Category Archives: Slice of Life

The Story of King Charles I’s Body

Apr 10, 2017

Okay, so here’s the other story from Windsor Castle that I promised I’d tell, but got way distracted from.

Charles I was a devoted family man, which is one of the reasons I love him.
(c) Astley Hall Museum and Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

So other than Victoria and Albert, my favorite English monarch is Charles I. Now, this is highly controversial, because the reign of Charles I and the Civil War that resulted (you know, Cromwell and all) is a pivotal moment in British history. A lot of people utterly vilify Charles and adore Cromwell. They say Charles was a tyrant and Cromwell was for the people. Personally, I think Charles was a good man but a terrible king, and Cromwell was an ass who attempted to destroy his country without a plan. But I’ll get to that later. Anyhow, as I said to the tour guide at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, you’re pretty much either Team Charles or Team Cromwell, and I happen to be Team Charles.

For those who don’t know, Charles I believed in the divine right of kings. Which, for Team Charles, means he was just trying to do his job the way he believed God wanted him to. This led him to do a lot of not-so-great things—like dissolving Parliament and taxing people—because those pesky populists and their new, right-wing extreme Protestantism were getting in his way. Oliver Cromwell believed all men were and should be equal in the eyes of God and the law, and so whipped up a revolution in order to oust the old rule and usher in his ideal society. Ergo, the English Civil War. This all happened in the 1640s. (Note: America was barely a glimmer in the milkman’s eyes at this point in history. A few, experimental colonies, yes, but that’s about all)

Long (LONG) story short, Charles lost the war, was captured and imprisoned, and ended up having his head chopped off. Here’s where the fascinating story of Charles I’s remains begins!

Oliver Cromwell. I don’t like him much.

Because Cromwell was firmly in charge as soon as Charles’s head was separated from the rest of him, he forbid the ex-king from being buried with any sort of ceremony whatsoever. ANY ceremony. At all. But Charles had many loyal supporters who wanted to do right by him. So they sewed his head back on his body, and with a high degree of secrecy, they took his remains to St. George’s Chapel inside of Windsor Castle to be interred. And the entire ceremony happened in utter silence, since they were forbidden to even so much as read from the Book of Common Prayer.

So much silence, in fact, that in short order, everyone forgot where they’d buried him. Or rather, it was such a secret that when the people immediately involved were gone, no one knew where the remains were. They knew Charles had been buried in St. George’s Chapel, but not where. They also knew that he was probably buried in the same crypt as Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, but again, the exact location was a little fuzzy. Particularly as St. George’s Chapel was ransacked a couple of times by those pesky Cromwell supporters.

Incidentally, Cromwell was an absolutely terrible leader. He didn’t have a plan. Not one clue. He made a big stink about equality and new ways of doing things and abolishing the monarchy, but he didn’t go into leadership with a clear vision for what should replace monarchy. He tried several forms of government through his tenure as leader, and none of them worked. He pissed people off so much, that after he died, they invited Charles I’s son, Charles II, to come back and restore the monarchy. You can like Cromwell and make excuses for him all you want, but after a country spend years engaged in a bloody civil war, murdered their monarch, and set up a new form of government, you have to admit that you’d have to fail hardcore to say “Nevermind! We want that whole monarchy things back.” Not just any monarchy either. They asked for Charles’s heir, the same royal family as before the war, instead of creating a whole new king. Take that, Team Cromwell!

St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. The crypt with Charles I and Henry VIII is under that black slab of marble.

Incidentally again, Oliver Cromwell’s body was dug up again two years after he died, hung from the ramparts in the traditional place criminals who had been executed were displayed, and then destroyed.

Meanwhile, Charles slumbered on, lost and unknown. … Until 1813. At that point, after renovations to St. George’s Chapel, they discovered a crypt that, lo and behold, had three, old coffins in it. One was wrapped in a black velvet shroud with an iron band around it that read “King Charles, 1649.” Excited about finding the martyred king at last, but wanting to make sure they had really found him, they decided to open the coffin and take a look.

The coffin was opened by Sir Henry Halford, president of the Royal College of Physicians. He left a complete record of the proceedings. Inside the coffin, they found a well-preserved body, wrapped in linen and embalming fluids. They peeled back the linens, revealing Charles’s face. Not only was it in good shape (although the skin was dark, as happens, you know), everyone remarked that he looked exactly like all of the famous portraits that had been painted of him. But more than that, his left eye was open, and the eyeball was still intact. It stared right up at them for a few seconds before oxidation disintegrated it!

To complete the visual ID, they checked around the back of the head to make sure it had been severed and sewn back on. The leather stitches were long gone, but the head had clearly been chopped off at some point. Also, Charles had luxuriant, thick, brown hair, which was still in very good condition. To prove the head was Charles’s, Halford picked up the head and showed it around to people. Bleh! After that, he put it back. BUT before sealing up the coffin again, Halford nabbed one of Charles’s teeth, a clipping of his beard, and one of his cervical vertebrae.

An artist’s rendering of what’s inside the crypt. Charles is on the left. Notice Henry VIII’s squashed coffin in the center.

That wasn’t the end of things. Halford took his souvenirs home. He had the vertebrae covered in silver, and he used it as a salt cellar. It was a popular conversation piece at his dinner table. Ahem* That is, until his grandson inherited the relics. In 1888, Halford’s grandson approached the crown, explaining the relics, and returning them to the royal family. At that point, the future King Edward VII, secured permission from his mother, Queen Victoria, to reopen the crypt so that the pieces of Charles could be reunited with the rest of him. Victoria agreed. The crypt was opened by workers, but Edward went in by himself to replace the relics, now housed in a small, ebony casket. That done, the crypt was resealed, and it hasn’t been disturbed since.

One other interesting side note for you Henry VIII fans. When the crypt was opened in 1813, it was noted that Henry VIII’s coffin had been smashed. Bones were visible inside, but it was clear the body had disintegrated. It is speculated that the destruction happened when Charles was interred. The theory is that the burial happened in such haste that the men placing Charles in the crypt crunched into Henry VIII’s coffin, cracking the top. Jane Seymour’s coffin is completely intact and has never been disturbed, though. And there is also another coffin in that crypt, an infant child of Queen Anne. Although I don’t know the story of how and when that ended up there.

Status Update – Windsor Castle

Apr 05, 2017

The castle itself is so huge that there really isn’t a way to get a single pic of the whole thing.

So for those who don’t know, I’m adventuring in London for a week, looking for story ideas, researching a few things I already know I’m going to write about, and generally enjoying being in my happy place. I would absolutely live in London—or anywhere in the UK, for that matter—if I could. But seeing as they don’t have a visa category that fits me, I’ll have to make due with visit.

And yesterday I visited Windsor Castle! For those who don’t know, Windsor Castle has been a continuous residence of the Royal Family for the past 900 years! It was actually started by William the Conqueror shortly after he took over. And when I say “started,” I mean that various parts of the complex have been built, destroyed, rebuilt, added to, refurbished, and expanded over hundreds of years. In fact, the latest edition to the castle was done in the 1990s. But I’m getting slightly ahead of myself.

These are the old (old, old, old) Norman towers.

Or maybe not. Because I could talk about the magnificence of the design and decoration of the State Apartments or the incredibly art collection (I always get excited when I see very famous paintings in person, and there were very famous paintings that I knew on practically every wall of the place). I could talk about the Royal Family or the fact that Victoria and Albert lived there most of the time in their lives. But what I found most fascinating and what I really want to talk about is the fire of 1992.

I remember vividly when the castle burnt down. November 20, 1992. I have vivid images of aerial shots of one whole section of the castle in flames. But walking around inside of it, I was both curious about where the fire had been and what potentially was destroyed and how it could be that I wouldn’t obviously see all the damage.

Her Majesty’s personal entrance to the castle.

And that’s the cool story.

First of all, I learned how the fire started. It started in what was formerly a private chapel built for Queen Victoria. But the chapel was in an awkward location, and it got in the way of anyone trying to cross from the private apartments to the state apartments. What actually happened is that an ancient velvet curtain was standing too close to an old fashioned spotlight. It got too hot and WHOOMP! The whole thing went up. But not just that, because of the former structure of the roof, not only did the chapel ignite like kindling, it quickly spread all the way through the parts of the castle that were connected by the roof structure.

I think I remember stories of Prince Charles himself rushing to the scene and helping to rescue art and artifacts from the walls and rooms, but I can’t remember if that’s true. Anyhow, several of the larger rooms were massively damaged, including two large halls that adjoin what was the chapel. It’s a shame that I couldn’t take pictures of these rooms myself due to photography restrictions, because they would be really useful to illustrate the following stories…

So one of the rooms that sustained serious damage was the Grand Reception Hall. I took a picture of the picture of it in the Windsor Castle guide book that I bought. (Actually, all of these interior pics are from that guidebook). What you’re seeing is the restored room. The cool stories from this room are, first, the floor. That’s still the original floor, but with a twist. The floorboards were badly charred in the fire. So what did they do? Like a stain on a sofa, they flipped each board individually and put it back down in place. I thought that was awesome. The other story is that giant urn at the far end. It’s two tons and over six feet tall, so they couldn’t exactly haul it out of the room in the middle of the fire. The thing is, it’s made of malachite. And if you know anything about rocks (which I didn’t until the tour explained it), malachite doesn’t come in enormous slabs. So really, the urn is marble covered with a fine layer of malachite fit together like jigsaw pieces. Well, during the fire, the urn filled and doused with boiling water. So the adhesive holding the malachite to its base melted. All of the pieces flaked off in the days following the fire. They had to be reassembled piece by piece in the years of restoration that followed.

The other cool fire story is about St. George’s Hall, which is massive and beautiful. But for a historian, the story behind it is such an exciting insight into history that I was almost jumping up and down. See all that marvelous ceiling beamwork? Looks medieval, right? Nope. The entire ceiling was destroyed in the fire. There was a scary-sad picture of it looking like a burned out skeleton on the tour. So they reconstructed it. BUT, they did all the work in the medieval style with historical tools and erected it completely the way the original ceiling would have been made. And you may or may not be able to tell from this picture, but the texture and color of the wood is very, very different from the hundreds of years old ceilings you see in medieval buildings now. So for me, it totally informed on what these magnificent structures would have felt like when they were new…which is not the same as they feel now. I think places like Westminster Abbey (which I visited yesterday) and Winchester Cathedral (which I visited in 2010) would have felt much warmer and more vibrant than they do now.

But the coolest of the cool parts of the reconstructed castle is the brand new Lantern Lobby. This is where the fire started. Like I said, it was formerly Queen Victoria’s private chapel. But when it came time to rebuilt, they brought in architects to take a look and totally rethink what the space should be. This room is what they came up with. And the ceiling is incredible. But unlike St. George’s Hall, which was reconstructed in the medieval fashion, this ceiling and it’s vaulting was designed by computer! All of the angles and placement and calculations were designed specifically to draw the eye upward and to bring it together into an amazing, aesthetic harmony. And really, this pic doesn’t do justice to how perfectly that mission was accomplished. It’s so cool.

So those are just some of my observations about the castle. I have another really awesome story about St. George’s Chapel (which is bigger than the Cathedral in my hometown), where my man, Charles I, is buried. But I’ll tell that story in another blog post.

Status Update – Persistence

Mar 17, 2017

Woo hoo!

This one partially goes out to my fellow writers, but I hope a lot of what I’m about to share can help everyone in navigating the sometimes choppy waters of life. Because I had a REALLY good day yesterday, personally and professionally, and I owe it all to one thing: Persistence.

So career-wise, I had my very first 99 cent BookBub promo on one of the books from my Brides of Paradise Ranch series, His Remarkable Bride. I wrote this book back in June of last year, but I have to say, it’s one of my favorite things that I’ve written. I had a lot of fun writing a portly hero with a heart of gold, his eight children, and the Englishwoman and former governess who travels west as a mail-order bride to marry him, mostly so she can wrangle his children. Hilarity and heartbreak ensue. Who would have thought that a non-traditionally handsome, non-alpha male hero would capture so many hearts?

But let’s go back and focus on the BookBub part of this whole equation. Readers, if you haven’t signed up for BookBub’s daily deals emails, you’re missing out. Because they send out a LOT of great stuff! And authors, yeah, I know. One reason those BookBub emails are so great is because they have a VERY stringent process for choosing which books to promote. They only accept a tiny fraction of books that are submitted. And it drives authors to despair. Because some of us submit over and over and over and get rejection after rejection.

Believe it or not, I was one of those rejected authors. True, I haven’t had trouble getting freebie BookBub promos, and I have a theory about that which I’ll share some other time. But up until yesterday, after about five years of trying, I’d never had a 99 cent deal. Okay, granted, I didn’t try super hard to get one up until the last year or so because my marketing strategy relied more on freebies. But I was turned down plenty of times before being accepted.

And when I was, it wasn’t for the category I applied for. They wanted to put me in a new category. I had to take a chance…and it paid off! I was on most retailer’s Top 100 charts, including #34 on Amazon, when I woke up this morning! But it didn’t just happen easy-peasy, lickety-split. Not only did getting to that spot involve a lot of persistence when it came to submitting for the BookBub deal, dude, His Remarkable Bride is, like, the 35th book I’ve published or something.

It’s easy to get down in the mouth when we see other people in our same field or with our same life circumstances succeeding in ways we want to but haven’t, whether that’s getting a BookBub promo, getting a promotion, or getting pregnant after dealing with infertility. I know that I am particularly susceptible to jealousy, and it’s something I’ve had to work on HARD for most of my life. But this is a story not just of persisting in applying for one particular promo. I feel like my entire career so far, my entire life, has been about persisting in improving my writing and making it as technically good, original, and emotional as possible. It’s been about persisting when I felt trapped in a corporate job with no way of getting out. It’s been persisting when I didn’t think I was going to have enough money to pay bills. And I’m sure I’ll have to continue to persist. My heart tells me that I might have to persist enough to fight to keep this life I love so much as external forces (like that money thing) try to chip away at it.

This is what really matters

Persistence is key! If you give up on your dreams at any point, not only is that a sadness, it becomes that much harder to jump back onto the tack of pursuing them once you feel inspired again. In a way, persistence is the antithesis of inspiration. Inspiration is a glorious high, but persistence is a plodding, sometimes miserable and unrewarding, daily task that you have to do, whether you feel like it or not. But I have an image that always comes to mind when I don’t feel like writing or marketing or doing anything besides lying on my couch covered in cats, playing games on my iPad. And of all things, it’s a football analogy. You have to move the ball forward. Every day, even if it’s just a single yard, you have to move the ball forward.

And as far as my personal life goes, it was an awesome day yesterday because I got to hang out with this guy all morning! It’s an even more awesome day when I get to hang out with him and his sister, but oh, my heart! My career could have fallen apart yesterday and I still would have counted it a great day because of him (and his mommy). Because that’s what’s really important in life.

Status Update – Status Quo

Mar 15, 2017

Yeah, I’ve been really lazy about updating my blog lately. After I made such a big noise about wanting to post more often here so I can avoid the turmoil of FB. Well, the only excuse I can give is that nothing really exciting has been going on in my world. And you know, sometimes it’s nice when there’s just nothing to report.

Except maybe that snowstorm yesterday. We were forecast to get 12-16 inches. In the end, I think we got about 5 inches of snow with about a quarter inch of ice on top of that. I’m lucky that I didn’t lose power, but I did wake up in the middle of the night last night (which is normal) and couldn’t get back to sleep because I was worried about whether my car is frozen into its parking place, and the fact that I don’t have a shovel to dig it out. But looking out the window this morning, it looks like a couple cars that were in other parking spots had no trouble driving over the snow that was plowed against the backs of all of our cars.

See, that’s about as exciting as things have been lately. But for me, that’s actually a grand improvement. I think I’ve mentioned before that this has been a tough winter for me and my stress level. But in the last week or so, things have been looking up. I’ll admit, I started taking a bit of St. John’s Wart, which may or may be what’s contributing to the upward tick.

Kitten therapy or just having this grumpy old man yell at me to snap out of it?

Side Note: Back in the 90s, I worked for an herbalist at his health food store, and I learned a LOT about alternative medicine. I’m incredibly sensitive to pharmacology, if that’s the right way to say it, probably because Mom never gave us a lot of medicine when we were growing up. Not even aspirin. But then, we were really healthy and didn’t need it. Nowadays, I find that holistic medicine works just fine for me, even though it does nothing for other people. As my old boss taught me, that could be because my system hasn’t adapted to allopathic drugs. It could also be because he taught me which brands and preparations actually work and which are glorified grass clippings in capsules. The answer, by the way, is that liquid herbal preparations are a billion times more effective than capsules, and the brands Gaia Herbs and Herbalists & Alchemists are pretty much the most reliable brands on the markets.

But anyhow, the reason I mention this is because I’ve heard a lot of storied from friends of mine who have been having serious problems with depression this year. Like, VERY serious. It makes me grateful that my anxiety and depression is just annoying, and that I can handle it with herbs and kittens. My heart really goes out to those friends. And it makes me grateful that I’ve had nothing to report for a while. Sometimes smooth sailing and calm seas can be just what the doctor ordered.

Status Update – Grow WHEN You’re Planted?

Mar 08, 2017

Steppin’ out in my city, London, in the 1890s

So on Monday I wrote about how there are times when I think that I was totally born on the wrong continent. Or at least that my heart feels like is should be in England. Well, I would like to add a little twist to that. Because after earning two degrees in History and spending a lifetime reading history books for fun, I am going to go out on a limb and say I would not have minded living in the last part of the 19th century at all.

When I say that, I’ll specify that I would have liked to be born in the 1860s so that I would be in the prime of my life in the 1880s – 1910s. There’s just something about that time period—whether you call it the Late Victorian and Edwardian Age or the Gilded Age—that I absolutely love. The fashions were beautiful, the architecture was stunning, and technology was way, way more advanced than you’re thinking right now.

Because here’s the thing… I’m going to go out on a limb and say that 99 out of 100 people in the 21st century have no idea what the late 19th century was like, and in fact, they probably have a very, very warped and flat-out wrong view of how advanced it was. You! You’re wrong! Those 40 years between 1880 and 1920 were NOT dark times of dirty people with no hygiene or technology when women were considered property! You’re wrong, wrong, wrong! (Those days that you’re thinking of are the 1820s – 1860s)

I would TOTALLY have worn this costume to ride my bicycle!

The fact of the matter is, while we think life has changed and technology has developed super fast from the 1980s until now, we ain’t got nuthin’ on the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. Within those 40 years I mentioned, civilization saw the development of electricity and plumbing in homes, public sanitation, public transportation (including subways), automobiles, steam ships, refrigeration, movies, and gramophones, not to mention the bicycle craze, women being admitted to universities, holding offices, and voting, the development of germ theory and sterilization for surgeries of all kinds, and the importation of food from all over the world, which drastically improved public health and nutrition. In fact, I had an interesting discussion with a doctor once in which he agreed that people at the end of the 19th century were probably far healthier than people nowadays, because there was more physical activity and less processed food.

But still, a lot of people balk and cringe and continue to operate on the mistaken assumption that just because a few things weren’t as advanced (penicillin hadn’t been invented yet, so yes, people died of infection more…but hey, they die of diabetes and weight-related illnesses in equally as great numbers today, I’ve seen the hard data that proves that) the whole era was a morass of backwardness. That phenomenon has always baffled me. It’s very black and white thinking. Just because the infant mortality rate (among the lower classes, not the middle or upper classes, mind you…I’ve seen the data on that too) was higher 125 years ago MUST mean that the entire era was gross and nasty and horrible. It just isn’t true.

Yep, this would totally have been my 1890s attitude!

Yes, there have been a lot of advances in the 20th century. There’ve been a lot in the 21st century too. But we’ve also lost things. To me, it’s not so much that life has gotten better as the years go by, it’s just that it’s changed. And I think I would have gotten along just fine 130 years ago. IF! And here’s my big, big, IF… IF I had the same family I do now and/or I had married a nice guy. Because the one thing that I can’t excuse away is that if I had lived 130 years ago, my brother Stewart would have been responsible for me if I’d never married. But Stewart would have been super cool about that, and I’m sure he wouldn’t have cared if I still wanted to be an author or live independently. Because by that era, women did. And I wouldn’t have been part of the upper classes anyhow, so who cares what the rules—which fewer and fewer people were following in that era—said.

 

(All images came from Pinterest and are public domain)