banks earlier in the day – and is placed before the fire. During the baking three layers of a batter of cream, eggs, and butter is daubed over the dough to enrich and engolden it.”

Old Foodie cautions that any leftover flour must be saved, to be used on Michaelmas Day to sprinkle on your sheep and your land as a way to offer a blessing for the harvest.

So go cook your goose! Follow The Old Foodie’s recipe. Stuff your goose with carrots, along with apples, butter, spices and herbs, and add it to a pot of broth. Cook her good. But do put aside a few carrots. They should be tied together with red yarn, given as gift to any visitors who pop in.

Lastly, it was critical that your blackberries were picked no later than October 10, which was Old Michaelmas Day. Did you know Lucifer fell from heaven that day and landed on a blackberry bush? He wasn’t a happy camper and scorched and spat upon them, making them unfit to eat.

“On Michaelmas Day the devil puts his foot on blackberries.”
–old Irish Proverb

Sir Henry and Sir Stephan will be celebrating Michaelmas in For King and Country, Book II of Battle Scars. Watch this space for publication updates. 

This is a blog hop!  Check out all these wonderful posts, including editor Debra Brown’s Crazy Customs from the Past Blog Hop and Book Release.

Michaelmas. Encyclopædia Brittanica. http://www.britannica.com/topic/Michaelmas
Michaelmas. Historic UK. http://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/michaelmas/
Michaelmas Eve. The Old Foodie. http://www.theoldfoodie.com/2006/09/michaelmas-eve.html
Michaelmas Day. The Old Foodiehttp://www.theoldfoodie.com/2006/09/michaelmas-day.html

Castles, Customs, and Kings, vol. 2New Release!

Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors, Volume 2
Edited by Debra Brown and Sue Millard

An anthology of essays from the second year of the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, this book transports the reader across the centuries from prehistoric to twentieth century Britain. Nearly fifty different authors share the stories, incidents, and insights discovered while doing research for their own historical novels.

From medieval law and literature to Tudor queens and courtiers, from Stuart royals and rebels to Regency soldiers and social calls, experience the panorama of Britain’s yesteryear. Explore the history behind the fiction, and discover the true tales surrounding Britain’s castles, customs, and kings.

Purchase links:

Amazon US http://www.amazon.com/Castles-Customs-Kings-English-Historical/dp/0996264817
Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/Castles-Customs-Kings-English-Historical/dp/0996264817

Posted in research, social media | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

A Lost People, A Lost Voice – A Guest Post by Anna Belfrage

Anna Belfrage Banner

Anna BelfrageI am delighted to have Anna Belfrage on my blog today as part of the first indieBRAG Book Blitz. Anna’s eight time-slip novels in The Graham Saga are B.R.A.G. Medallion honorees. Book 6 in the series, Revenge & Retribution, was awarded the 2015 HNS Indie Award for the best indie-published historical fiction. I had the honor of meeting Anna at the Historical Novel Society Conference in Denver this past June. Join us today as Anna highlights Book 4 of the series: A Newfound Land.

A Lost People, A Lost Voice
by Anna Belfrage

columbus-in-the-new-worldWhen I was a child growing up in South America, one of the more important festive days was the 12th of October, El Día de la Raza (Nowadays mostly known as Columbus Day – or the rather beautiful Día de la Hispanidad). This day celebrated the arrival of Columbus in the New World, and as is obvious just by that denominator, our European forebears seemed quite convinced that BEFORE them, there was nothing…

We know better, of course. Those intrepid conquistadores did not set foot on land untouched by man. The American continent was home to such impressive civilisations as that of the Incas and the Aztecs, held the ruins of the ancient culture of Tiahuanaco, was engraved with the Nazca circles. And in the northern half of the continent were all those tribes collectively named the Indians by the first European explorers – even after they’d cottoned on to the fact that America was, in fact, not India. (Columbus may have been a brave and visionary explorer, but he was crap at maths…)

It is estimated that North America was home to anywhere between 7 to 10 million people prior to the arrival of the Europeans in the early 17th century. A century later, the indigenous population had plummeted, down by as much as 80% in some regions. In some cases, entire tribes were wiped out as a consequence of European rapaciousness combined with all those lethal diseases the white man brought over, notably smallpox and measles. One such tribe was the Susquehannock.

If we’re going to be quite honest, we know almost nothing about the Susquehannock. In fact, today we have no idea what they may have called themselves, because there is no one around who speaks their language anymore. Once a language dies, the culture that flourished with it dies as well, and so we have no idea as to what beliefs, what myths the Susquehannock held dear. It’s almost as they never existed – well, apart from the odd artefacts that are presently displayed in one or other museum.

capt_john_smiths_map_of_virginia_1624But the Susquehannock did exist, a power to be reckoned with, masters over a large swathe of land that stretched from Delaware, through parts of Pennsylvania and into Maryland. They were one of the people visited by John Smith as he went exploring along the Chesapeake Bay, and he found them impressive in size and strength. He also found them friendly, and for the first few decades of their co-existence, both the Susquehannock and the colonists prospered – a win-win situation for both.

The Susquehannock were mildly curious about the palefaces who landed on their shores, but did not find them particularly threatening – especially not in comparison with their fiercest enemies, the Iroquois. Compared to the fearsome warriors of this tribe, the white dudes came across as weak and puny. But they offered good trade, these palefaces, and the Susquehannock grew richer and more powerful, thanks to their cordial relationship with the bearded men who came from somewhere very far away.

No good things last forever, and xenophobic colonists had a tendency to lump all Native Americans together. So when the constant skirmishes between the Powhatan and the Virginia colonists escalated into open warfare in the 1670’s, the Susquehannock were dragged into the conflict – this due to unprovoked attacks by colonists on Susquehannock people. A decade later, the once so mighty Susquehannock had hit the dust. Their wooden forts had been razed to the ground, their men had been slain, their women enslaved, and what few remnants remained had fled due north-west, seeking the protection of their erstwhile enemies, the Iroquois.

Some Susquehannock made it over to Pennsylvania and founded a community there, Conestoga Town. There they eeked out a living far removed from their former life, hiring themselves as labourers to adjoining farms. In 1763, the last three dozen or so of true-blooded Susquehannock were massacred by the Paxton Boys, a militant group of white bad boys who killed whatever Indians they could get their hands on in retaliation for the recent French-Indian war. Less than two centuries after their first contact with the European settlers, the Susquehannock had ceased to exist. It was as if someone had used a giant eraser to rub them out. Completely.

9781781321355-100dpiIn The Graham Saga, Matthew and Alex Graham are obliged by various events to flee their homeland and instead make a new life for themselves in Maryland. Their first encounters with this their new home are depicted in A Newfound Land, and it is also in this book that Matthew and Alex (plus my readers) first meet Qaachow, proud Susquehannock chief. Qaachow shares his name with one of the victims of the 1763 massacre (one of the few lists we have of Susquehannock names), and sometimes I worry that the little boy so brutally murdered in the 18th century is a great-great-grandson of my Qaachow. But my Qaachow is not a defenceless boy, he is a leader of men, a chief, a man who views the white settlers on lands that were once his with more curiosity than ill-will – at least initially.

Some sort of friendship springs up between Matthew and Qaachow, two men with similar perceptions of right and wrong, two men intent on protecting their families. But as the Susquehannock lose everything to the white man, Qaachow’s relationship with Matthew changes, developing from an uncomplicated, if cautious, friendship to something far more bitter – as is depicted over the last few books of The Graham Saga. Ultimately, Matthew and Alex will pay a very high price for Qaachow’s continued goodwill, but they have no choice, dependent as they are on his protection.

Qaachow is my homage to a people that no longer is, to a people who extended their hands in generous welcome to the palefaces that landed on their shores – a gesture they were to bitterly regret. As Qaachow says to Alex, “We should have listened to our wary brethren of the north and pushed you back into the sea.” In retrospect, of course they should. But then, most of us don’t know today what tomorrow’s consequences of our actions will be. That’s probably a good thing, I think. Just as it is a good thing if people do extend a helping hand to those that need it.

Sadly, I’m not sure the restless shades of the Susquehannock agree. The price they paid was way too high, and where once it was their voices that rang through the forests of Maryland and Delaware, now they are forever silenced. Forgotten, as if they had never existed at all. But they did exist. They lived and hoped, they loved and lost, leaving nothing behind but a whisper in the soughing wind, a sudden burst of sunlight in a silent glade.

About the Graham Saga
This is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him. But sometimes impossible things happen, and so Alex Lind ends up at the feet of Matthew Graham. Life will never be the same for Alex – or for Matthew.

Anna Belgrage Banner of books-2

Buy A Newfound Land: http://mybook.to/ANL
Anna’s website: http://www.annabelfrage.com
Anna’s blog. https://annabelfrage.wordpress.com
Anna on twitter: @Anna_Belfrage

Anna has been visiting numerous blogs this week. Don’t miss any of her stops! And visit indieBrag for a Book Giveaway.

Blog Schedule

  1. September 21-
    The Maiden’s Court – www.themaidenscourt.blogspot.com
    An Interview with Matthew Graham
  2. September 22-
    Of History and Kings – www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com
    All at Sea – chatting with author Anna Belfrage about sea travel in the 1600s
  3. September 23-
    everyday happy foods – www.everydayhappyfoods.com
    Food blogger Susan visits Alex’s 17th century kitchen 
  1. September 24-
    Just One More Chapter – www.JustOneMoreChapter.com
    Anna shares an excerpt from Revenge and Retribution
  1. September 25 –
    The Many Worlds of Char… charlenenewcomb.com/
    A Lost People, A Lost Voice
  1. September 26th
    Stuart S. Laing – stuartslaing.wordpress.com/
    The Misfortunes of War
  1. September 26th
    Layered Pages – layeredpages.com
    IndieBRAG Book Blitz with Anna Belfrage: Historical Fiction & Meaning

Anna Belfrage, bio

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does as yet not exists, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing. These days, Anna combines an exciting day-job with a large family and her writing endeavours. 

When Anna fell in love with her future husband, she got Scotland as an extra, not because her husband is Scottish or has a predilection for kilts, but because his family fled Scotland due to religious persecution in the 17th century – and were related to the Stuarts. For a history buff like Anna, these little details made Future Husband all the more desirable, and sparked a permanent interest in the Scottish Covenanters, which is how Matthew Graham, protagonist of the acclaimed The Graham Saga, began to take shape.

Set in 17th century Scotland and Virginia/Maryland, the series tells the story of Matthew and Alex, two people who should never have met – not when she was born three hundred years after him. With this heady blend of romance, adventure, high drama and historical accuracy, Anna hopes to entertain and captivate, and is more than thrilled when readers tell her just how much they love her books and her characters.

Presently, Anna is hard at work with her next project, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The King’s Greatest Enemy is a series where passion and drama play out against a complex political situation, where today’s traitor may be tomorrow’s hero, and the Wheel of Life never stops rolling. The first instalment in the Adam and Kit story, In the Shadow of the Storm, will be published in the autumn of 2015.

Posted in historical fiction, interviews | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Research gems: the scallawag, John, King of England


John, King of England

Medieval Lincolnshire has been one focus of research for my upcoming novel. For King and Country takes place in 1193-94 so I dove into several histories on the county. In Lincolnshire in History, and Lincolnshire Worthies, I discovered J. Medcalf’s thoughts on John, who is crowned King of England in 1199. This is a gem worth sharing:

“…John, was such a thorough “skunk” that we feel it, in some sense, a degradation to Lincolnshire to be mentioned in the same paragraph with him. Skunk-like, he has left behind him an odour of meanness, fraud, ferocity, and pusillanimity which the rolling centuries and the successive evolvement of great events have failed since, in any wise, to sweeten. It must be some comfort to the Shire to remember that he caught his last fatal illness on her soil, and that her congenial dampness and mephitic fen atmosphere helped to rid the world (and his country) of a crowned scallawag… We need not wonder than no English monarch has ever thought of christening his baby heir by that hated name, or that the English people have never hankered after a John II.”

See other research gems, including Medcalf’s thoughts on John’s brother King Richard I, the Lionheart. 


Medcalf, J. (1903). Lincolnshire in History, and Lincolnshire Worthies, New York: Ward, Lock & Co., ltd.

Photo credit

John, King of England. By Matthew Paris. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Get swept away to the 12th centurySweeping battles, forbidden love, and 2 knights fighting for Richard the Lionheart
A 2014 B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree and Readers’ Favorite
Get it from Amazon or B&N
Book II of Battle Scars: For King and Country
will be published in 2015.

Posted in historical fiction, research | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Third Crusade history – my guest post on English Historical Fiction Authors

Schlacht_von_Arsuf-2In the year 1191, on the 7th day of September, a decisive battle was fought between Christian and Muslim armies. On this 824th anniversary, join me on English Historical Fiction Authors (EHFA) for “The Bloodiest Day of the Third Crusade: Richard I and Saladin at the Battle of Arsuf.

Photo By Eloi Firmin Feron (1802-1876) (de:wiki) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Posted in research | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Come September – a Celebration at Greyton Manor, Lincolnshire, 1193

An update on For King and Country, Book II of Battle Scars
Peasants breaking breadI have spent the last few weeks working on the opening chapters of For King and Country. Rearranging one event at the opening required a lot more fine-tuning of subsequent chapters than I had imagined. But I am making progress, closing in on the 30% mark of the novel. I still haven’t quite figured out how this book has managed to be almost 200 pages longer than Men of the Cross!

Summer is slipping away. While my editing is still back in May 1193, let me give you a small glimpse at Greyton in September 1193. Sir Henry should be looking forward to the harvest festival, but

Harvest came. Stephan did not.

September 29 is Michaelmas, a time to celebrate the successful harvest. There will be fattened goose and special-made bread, trestles overflowing with good food, wine and the best ale. Music and dancing will fill the night. Henry’s father, Lord Edward de Grey, has a big announcement to make at the feast…  No spoilers!

Picture “Peasants breaking bread”. Licensed under Public Domain via WikimediaCommons


Get swept away to the 12th centurySweeping battles, forbidden love, and 2 knights fighting for Richard the Lionheart
A 2014 B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree and Readers’ Favorite
Get it from Amazon or B&N
Book II of Battle Scars: For King and Country
will be published in 2015.

Posted in Battle Scars, works in process | Leave a comment

Guest post on English Historical Fiction Authors

Siege of AcreJoin me at English Historical Fiction Authors for my guest post: War Crime, or a Strategic Military Decision? The Massacre at Acre, August 20, 1191.

Siege of Acre By Blofeld of SPECTRE at en.wikipedia (Transfered from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASiege_of_Acre.jpg


Get swept away to the 12th centurySweeping battles, forbidden love, and 2 knights fighting for Richard the Lionheart
A 2014 B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree and Readers’ Favorite
Get it from Amazon or B&N
Book II of Battle Scars: For King and Country
will be published in 2015.

Posted in historical fiction, research | Tagged | Leave a comment

Talking about the book: Inceptio

InceptioTitle: Inceptio (Roma Nova I)
Author:  Alison Morton

A tidbit about the author
The author admits she’s been a Roman ‘nut’ since the age of 11. She served in the military in a special communications regiment in one of those jobs where you don’t talk about what you do, see, or hear.

The story
New York, present day, alternate reality. Karen Brown, angry and frightened after surviving a kidnap attempt, has a harsh choice – being eliminated by government enforcer Jeffery Renschman or fleeing to mysterious Roma Nova, her dead mother’s homeland in Europe.

The scene that made you laugh out loud or cheer
There are numerous places in Inceptio to cheer for the good guys, to celebrate Carina’s successes. You won’t believe the obstacles the author has created for her main character. Get ready for a rollercoaster ride and hold on to your hat!

The place where you wanted to throw the book across the room
Lurio and Carina? Agh! I kept hoping the author was just teasing. I won’t say more because that would spoil it for you!

A memorable line (or two)
‘I’ve arranged for you to stay at my apartment.’
‘And you’ll be staying where?’
He gave me that tight-lipped, wide-eyed, exasperated look of somebody dealing with an idiot. ‘What’s the problem? It’s large enough to contain both our egos for a while. I’ll put locks on the doors if you’re worried you may be overcome with desire for my body.’

Karen/Carina’s sarcasm is a treasure. And several characters give it right back to her. Carina even tells one ‘partner’:  ‘You’ll have to be patient with me if I foul up somewhere. Just say something cutting and sarcastic and I’ll get the message.’  

My verdict **** 4.5 stars ****
is a heart-pumping drama/thriller that opens with the fairly ordinary existence of Karen Brown. But as Karen’s life unfolds and we/she learns about her family’s past, the story is far from ordinary. Karen endures kidnapping, is threatened by government agents, and is nearly frozen to death by an antagonist who makes you cringe every time his name is mentioned, let alone when he is ‘on screen.’ Karen’s need to move to Roma Nova, her adaptation to a new and very foreign life there, and her transformation to Carina Mitela, a heroine/soldier with some kick-ass abilities, makes this book a page-turner. The action scenes are well done, the romance is fun, the spy capabilities are believable and I wouldn’t doubt that Morton’s former life as a soldier are the basis for much of the operational military protocols in the book.

I love the author’s world in this alternative history. The protagonist Karen/Carina is living in New York – in the EUS (Eastern United States) – when the novel opens. Morton does a great job filling in background history, only dropping in information as needed, but coloring the tale with references to “those foreign countries like Louisiane and Quebec,” the Presidential Mansion (in Washington, which was once known as Georgetown), the Western Territories, and Franklin Day. Morton makes the history she’s created perfectly believable without giving the reader a history lesson. And did I mention I want to live in Roma Nova?

See Alison Morton’s website for more information, or buy her book here.

Posted in book reviews, historical fiction | 6 Comments