Friday, 19 December 2014

What to watch: "Penny Dreadful"

The cast of "Penny Dreadful"
What began in the mid 1800’s as stories which were intended for young men at a price of a penny, evolved into a spectacular cinematic display of gothic horror, which is where, “Penny Dreadful got it’s start. Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful” is a mind-sweeping and alluring tale of some pretty fascinating characters. Their stories delve into our imaginations, hearts, and souls as their lives unfold throughout the serious various episodes. 

The show takes the viewer back to Victorian London. The backdrop of the show evolves around the murders of Jack the Ripper, and other various tid bits of historical drama of the times. The center of the story evolves around Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) and Sir Malcolm Murray (Sir Timothy Dalton). The underlining story is one of heart break, yet a reality for many during this time. Forbidden love affairs and the impact of mental illness and its influence on spirituality and the supernatural unknown. This first season revolves around Vanessa’s demons and how she overcomes them to help Sir Malcolm with his mission to find out what happened to his daughter Mina.  Interestingly Mina is also the name of one of the main love of the vampire Dracula in folklore.

Additionally, the show, historically does a very good job of depicting how mental illnesses was treated during this time, and also how it was so misunderstood, both the supernatural and medical aspect nature of treatment is shown. The show also explores how sexual trauma can impact ones view on reality and ones around them. For Vanessa, it is all too real for her and perhaps the source of her illness.

But what is the story, the genre that “Penny Dreadful” falls into? Gothic horror.  The history of Gothic horror or romance grew its roots deep before Victorian society emerged to the forefront. It began with the works of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, which combines genres of romanticism, fiction, and horror. It became the foundation of the literary genre that reached its height of popularity in the mid 18th and 19th centuries. Other authors such as Ann Radcliffe, the Bronte sisters, Mary Shelly, Edgar Alan Poe, and even Charles Dickens, were all gothic horror romance novelists who later help shape the genre to what we know of it today.

In examining Walpole’s 1764 novel in which the genre is attributed, it introduces into literary society something new. It held a host of new elements that were pleasing in sorts of terror, and held an extension of literary romance, which was relatively new to this period in which his novel was introduced. His novel also introduced parody and melodrama, also including self-parody. All are fundamental elements of all Gothic genres.

Most importantly, the term “Gothic” was applied to this new form of literature simply because these were the architectural style of the buildings in which the literature had its stories take place. They were the backdrops for these dramas to unfold.

After Walpole’s introduction of the genre in England, others followed. In France the genre was called “roman noir” and in Germany it was called “schauerroman.” Walpole’s overall intent was to combine elements of medieval literature, which in his mind it was too fanciful, and then with the modern novel. To him the modern novel was too strict and confining. The combination of the two is what he intended the story of The Castle of Otranto to be.

Walpole also introduced the basic structure for these novels. The basic plot introduced included a threatening mystery, an ancestral curse, many trappings or hidden passages (This is quite apparent in the later story of “Jane Eyre” by Emily Bronte.) and off fainting heroines. There also became a demand for romances with superstitious elements, that at times were void of “didactical intention.” Some argued that this had no place nor was it acceptable as a modern piece of literature.

Walpole’s novel is essential because even though named a forgery at one point, it was a story with history and fiction, that at times contradicted the main principles of the enlightenment. It also brought to light the relationship with “fake” documentation and folklore. Which were very recurrent themes in Gothic literature.
Eva Green as Vanessa Ives

Many influential authors helped shaped the genre. One was Ann Radcliffe. Her works introduced the basis of having a brooding gothic villain, whom later became the “Byronic hero.” Her stories also introduced a theme called “supernatural intrusion,” which eventually throughout the story, gets traced back to a natural cause, called “explained supernatural.” All her works became best-sellers despite the highly educated of society calling the works “sensational entertainment.”  She also provided an atheistic value for the genre with “On The Emphasis of Supernatural” which is poetic work. It examines the relationship and correlation between horror and terror in Gothic fiction.  Later, the genre was strengthened by many of the major romantic poets such as Poe, who made many contributions to the Gothic genre in terms of darkness and the unexplained.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Movie Review: "The Black Death"

When I first saw the previews for this flick, I was like... yeah this is dumb...according to my medieval expertise and nit-picky-ness.  But I evenutally ended up renting it off iTunes.  iTunes is awesome by the way for random stuff.. or Netflix.  Either way, not bad for the $6.99 I paid.  The show had some familiar faces: Sean Bean (Bordamir in LOTR and Ned Stark on Game of Thrones) and the actor who played Jack from "Pillars of the Earth" on Starz, Eddie Redmayne.

My opinion historically, to be honestly, some of the depiction seemed accurate, but I would have to review notes from past studies, to say wither it got a rotten tomato or not. But of course it is Hollywood, artistic license likes to be taken a lot. It was graphic.. kinda, but oh well. Costumes seem okay, not sure about the amour, it did seem a tad out of place. Remarkably though, the villages portrayed seemed very Anglo-Saxon. There is a historical reproduction of a settlement in East Anglia, that the villages reminded me of.

One thing that stood out were the masks worn by the individual's who buried the dead, and yes they did have the pointy nose bit on them. Historically speaking, why were they constructed like this? Reason behind it was that they wearer put herbs and posies in them to help filter out the smell and "protect" them from the pestilence.  The song "Ring around the rosey, pocket full of posies" has it's origin from a time when pestilence and plague were quite common in communities.  The idea though, pretty slick.. I guess for the medieval person yes.

Through out the film there are notations of witchcraft, necromancy etc.. Highlighting the still very strong pagan, or mystic belief systems of the medical era. Yet, when examining the education level of the average person back then, people believed what they saw, fact or not, real or unreal. For they had no other reason to not belief in the folk lore of the time. With the church and daily life painting many of times a dark picture, individuals turned to old beliefs to keep faith and hope in society going, a hope and will for survival, that the new gods could not bring.

My over all opinion: Redbox it and buy it when it gets cheap. It is a fun flick to watch, and if you are a history buff, perhaps buy.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Wheel of Fortuna

How was medeival society influenced by Fortuna's Wheel?

The relationship mysticism and its importance with in the belief system of Medieval society is a strong example of this. Fortune or Fortuna’s Wheel (Rota Fortunae) known by some is an ancient and medieval philosophy that refers to the constant changing nature of fate. It is a wheel that is owned and spun by Fortuna. It can change individual places on the wheel at random, thus determining their “fate.” They can have great misfortune, or be blessed with good. 

The wheel itself is depicted in many manuscripts both medieval and ancient and highly referenced in the medieval allegorical religious teachings of the time.
John Lydgate's Siege of Troy, showing the Wheel of Fortune

Fortuna Wheel's beginnings began in Ancient Greek mythology, as a celestial zodiac with 8 points, and the 9th being the pointer.  It is referenced in the play Everyman c. 1495. In this play the wheel is known to play reference to the value placed on everyday things, and stress the “temporary” nature of them. Death comes of course unexpected to those who do bad deeds, there is emphasis placed on doing good deeds in order to secure a place in Heaven.

The emphasis of these philosophies and the strong religious teachings of the day more than likely were very prominent in the morals of many of the day. For many in the Middle Ages, this would have been more than likely a very important aspect of their beliefs and thought process.  To many this piety, and loyalty show the value placed on morality and to keep in mind the teachings both allegorical and religious of the day in thought and decision making process. 

Unfortunately, as history rolls on, many were not completely in control of what was to come next in life. Plagues and famine and poor crop production, were seen as signs of poor fate that directly came from the Wheel of Fortuna and influenced the basic belief system of the time.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

First edit of book cover!

Tossing this out for feed back and suggestions. Just comment below to let me know what you think, I need to change etc. Very much appreciated! Thank you readers! 

Friday, 7 November 2014

Shakespeare in Love, in London, on Stage, it’s beyond words.

Shakespeare in Love, is really just Love!

Yes, it’s exactly like that! I was fortunate enough this summer to be able to spend some time in London and see this fabulous show. Co-produced by Disney, the show leaves nothing lacking, and I mean nothing, even after 48 hours or so of no sleep, as I arrived in London earlier that day.

It has been a while since the movie was made which the stage production is based off of.  The original even won a few Oscars. The production I saw that night of Saturday, August 23, was one of a magical experience and one I will never forget.  As the reviews say, it is the “Best!” and they are right!

Before the show I spent some sterling to support the show and bought my book, program, and my “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirates Daughter” T-shirt. All very well done and treasured.  I was able to take a few shots of the theatre inside, the Noël Coward Theatre. It was beautiful! I have never been to a play in London before; this was for sure a treat!
Inside the Noel Coward Theatre

Similar to the movie, the show centers on the two main characters.  First is Viola played by Lucy Briggs-Owens and she is fantastic, stunning, and brings so much light to the show.  She is like a jewel that just shines for two hours non-stop. Just perfect in my book. Will, Will Shakespeare of course, is portrayed by Tom Bateman.  He puts so much heart and feeling into his role as Will, its not to be missed.  I do wonder though, if or how long, his thumb will be stained with black ink. 

Some of the other actors you might recognize from other productions and shows, probably the most well known is the wonderful David Oakes. Whom I met after the show and is such a saint! He has been in The Borgias, The White Queen, and Pillars of the Earth. His Marlowe is perfect and he shows just the right amount of cunning and conniving which is very Mr. Oakes’s style and so Marlowe.

The Cast
Being a total costume nut, the costumes did their duty and impressed. They were all just stunning all the way down to the little costume bits that the token puppy wears. It's a coin toss to say which one out of Viola's dresses is my favorite, perhaps her blue dress? So stunning...wait they are all stunning.

So if you are in London, do see the show. You will not be disappointed. Since my visit, two of my good friends have gone. We all loved every minute of it. Maybe I will get lucky in March and it will still be playing? I would love to see it again.  Also the cast is all very warm and friendly and wonderful company, so if you have the time, please do go say hello.  I learned so much that night; it will be a hard one for a long time to top.

Thursday, 6 November 2014


Inside the Tower of London
So this last week, I have been reading, amongst other things Markham’s Richard III: His Life & Character. It got my wheels turning, as to some of his major points he draws on in his chapters about the princes and what became of them have also been questioned by myself. He also brings up a very interesting point about the authorship of the many articles that were written about the incident, as well as many others; including the Croyland Chronicles of London through out his argument. What went on in those author's heads?

He tried not to let the wax from the candle above the ledge of the writing desk drip to the parchment as he hurried the last few sentences of the following day’s news. Out of the corner of his eye watching the wax drip… and drip. People were talking, talking about many things, and the word needed to get out; Edward IV’s sons were missing. More than likely dead. He hadn’t heard the word murdered yet from anyone’s lips, but definitely missing. 

His hands shook as he blew the drying sand off the parchment to help make the ink set and dry faster. King Richard was still in York. He knew that much, but still there were many unanswered questions. He had to have known the fate of the children, how could he not.

Nervously, he read over his work, blew out his light and gave it to the grandmaster.
“I am done with tomorrow’s bit.” He nodded and said, as he backed away from the elder monk, waiting for criticism or acknowledgement. He never knew which would come first if any.
“The words, stories, are every where. Where is the King? He has to know?” He said again.

“Let's hope we know the truth soon, once he returns. Perhaps this is a misunderstanding, or one of the Lancaster’s plays of folly.” The grandmaster said as he glanced over the article the novice monk gave him. He hoped he didn't have to publish this... or more like wish it wasn't so.....

Folly, or misunderstanding, many of the accounts that were written whether they were against Richard’s reign or not, many baseless and not backed up by solid evidence as noted in Markham’s book. Personal prejudices at times, got in the way and aided the rumors. Will we ever know what happened? We might not but we can for sure develop a better understanding of the writers who wrote the articles and their basis for doing so.  Markham's book is perhaps one of my favorite sources of the life and time's of Richard III and the world he lived in.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

The music of Natasha Mira "Medieval Pop"

Before I went on my adventure to England, I had the lovely chance to chat with Ms. Natasha Mira about her music “Medieval Pop.” Being a medievalist, her music was like a magnet and truly quiet exceptional and inspiring.
To many of us, music has a magical way of making us time travel, either forward or backwards. It can touch our hearts and our souls.  It also can toy on our emotions. Natasha Mira's songs do just that. Especially, her single “Don’t Let Me Go.” The imagery and story telling she does with the lyrics, as well as the clips from the hit show "the Tudors" leaves you wanting more at the end of the song. She is also set to release some other wonderful songs in the upcoming weeks as well.

Let me briefly introduce Ms. Mira. She is a young aspiring musician currently studying at USC. She is working on her Bachelors in Music Industry; yet demonstrates to the world, she is more than ready to take over the world with her new genre "medieval pop."
She is defiantly someone you will want to keep an eye on for many years to come. Talent only knocks once, and she has it.
To discover Natasha, who is most genuine, talented, and delightful, and her music, please visit her Facebook page: . It’s truly an experience and something you don’t want to miss!

And from Natasha herself:
“If you are my friend, a lover of music, a creator, an artist, or someone with a passion and you wish to share that with the world, I hope you will please take the time to read what I have to say. For as long as I can remember I have always been searching for 'my sound'. A way I could represent myself artistically while still saying true to myself. I am proud to say that I have finally found that sound, and for the past year I have been constantly creating and working towards this moment in which I would be sharing with everyone the new genre I have created which I will be calling 'Medieval Pop'. The best way for me to describe Medieval Pop is to imagine Hans Zimmer meeting Evanescence and Ellie Goulding. I strive for a cinematic larger than life sound which channels medieval instrumentation while still maintaining a commercial radio-friendly audience.  
I have always been obsessed with this time period, Medieval Europe, and the Renaissance. I feel like through these inspirations, and my writing style, I can truly be myself and combine my artistic viewpoint with a new genre that is representative of a part of my soul and passions. I'm a girl, but I'll admit, I'm also a gamer. I love medieval-inspired video games such as Skyrim. I am intrigued and obsessed with shows such as Game of Thrones, Reign, and the Tudors. As a singer and a songwriter I will always love writing in various genres and styles. One of my greatest passions is collaborating with other incredible artists. I will continue writing in various genres but Medieval Pop has become the first project that is representative of me as a person. Representative of the artist Natasha Mira that I've always wanted to portray.”

Saturday, 4 October 2014

My Trip to York Minister

Even at sunset its massive walls captured my breath, as I stood outside. Its grandeur was captivating. 

It wasn’t till the following day I ventured back to its massive presence, York Minster (Cathedral). After seeing it the night before with my cousin, I now know why so many speak so highly of it. The outside alone was just amazing beyond words.  Standing out front of the doors just made the hair on the back of my neck tingle with a familiarity I cannot describe.
A bit of history, York Minster is one of Northern Europe’s largest Cathedrals. Its presence has been noted since the time of Bede. Its beginnings began as a wooden church in 627 as a place of baptism for Edwin King of Northumbria, that year.  In 637, it was converted to a stone structure under Oswald of Northumbria and dedicated to St. Peter. Later in the 8th century and school and a library were attached to the structure. Various ups and down of the church happened afterwards, burned by the Danes, fires, the church was rebuilt a number of times. In 1215, Walter de Grey was made archbishop and ordered the church to be rebuilt to the likeness of Canterbury. In 1220 building began and in 1420 the building was considered finished and consecrated.

Now, on to my little tour.  Of course, I had to pay a bit to go in. Student discount YAY! One thing I learned on this trip was to never leave home without that ID, I probably saved around 100 British Sterling total. Overall, I was more than happy to pay the small sum of sterling they asked and made a small donation, especially since it went to the buildings upkeep. How did they maintain York Minister?  I asked a nice friendly church volunteer and got a very well informed answer. Well, it was being worked on while I was there. One of the facades to the west I believe was draped in a green cover and intricate scaffolding.  Stonemasons are rare these days I was told, so when the church gets wind of some in the area, work or maintenance is the first order of business to be done on the old stonework of the building.

Then it was time to explore the inside. By just walking in to the doors; I cannot tell you all, how massive the sight was and how it captivated my tired eyes and head. The organ was being warmed up for later in the day (At times, I believe the organ was made for angels.), visitors were meandering around at their own pace, and I saw a tour here and there. It was quite peaceful actually.  Various stain-glassed windows were filtering the sun below making it splatter on to the floor, illuminating various corners and isles of the minister. One could get lost in there for sure just taking all the sights and sounds in. Like any student or historian, I went straight to the catacombs and exhibits that I found and learned what I could in the short amount of time I had.  I had to run and catch the train in a matter of a few hours. 

Burial of Prince William of Hatfield, Infant son of Edward III
The catacombs were underneath the main priory screen in the center of the minister. It was dark, and had that musty old castle smell, but very impressive. They had a few exhibits and you could see and the old stones of the original cathedral were left over, as columns before they were moved the building outwards and larger. There was some pretty gorgeous wooden furniture, specifically a trunk.
I went back up stairs and out, and wandered around to see who had funeral vaults, saw some I knew and some I was not so familiar with. All quite impressive.

My gaze then shifted upwards. It was a sight I probably will never forget. The latticework and intricate design and stonework of the celling were astounding. 
Overall York Minister did far more than impress. It blew my mind away. I know now why Richard III had his son instilled Prince of Wales in its massive and captivating walls. It was built for a prince, and for a king.  A well-loved king of the north.

A little video I made of the inside:)

Friday, 22 August 2014

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

What to Wear During the War of The Roses

"The White Queen"
I have always been a huge costume nut.  Great films and shows always are an excellent source of inspiration for me and anyone to create something fun, and eventually useful. Back in my college years, "Braveheart" helped me create an early medieval outfit for one of my medieval studies class, and lots of “Ohhhs and Awwws” from classmates.  Emma Thompson's and Ang Lee's adaptation of Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility" resulted in half a wardrobe filled with Regency period dresses, which all got worn to various Gaskell’s Balls in the Bay Area.  Yet no Mr. Darcy was seen.  Le sigh.

Most recent in my period costume film quest, I have discovered “The White Queen” produced by Starz yet even though not 100% historically accurate; has inspired pattern makers and costume/period dress nuts like myself, now to have a reason to make some pretty festive and beautiful frocks.  I finally have a use for the pewter crushed velvet in my sewing fabric stash! YAY! 2014 Night at the Symphony Costume Contest/Event, here I come!
Elizabeth Woodville
Back on topic. Dress.  It’s the War of the Roses.  Edward IV is trying not to get his supply of cloth cut off from Flanders and strikes a deal with Burgundy and his sister Margaret of York is escorted by the Earl Warwick, Richard Neville, to Burgundy for her pending marriage to help keep this important relationship open, and trade to keep going, despite rising conflict lurking in the horizon.  With this political backdrop, what did ladies wear, mainly the ladies at court? Dress during this time was actually quite depended on region.
15th Cent Italian Dress
For example Italy was on its own wavelength in contrast to the rest of the continent, as seen in paintings during the times. The northern part of Europe dressed a bit more to climate.   
Patterned fabric of period

The century began with the gown called “cotehardie” which we refer to as the one with the large bell sleeves and fitted down through the waist. This style faded quickly with introduction of new designs.  Gowns were long of course, and trimmed with fur (ermine, mink etc.) on the cuff, around the collar and sometimes the hem. Fabric was available in various dyes at this time.

The darker colors, reds, blues, dark green, blacks with brocades or patterned in artichoke or oak leave patterns; were of significant cost, mainly worn by those who could afford it, meaning the nobility. This style of gown is most known by the name: “houppelandes” which refer to the long flowing dresses of the time.
Garments were displayed or worn with a style called “slashing” which meant it was opened to reveal an other bit of clothing underneath, like a kirtle or under gown in contrasting colors (most common white or black). A chemise was worn close to the skin.  As time went on, repairs in sleeves of both men and women also accentuated this method of style.

Sleeves were mostly cuffed with matching fur from the color yet could be transferred to other gowns, with ornamentation on the cuff with jewels or embroidery. Also at times, if fur wasn’t worn, patterned fabric was used on both collar and cuff, which became more fashionable later in the century.

So what have I done with all this wealth of inspiration and creativity? I have put it to some use. I have made some alterations and adaptations of my own, but here is a glimpse of my current sewing project.  Today, we are lucky, we have sewing machines, just imagine all this work was done by hand at one point in time.  Headpiece… don’t ask me if I am going to make a hennin, I am not there yet. 

Step one: cutting out the dress: 

Detail of the side of the bodice, before I finished bead work.

Where we are at as of Sunday: Black sash, bodice jeweled, sleeves work in progress.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014


The early morning fog covered the ground like a soft plush blanket. The lush green grass of the marsh and surrounding fields seemed to be a favorite of the horses.  As they walked the field many tried to steal a snatch or two.  Their riders weary, pulled their heads up and spurred them lightly forward. Yet they could sense what was coming soon. Ever so soon as the sun began to rise.

Brakenbury was quiet for a change. Yet, quiet boisterous the night before at the inn, Richard thought he would never sleep. Tossing and turning in his room in the inn’s upper bedroom, sleep never came easy for him away from his normal chambers in London, and especially now, alone. How he missed Anne. She was not supposed to die. So many things awaited him back in London. His niece Elizabeth, needed a marriage and then there was her other sisters. He needed to make their mother happy. He needed her support, most importantly he needed this usurper, Henry Tudor dead. Of bastard lineage, now in England to challenge his right to the crown, Richard’s crown.  

He gripped the hilt of his sword. It was cold, even through his leather gloves. He repeated to himself the words of the priest from the morning mass as he blessed them all as they prepared for battle. He asked God again to give him strength and watch out for him. He prayed to his wife Anne to watch out for his soul and his body if he fell. He tried to push that thought out of his mind, far, far away.

One of his commanders called for them all to halt. Banners danced in the air in the distance. Their colors vibrant against the morning grey sky. He could see the Welsh banner men struggling against the winds and then the standard of Tudor.  A chill ran down Richard’s spine. Soon, very soon, everyone’s fate was to be decided.......

c. June 30, 2014 A.C. McMillin 

Sunday, 15 June 2014

The History and Antiquities of Myddle

 Later 17th Century and Early 18th Century Life in Rural England.

The first thing that came to mind while reading this account was the novel Tess of D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. It is a complex yet moving story that describes life a little later than The History and Antiquities of Myddle, by Richard Gough.  Both discuss the trials and tribulations of the working class, landowners in English rural society, and provides a glimpse of human nature during this period.  By reading this account, as historians what can we learn?  Like any period piece, a historian can learn many things from it.  This might not be a work of literature, but a historical account of life, society, values, and the socioeconomic structure of Myddle during this time.

The 17th and 18th centuries were of great change and progress. Hardship and poverty for many in England also lurked.  One of the most interesting aspects about this period in English history is the large social shift among people in the country.  England was coming out of civil wars, destruction of the monasteries, plagues, and was starting to gain grow as a nation, but Mother Nature didn’t always agree. With the beginnings of many cultural revolutions came poor crop production resulting in episodic famine, many often struggled.  Land went dry due to overuse and climate change. The shift in land ownership in rural communities and the strong relationships between landowners and their tenants helped the success of farmers through the many unexpected difficulties.  

In the following example from The History and Antiquities of Myddle, the use of land is changed from general or communal, to being section off.  We also learn of the relationships of those who work and live on the land farmers/tenants, and those who own it, the landowners of the estate.

“The Meare House, at Haremeare, did stand over crosse the brooke that issueth out of Haremeare; butt when the Meare was lett dry, the house was removed, and sett by the side of the brooke, and one Spurstow dwelt in it, and was imployed by Sir Andrew Corbett to looke to the Heyment of Haremeare, and to tend the catell that were in it, for when it was let dry, there were catell putt in it as a lay; and after, as it beecame dry and sound, it was divided into severall pieces.

What does this example tell us historically?  We learn that the land is being used for: cattle.  Further in the article, land was used for corn and orchards.  Historically, the sectioning of land was a concept that farmers started as early as the 1400’s.  Large parcels of lands were hard to manage with low population, due to the Bubonic Plague. Therefore, smaller parcels of land were more manageable.[1] They had the ability to switch out crops and keep up with crop rotation, so the soil would not go bad.  Now a farmer could grow a variety of different crops through the year such as turnips, peas, corn, potatoes, and barley.  This increased the production yield for farmers.  In turn, made his land more profitable, perhaps contributing to the double production rates. Also farmed was hay for cattle and later cabbage for stall feed for cows, in 1770s.  It is noted, that during the famine of 1799, a farmer was able to provide for his family and livestock just off potatoes. Being able to manage his land by crop rotation and keeping the nitrogen content controlled, this contributed to his salvation.

In 1520, the Agricultural Revolution began. Gough’s history was written and covers the years of 1634 through 1723 in Myddle during the revolution. The revolution occurred in two periods: first being 1520-1739, where farm production doubled. Then from 1740-1800 the second period, where farms increase their production 10% in crops and other goods that are consumed by consumers. [2] According to Overton a critic of the revolution, he argues the historical validity of the revolution through literary analysis and believed that agriculture production rates grew the same as population rates during 1520-1850.  In reality, consumption per “caput” was not a constant; it depended greatly on income and price for agricultural goods, all were relative to items that were purchased by consumers, meaning the revolution was driven by public consumption of goods. [3] What else can we learn from this article?

Interestingly, Gough’s full account of Myddle is titled Human Nature Displayed in the History of Myddle. [4]  The title alone reveals Gough intention: human nature, or the social history of the village of Myddle. He does this by making accounts of the happenings, gossip, stolen cows, ovens blowing up in tenant’s houses, etc., in his chronicle. Gough’s chronicle is personal and detailed.  As a historian, there are many layers to the events he recorded, adding to its value.  For example, if you irritate your neighbor, or even steal, there are consequences and someone will get even.  Life was hard, people worked hard.  Honesty was deeply valued, as was one’s good word and reputation.  A good relationship built on honesty and trust, helped farmers become successful and survive through harsh conditions. A landowner would always be more willing to help his tenants out in time of need, if they were trust-worthy. Gough’s records both the honest and dishonest people, how they reacted to changes that were occurring around them, including various superstitions.  Good or bad, the reactions we see were methods of survival for many during this time. Myddle is small; reputation can take a person far.  For example,

“After Spurstow, one Reece Wenlocke dwelt in it. He was descended of good parentage, who were tenants of a good farme, called Whottall, in Ellesmeare Lordshipp. Butt the father of this Reece was a bad husband, and a pilfering, thievish person, and this son, Reece, and another son, named John, who lived at Bald Meadow, in this parish, were as bad as theire father. They never stole any considerable goods, but were night walkers, and robbed oarchyards and gardens, and stole hay out of meadows, and corne when it was cutt in the feilds, and any small things that persons by carelessnesse had left out of doors.

Reece had a cow, which was stolen away, and it is reported that hee went to a woman, whom they called the wise woman of Montgomery, to know what was beecome of his cow; … Butt the greatest diskindenesse that hee did to his neighbours was, by tearing theire hedges. ….

Att that time William Higginson dwelt att Webscott, and hee had a servant, named Richard Mercer, a very waggish fellow.

Reece Wenlocke, among other hedge-wood, tooke this stick to burne in his oven; and when hee cast it into the fire in the oven, it blowed up the topp of it, and sett fire on the end of the house…”

What does this example tell us about human nature and its importance in Myddle during this time?  Through human nature such as this, we can learn importance, what people held close to them, and what was valued.  We learn that great pride was taken in the upkeep of lands, including the livestock raised.  The value of a cow is to a tenant or their crops, is also demonstrated.  Cows were expensive and hard to replace. Reece had his cow stolen or it was taken because he had the reputation of being a “night walker.” Frustrated and upset with his neighbors and their reluctance to help; he performs some “short work” to his neighbor’s hedges.  Then to get even, he puts an oven he built, with the stolen wood/hedges and blows it up. More than likely this tested his relationship with his landlord and neighbors, but it also shows the importance of an individuals livelihood and what measures people took to survive, especially in regards to dishonesty.

Human nature and the relationships between the villagers in Myddle, tell us many details about the town and the people in it, as shown above. The historical value between the landowners and tenants during this time helps us evaluate the impact it had on historical record. Relations were based on a rented/leased situation.  Leases on the landowners land, were not just for a short period of time, but longer. For example, “Bishop Heath of Worcester acquired property in south Shropshire for his see by exchange with the earl of Warwick in 1549, but the manors concerned were subject to a 200-year lease that Warwick had granted to William Heath the previous year and they produced only a small reserved rent.” Families leased the farms that they lived on for many generations; relationships grew as a result.  Some landlords made up for the “influence of tenure at will on the tenants willingness to lay out capitol.” As the economy shifted and laws changed, landownership changed hands, tenants often preferred “rack rents” during difficult times.  Shropshire was one of the areas that were spared this hardship.  But this didn’t last forever.  Rents were raised in the late 1740s due to a severe outbreak of cattle plague. Sickness and drought is never good for the farming economy. [5]

Rent was the largest expense for farmers.  On average, rent was ¼ of a farmer’s income but at times it was 1/3.  After rent, farmers had tithes (A tithe was a one-tenth part of one’s income or something [an item i.e. crop] that was paid as a contribution to a religious affiliation or compulsory tax to government, landlord etc.), to pay.  Some paid to landowner with rent, while others paid to different people or entities.  A farmer would pay an amount on annual gross value of produce from their farm. It could be 3 cents per produce, or as much as 25 cents.[6]  Additionally, for a farmer to be successful, his relationship between how much he had to pay in rent and the value of his produce per annum was very important. In order to establish this, the landowner/tenant relationship had to be strong. This is where Gough’s emphasis on human nature is important. Noted in the “Domesday Book” the relationships in Shropshire between landowners and tenants were quite friendly.

A historical text or primary source like the one looked at in this essay, can tell a historian many things about the time or the people who lived. The town was alive with gossip and candor, and this is illustrated quite well. We also are given examples of the relationships between the tenants, landlords and various neighbors in the town. We also see up close the impact of the agricultural revolution in progress, and changes in land distribution. Gough’s focus on human nature, teaches us what was important to these people and why. By studying the agricultural revolution, we also gain an understanding of the world around the village. We discover that this is a hard working village, where honesty is everything. If you are not honest or steal someone’s cow, prepare yourself for an oven blowing up in your hedges or house, that cow was important. We learn the value of honesty and dishonesty.

[1] Notes from Future Learn course: England in the Time of Richard III; Fall 2013
[2] Robert S. Allen “Tracking the Agricultural Revolution in England.” The Economic History Review, New Series Vol. 52, No. 2 (1999): pp. 215-216
[3] Allen, pg. 211
[4] The copy of Human Nature Displayed in the History of Myddle, that I obtained, has a different variation of the title than that of our example: “Antiquities and Memoirs of Myddle.”
[5] J R Edwards D C Cox, et al. 'Domesday Book: 1540-1750', A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 4: Agriculture ed. C R Elrington G C Baugh (British History Online, 1989), pp. 119-168
[6]  J R Edwards D C Cox, et al. 'Domesday Book: 1750-1875', A History of the County of Shropshire: Volume 4: Agriculture ed. C R Elrington G C Baugh (British History Online, 1989), pp. 168-231