Sunday, 4 January 2015

The Price of Beauty in the Seventeenth Century - Jessica Cale

Maybe She’s Born With It (Maybe It’s Lead!)

Barbara Palmer (née Villiers), Duchess of Cleveland by John Michael Wright
So many seventeenth-century portraits feature women with smooth, perfectly white complexions. The paint used in the portraits would have been very similar to the makeup used by the women featured, both being comprised chiefly of white lead. By the Restoration, cosmetics were widely available and used across the social spectrum. In a time when freckles were undesirable and so many faces were marred with smallpox scars, demand for complexion correctives was high, and white lead made its first comeback as a cosmetic since the end of the Roman Empire.

Ceruse was made of lead carbonite or oxide and could be combined with lemon juice or vinegar. It was bought as a powder and mixed into a paste with water or egg whites and applied with a damp cloth to whiten the face, neck, and chest. It clung well to the skin and didn’t have to be applied too heavily to produce an even, matte result. It could be set with a mask of egg whites to varnish the skin or powders of starch or ground alabaster.

While it could create the illusion of perfection for a time, ceruse was not without its failings. The egg whites dried quickly on the skin, and they would have created an uncomfortably tight mask that would wrinkle and crack with any facial movement at all, so smiling and talking were out. Over the course of a day, it could even turn grey, necessitating touch-ups with alabaster powder to disguise the changing tone. Ceruse was also found to have a depilatory effect on the eyebrows and hairline, which could be seen as an advantage (or disadvantage, if false mouse-skin eyebrows don’t appeal to you) and could partially explain the artificially high hairlines that appeared throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Still, it was preferable to the alternative, a combination of borax and sulphur, which created a pale powder that was very drying as well as slightly yellow; not very compatible with the fashionable pink and white complexion of the time.

Ceruse was also extremely poisonous. The most sought-after ceruse came from Venice, seen by many as the center of the fashionable world, which was the most expensive and contained the highest concentration of lead. In 1651, Noah Biggs warned against the use of lead in lab equipment and near any water supplies in The Vanity of the Craft of Physic, and the Royal Society noted that people involved in the manufacture of white lead suffered from cramps and blindness by 1661. Mercury was used in the production of beaver hats, giving rise to the term “mad as a hatter.”

Although mercury and lead were known to cause madness, they continued to be used in cosmetics, hair rinses, and popular (if only somewhat successful) remedies for syphilis in every form from enemas, ointments, and pills to steam baths or “sweats” in mercury vapor.

The first person known to die from it was Lady Coventry in 1760. 

Hogarth. Harlot's Progress (detail)


Patches reached their height of popularity in the seventeenth century. Lady Castlemaine advised ladies to wear them daily, except when in mourning. They could be made of taffeta or other thin, black fabrics, and even red Spanish Leather. They came in all shapes and were affixed to the face with gum to disguise blemishes or pockmarks, or to provide a “mark of Venus.”

They were called different things depending upon their position on the face. A patch beside the mouth was called a “kiss.” At the middle of the cheek, it was called a “finery,” a “boldness” beside the nostril, and a “passion” at the corner of the eye. During the 1650s, it became fashionable to wear patches shaped as coaches complete with galloping horses, although it’s difficult to imagine how large a patch would have had to be to resemble anything of the kind.

If a coach and six was not to the wearer’s taste, the Exchanges were restocked daily with a plethora of shapes. From The Gentlewoman’s Companion (Anonymous, 1675):

“By the impertinent pains of this curious Facespoiling-mender, the Exchanges (for now we have three great Arsenals of choice Vanities) are furnished with a daily supply and variety of Beautyspots … and these Patches are cut out into little Moons, Suns, Stars, Castles, Birds, Beasts, and Fishes of all sorts, so that their Faces may be properly termed a Landscape of living Creatures. The vanity and pride of these Gentlewomen hath in a manner abstracted Noah’s Ark, and exprest a Compendium of the Creation in their Front and Cheeks. Add to this the gallantry of their Garb, with all the Ornamental appurtances which rackt Innvention can discover, and then you will say … That she was defective in nothing but a vertueus mind.”

Despite this scathing attack on the virtue of London’s patch-wearing populace, patches continued to be popular through the eighteenth century, and during the reign of Queen Anne, were even worn to indicate political allegiances by wearing them on different sides of the face. 

Jessica Cale

Jessica Cale is a historical romance author and journalist based in North Carolina. Originally from Minnesota, she lived in Wales for several years where she earned a BA in History and an MFA in Creative Writing while climbing castles and photographing mines for history magazines. She kidnapped ("married") her very own British prince (close enough) and is enjoying her happily ever after with him in a place where no one understands his accent. You can visit her at

Look out for her debut novel, Tyburn the first of a romantic series set in the time of the Restoration. 


Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Ride the TITLE WAVE into the 17th century

Books by Eve LaPlante, David Teems, Francis Bremer,
John Fox, and Nathaniel Philbrick.
 There’s a vast crowd of enthusiasts reading and discussing everything medieval and renaissance. But time didn’t stop with Elizabeth Tudor’s death in 1603. Are you looking for the rest of the story?

King James, his son King Charles I, and grandsons Charles II and James II kept the drama level high and dangerous in the seventeenth century. Their marriages and lovers, births and deaths, political intrigues, religious conflicts, witch hunts, and wars marked the beginning of our modern period. Their aristocrats and politicians, tradesmen, midwives, ministers, writers, musicians, scientists, and artists changed the world.  

Have you noticed that it’s the gift-giving season?  Why not knock out your whole gift list right now with these suggestions? The gift of a book is one that's remembered for years. Some people find it convenient to buy books for all their siblings, or as appreciation gifts for their children’s teachers. You might give paperback books to some in the family, or use the Kindle-gift option. Some books are stand-alone, some are part of a series.

This is a list of authors who have the 17th century covered, from Shakespeare and midwife forensic investigators to barber surgeons, Charles II’s mistresses, men and women who founded American democracy, servants and highway robbers, people who gave their lives for their principles or just because they were falsely accused as witches. In these books you’ll find sumptuous gowns and high society, educated women, poverty, prostitutes, and massacres, childbirth and plague, castles and manors, cathedrals and meetinghouses—even a vampire.

Our ninth or tenth great-grandparents knew these people—or were these people. (Well, probably not the vampire—but everyone else!) Discover what their lives were like, and how their lives formed who you are. Many of the book characters from the 17th century are based on facts, events, and real people. The authors, in addition to their literary skills, have spent months and years in research to get the 17th century world “just right,” so you’ll get your history veggies in a delicious brownie.

Ride the wave of the time-space continuum into the 17th century with these award-winning and highly-rated authors. The images you see are a small sample of what's available from this talented group! Click the highlighted author’s name to open a new tab.

Anna Belfrage Time-slip (then and now) love and war.

Jo Ann Butler — From England to New England: survival, love, and a dynasty.

Susanna Calkins — Murder mysteries set in 1660s London. 

Francine Howarth — Heroines, swashbuckling romance.

Judith James — Rakes and rogues of the Restoration.

Marci Jefferson — Royal Stuarts in Restoration England.

Elizabeth Kales French Huguenot survival of Inquisition.

Juliet Haines Mofford — True crime of New England, pirates.

Mary Novik — Rev. John Donne and daughter.

Donald Michael Platt Spanish Inquisition cloak and dagger.

Katherine Pym — London in the 1660s.

Diane Rapaport — Colonial New England true crime.

Peni Jo Renner — Salem witch trials.

Christy K Robinson — British founders of American democracy and rights.

Anita Seymour  Royalists and rebels in English Civil War.

Mary Sharratt — Witches (healers) of Pendle Hill, 1612.

Alison Stuart — Time-slip war romance, ghosts.

Deborah Swift — Servant girls running for lives, highwaywoman.

Ann Swinfen — Farmers fighting to keep land, chronicles of Portuguese physician.

Sam Thomas — Midwife solves murders in city of York.

Suzy Witten — Salem witch trials.

Andrea Zuvich — Vampire in Stuart reign, Duke of Monmouth and mistress.

Introduction and illustrated table by Christy K Robinson. You're welcome to share this page in your blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. Shortened URL:

Monday, 1 September 2014

Time for a Change!

To all our loyal readers and followers...

In keeping with the Hoydens sleek new look, there will be a slight change to the way we do business here at Hoydens.

For eight years (and 283 posts!) we have been posting every week on every conceivable subject relevant to the seventeenth century.

The writing world has changed enormously in that time and there are many more writers dipping their toes into our favourite period of history, so rather than hear from the same voices on a weekly basis, we are moving to a less formal format and inviting all comers with an interest in the seventeenth century and/or a book set in that period to use the Hoydens and Firebrands blog site as a forum to put up your post.

The regular Hoydens – Anita Davison, Mary Sharratt, Kim Murphy, Alison Stuart, Deborah Swift, Jo-Ann Butler, Andrea Zuvich and Christy Robinson will still be popping up – after all you can’t shut us up once we get on to our favourite subjects.

So if you are interested in a guest post, just email us (using the contact form to the right) and if it fits, we will put your guest post up as and when you want it.

Looking forward to lots of new and interesting voices and hoping our regular followers enjoy the new format.

Love from

The Hoydens 

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Margaret [Peg] Hughes Prince Rupert's last Love

Margaret [Peg] Hughes
Actresses first appeared on the English stage in 1629, when a troupe of French players gave a performances at Blackfriars. A Thomas Brande wrote to Archbishop Laude expressing the anger of the crowd, in that the French actresses were 'hissed, hooted, and pippin-pelted from the stage,' thus Brande concluded he, 'did not think they would soon be ready to try the same again'.

This same troupe reappeared a few weeks later at the Fortune and Red Bull theatres, and received similar abuse, so to compensate, the Master of the Revels returned part of their licence fee. Three years later,  the Puritan author William Prynne brought out his Histrio-Mastix, The Player's Scourge, or Actor's Tragedy in which he stigmatized all 'woman-actors' as 'monsters', and their performances, 'impudent', 'shameful', and 'unwomanish'.

The ban on theatres which was imposed by the Commonwealth in 1642, was lifted by Charles II, who granted two royal patents to perform ‘legitimate drama’ in London to Sir Thomas Killigrew and Sir William Davenant. By 1661, the prejudice against women actors had declined, so when Killigrew and Davenant received a renewal of the letters patent,they included a clause that females could perform. The King’s Company and the Duke’s Company were formed, both briefly based in The Cockpit Theatre (also known as the Phoenix Theatre) Drury Lane, later moving to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

Margaret Hughes appeared in Killigrew’s ‘Othello’ as Desdemona in December 1660 at a converted tennis court called the Vere Street Theatre.  The audience were asked: ‘And how do you like her?’ The applause that followed guaranteed the place of actresses on the English stage - however this story may be allegorical, as four years earlier, Davenant's  'Siege of Rhodes' was performed at Rutland House, with Mrs. Coleman as Ianthe.  

Not much is known about Peg’s early life, and she was already 30 before she performed Desdemona, but she apparently took the London theatre scene by storm.With her long dark hair, sleepily sensual eyes and lovely face, Margaret ‘Peg’ Hughes counted among her lovers a brief liaison with Charles II, Charles Sedley, the famous fop and, reputedly, other members of the court circle.

Prince Rupert

Samuel Pepys, who recorded going backstage on 7 May 1668 after a performance of The Virgin Martyr and stole a kiss from an actress named ‘Pegg’ whom he described as ‘a mighty pretty woman, and seems, but is not, modest’ She was the first actress to play Theodosia in John Dryden's Evening's Love, or, The Mock Astrologer, which premiered on 22 June 1668.

According to the Count de Gramont’s memoirs, Peg was with the count on a summer visit to Tunbridge Wells in 1668 when she met Prince Rupert. No longer a young and dashing cavalier, he was still a rich and handsome man who had turned his back on his homeland after a fierce quarrel with his elder brother, Charles Louis the Elector Palatine. He lived in England under the patronage of his cousin, King Charles II. By 1669 , Peg became a member of the King's Company which gave her status and immunity from arrest for debt. She was also painted four times by Sir Peter Lely.  

Peg initially refused Rupert's gifts, preferring instead to ‘sell her favours at a dearer rate’.  This unexpected rejection upset Rupert a great deal, but this did not mean he was about to propose marriage. At least not a regular one. Some accounts say that the pair went through a ‘left-handed marriage’ ceremony, in that the groom held the bride’s right hand in his left hand instead of in his right - a ceremony that meant neither Hughes nor any children they might have would inherit Rupert’s royal titles or privileges.  

At the end of that year, Peg left the stage in order to set up home with the fifty-year old Prince, who was generous to Peg’s family and employed at least one of her brothers in his household.
It appears, though, that their ‘marriage’ was a happy one as Rupert rejected his elder brother’s pleas to marry more appropriately and produce an heir for the Palatine. 

For the next six years, Peg lived an expensive lifestyle with her royal lover, giving birth to their daughter, Ruperta in 1673. Rupert gave Peg at least £20,000 worth of jewelry during their relationship, including several items from the Palatinate royal collection.

In 1676, Peg emerged from retirement for a year with the Company at the Dorset Garden Theatre, near the Strand. Rupert then bought a 'grand building' worth £25,000 that he bought in Hammersmith from Sir Nicholas Crispe where he installed Peg and their daughter.

Ruperta Howe

In June 1670, Peg's brother became embroiled in a quarrel with one of the king's retainers over which of the royal mistresses, Margaret Hughes or Nell Gwyn, was ‘the handsomer now att Windsor’. Insults flew,  swords drawn, and Hughes' brother was killed.

Rupert installed Peg in the lavishly furnished mansion at Hammersmith, later known as Brandenburg House, where Margaret gave birth to a daughter in 1673, christened Ruperta. 

Margaret returned to the stage in 1676 as a member of the Duke of York's Company, based at the Dorset Garden Theatre. After that season, Peg retired from acting and devoted herself to Rupert, now fifty-seven and with failing health. 

Rupert reputedly gave Peg a pair of pearl drop earrings that once belonged to his mother. Rupert's youngest sister, the Electress Sophia of Hanover, complained bitterly to her husband, Ernest Augustus, Elector of Hanover, but when she saw how well Peg looked after her elderly bachelor brother, she was forgiven and allowed to keep them.
By 1680, Rupert was bedridden and used an invalid chair. He wrote to Sophia that, ‘Margaret ‘took great care of me during my illness and I am obliged to her for many things’. Of his life with Peg, he also said, ‘as for the little one [Ruperta], she cannot resemble me, [for] she is turning into the prettiest creature. She already rules the whole house and sometimes argues with her mother, which makes us all laugh’.

Two days before his death, Rupert signed his will which stated Margaret was to receive all his money, plate, English estates, and investments, including: the string of pearls which had once belonged to his mother, the winter queen; his diamonds; and all of his tapestries, gold stucco work, and hangings. He  had already given her a large cabinet worth £8000 that she was to keep. Rupert died at his house in Spring Gardens, Westminster after a bout of pleurisy, and was buried in the crypt of Westminster Abbey.

Electress Sophia, Rupert's sister
From his deathbed the prince made a last request to Charles II that a marriage be contracted between Ruperta and Lord Burford, son of Nell Gwyn and the king. This, however, was refused. Concerned that his daughter should make an advantageous match, Rupert stipulated in his will that she should be ‘dutifull and obedient to her mother, and not … dispose herself in marriage, without her consent, and the advise of the … Earl of Craven’ 

The Earl of Craven was appointed executor and Margaret and Ruperta were the chief beneficiaries. Rupert’s former mistress, Francesca Bard, was excluded and their son, Dudley Bard, was left only Rupert's house at Rhenen and monies owed to him by the emperor and the elector palatine.

This was an era when women did not attend funerals, thus Rupert's coffin was accompanied to the grave on 6 December 1682 by a party which included a ‘Mr. Hughes—Gentleman’, probably another brother or kinsman to Margaret. Within a few months Craven had already paid out £6000 each to her and her daughter, and had sold one of the most valuable items—the pearl necklace given by Rupert's father to Elizabeth—to Nell Gwyn for £4520 in an attempt to clear household debts.
Rupert and Peg's House in Hammersmith
Hughes had an 'uncomfortable widowhood' without Rupert's support, exacerbated by her gambling. Elizabeth of Bohemia's earrings were sold to the Duchess of Marlborough. Hughes sold the house in Hammersmith to two London merchants: Timothy Lannoy and George Treadwell. [The name changed to Brandeburgh House when bought by the Margrave of Brandenburg-Anspach]  

Margaret moved to Eltham in Kent where she died in October 1719, and was buried at Lee, Kent.Her daughter, Ruperta, ultimately married Lt-General Emanuel Scrope Howe, future MP and had four children by him - James, Henriette, William and Sophie. Ruperta died in 1719.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Moon Time

Photo by Orion 8

In Virginia, on March 22, 1622, and again on April 18, 1644, paramount chief Opechancanough arranged attacks killing several hundred colonists on both occasions. The fact that assaults could be carried out with such devastating consequences on unsuspecting colonists demonstrates Opechancanough's organizational skills. But how did he time his attacks with such precision?

For the most part, the various tribes commonly referred to as the Powhatan lived in towns near water, which could be reached by dugout (a type of canoe). Runners were also common messengers, but the tribal people used the moon as a calendar. Both attacks came one day shy of the third-quarter moon.

Moon cycles have been used for thousands of years to mark the passage of time. Each month the moon cycles has a new moon, first quarter, a full moon, last quarter, then returns to the new moon. The cycle repeats approximately every 29 days. One clergyman wrote that the Powhatan kept track of time by days, moons, and years. In their numbering system, they had specific words for one to ten, after which, according to John Smith, they counted by tens, and they also had a word for a thousand. If necessary, they used notched sticks and knotted strings to keep track of larger numbers.

The people tracked the lunar calendar with seasonal and solar cycles, along with crop and migratory seasons. Little is known about the astronomical knowledge of the Powhatan, but they recognized lunar months, such as "moon of the stags," the "corn moon," and the first and second "moon of cohonks." Cohonk is the Algonquian word meaning Canada goose, and the moons so named occurred in early winter when the geese returned. It was also the beginning of their year. The word itself sounded like a goose honking. Not only that, I recently discovered an interesting tidbit that to honk your car horn is derived from the same Algonquian word.

According to some anthropologists, calendars were developed by women to coincide with not only the lunar cycle, but menstrual cycles as well. Mayan midwives knew that when a woman missed her period a baby would be delivered about 260 days later. Opechancanough most likely timed his attacks using a similar method. In any case, the attacks were timed with precision, taking place just before spring planting and the beginning of the busiest time of year.

Kim Murphy