Highway Women in 17th century England by Amy Wolf

Amy Wolf and I met in June at the Historical Novel Society conference. We chatted about all things historical and I learned that Amy began her career in the Hollywood film industry, working for major studios like 20thCentury Fox, Warner Bros, and Universal where she was a script reader for MGM and Orion. Her novel The Misses Brontës’ Establishment was named an Amazon Kindle Scout winner. Today Amy’s talking about research – a favourite topic here on the blog.


For my latest, A Woman of the RoadI did extensive research into 17th-century England. Being a big nerd, I created my own database for my research notes, which currently number 1,564!

I’m a stickler for detail, so I learned all about what food was eaten then, clothes worn (starting from 1660 until 1685), hygiene, King Charles II, his court and mistresses, and, of course, highwaymen, which is what the book is about.

My heroine, Margaret “Megs” Tanner, is fictional, but there were in fact female highway“men” during the period. One was a rich aristocrat, Katherine Ferrars , who ostensibly robbed her in-laws because she hated them; another was Mary Frith, who “had a natural abhorrence to the tending of children.” She was quite the tomboy, earned the nickname “Moll Cutpurse.”

One of the aspects of the 1600’s which either amuses or alarms (the former if you’re not a patient!) was the sort of “medicine” practiced.  It was said that the King’s Touch could cure scrofula (a form of TB), and that eating a spoonful of ground-up emeralds could avert the Plague. I did read through Culpepper’s Complete Herbal and used his “cures” frequently to treat gunshots, stab wounds, and, in the second book (coming soon!), childbirth.

I found my best print resources to be: Restoration London by Liza Picard, The Time Traveler’s Guide to Restoration Britain: A Handbook for Visitors to the Seventeenth Century: 1660-1699 by Jay Mortimer, The Stuart Age by Barry Coward, and Stand and Deliver: The Story of The Highwaymen by Patrick Pringle.

I also watched everything that I could find: the film Restoration, many YouTube bios of Charles II, and a (not great) mini-series about the London Fire. Yes, I asked my doctor about symptoms of plague, and relied on the patient University of Washington historical librarians to answer such questions as: Did men still wear plumes in the 1680’s? and: Do you have a floorplan of the Chapel  de la Trinité circa 1675?

So yes, I took my history seriously. The climax of the book revolves around the (Secret) Treaty of Dover, which, if left undestroyed by my fictional heroes, would have sunk poor Charles!

Of course, a big part of the book centers on The Condition of Women during this period. As you might have guessed, it wasn’t great. They were considered chattel, divorce was nearly unknown, and they could be beaten at will by their husbands.

Megs, of course, isn’t having any of this, and runs away from her father’s brutality to take to the road with Captain Jeffries. She must learn to shoot a flintlock, duel with a blade, and, in accordance with the highwayman’s credo, Be Merry! It must be said, though, that the Life is unromantic, typically ending at about twenty-seven with a hanging at Tyburn Tree.

Source: lookandlearn.com

Megs, however, has a lot of native smarts, and her own set of three Musketeers—Jeffries, Carnatus, and Aventis—to teach her the ropes.

A huge challenge for her is to be always disguised as a man: she gets to a point where she wonders what kind of creature she has become. This is complicated by her feelings for Aventis, who studied for the priesthood but is now an outlaw due to his faith.

As in Northern Ireland, the schism between Protestants and Catholics could be deadly at this time, and Megs gets caught up since she, an Anglican, is in love with a Catholic.

Happily, all’s well at the end, since I modeled the book on the adventures I loved as a girl: Three Musketeers, Monte Cristo, Robin Hood, and Iron Mask.

I am quite a fan of the old Errol Flynn swashbucklers, and I tried to create a similar atmosphere where peril lurks round every bend and a good swordfight is never too far away!

Which reminds me: most of the robberies in A Woman of the Road are based on real-life events. Hard to believe, I know, but there you have it!

Many thanks, Amy. Definitely not the kind of life I would have embraced! 

A Woman of the Road by Amy Wolf ~~ She yearned for freedom. But will holding up coaches bring more than she can handle?

England, 1665. Margaret “Megs” Tanner can’t wait to leave her past behind. Escaping her abusive father and a vile arranged marriage, she flees her sleazy inn and sets out for adventure. But the treacherous countryside is no place for a woman, so Megs swaps her skirts for men’s clothing and joins a notorious band of brigands.

Learning to fight with both sword and pistol, she bests any rival while suppressing budding feelings for a thieving companion. But After she’s put to the test and robs the queen’s carriage, she unearths a royal secret that could lead England to ruin. And now to save herself, she’ll have to turn spy and keep her country from the enemy’s clutches…

Can the daring highwaywoman change her country’s fortunes around with one slice from her sword?


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Memoirs from the Tower of London – Elizabeth St. John

Today Elizabeth St. John, author of The Lady of the Tower and By Love Divided, gives us Memoirs from the Tower of London.

“All the time she dwelt in the Tower, if any were sick she made (the prisoners) broths and restoratives with her own hands, visited and took care of them, and provided them all necessaries; if any were afflicted she comforted them, so that they felt not the inconvenience of a prison who were in that place.” Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson – Lucy Hutchinson, the daughter of Lucy St.John, wrote the memoir and told of her mother’s life.

Gazing from the parlor window of the Queen’s House within the walls of the Tower of London, I could see the chapel of St. Peter, the iconic White Tower…and the site of the executioner’s block. Knowing that I shared this view with my ancestress, Lucy St.John, who occupied this house four hundred years earlier, made me shiver with excitement.

Lucy St.John lived in the Tower of London for thirteen years from 1617 to 1630; not as a prisoner, but as Mistress of the Tower.  I stumbled upon the above-quoted biographical fragment from Lucy Hutchinson’s notebook in Nottingham Castle, and I knew I must find out more about her mother. The Memoirs give tantalizing glimpses of Lucy St.John’s life, and further research on the position of Lieutenant of the Tower, Lucy’s husband, Sir Allen Apsley, revealed much more. A book was starting to take shape.

The Lieutenant’s Lodging

Growing up in England within a family that celebrated history and spent more time researching dead ancestors than talking to living relatives, it was crucial that my fiction writing be informed by fact. I also wanted my readers to feel the same thrill of connecting with the past that I do, and to meet and understand my family and their lives as if the centuries did not separate us.

When I decided that Lucy would be the subject of my novel, The Lady of the Tower, I contacted Her Majesty’s Royal Palaces (HRP) and asked if I could possibly visit some of the private locations within the Tower. The Queen’s House is the family home of the Governor, just as it was for Lucy when she moved there in 1617. They readily gave their permission and kindly offered a Yeoman Warder as a guide.

View of Tower Green from Lucy’s Parlour

I was excited to arrive early one winter’s morning, before the crowds, and walk along the old quay by Traitor’s Gate. Peeking over the massive stone walls were the gabled roofs of Lucy’s home – a curious juxtaposition of domesticity and fortress. I used that view and sensation to set the opening scene of my novel, for I could only imagine Lucy’s trepidation upon entering the Tower, and seeing her future home.

As I met my Beefeater, we quickly found a common love of history, and together we entered the Queen’s House. What I didn’t anticipate was the visceral reaction of walking through Lucy’s rooms, standing in her kitchen, looking through her parlor window – just as she had done. The emotional response to treading in her footsteps inspired so much of my work within The Lady of the Tower, and so many small details found their way into my writing.

The house was used for administrative offices too, and as I explored the warren of rooms (the plans to which, alas, are missing), I came across a small corridor. Just a few feet from Lucy’s front hall, great blocks of stone took over from the domesticity of plaster, and in another pace or two, I was standing within the twelfth century Bell Tower. The ambiance was mournful, and it was not at all difficult to think of Thomas More, John Fisher, and the young Princess Elizabeth imprisoned in this bleak chamber. Their view from the narrow slit windows was the same as Lucy’s from her parlor – the execution block.

The Queen’s House from the River Thames

My inspiration from the Tower continued as I walked outside. Lucy was a great herbalist, and her medicinals no doubt eased the lives of many of the prisoners she nursed. In another part of the memoirs, her daughter refers to Lucy’s generosity with her hen-house – she allowed Sir Walter Raleigh to make free use of it to conduct his alchemy experiments when he was under her care and lodging in the Bloody Tower. Needless to say, this took me in another whole research direction.

The Victorians built over Lucy’s garden, but it is still easy to see the old levels of where her gardens were, and how she would access them from her home. She grew up in country houses where it would have been her responsibility to learn simple herbal cures and recipes, and I had a wonderful time researching recipes and including them within my novel. I was even more fortunate that another family member, her niece Johanna, collated a vast collection of remedies in a book that is now in the Wellcome Library in London. Recipes were precious, and freely exchanged between friends and family, so it was no stretch to think that Johanna sourced some of her remedies from her aunt. I liberally borrowed from those recipes to embellish The Lady of the Tower.

Raleigh, of course, was also a great gardener. I couldn’t resist some interactions between him and Lucy involving some “Virginia Potatoes” as they were known. That is the joy of writing historical fiction – we can have these flights of fancy, as long as they are based in a foundation of solid research.

Lucy’s husband is buried within the Tower at St. Peter ad Vincula, and as I explored the chapel, and saw the stone commemorating Anne Boleyn’s burial, so many emotions flooded my thoughts. Although the Tower is a world tourist attraction, and millions of people walk through its environs every year, I feel such a personal connection, knowing that my family lived and worked within its walls. A small votive to Sir Thomas Moore is still kept burning in the Yeoman’s private chapel, and that was an important detail for me to include in my book.

In Lucy’s time, the Liberty of the Tower housed over a thousand families, all of which came under her husband’s jurisdiction. It really was its own small city, for it lay outside of the laws of the City of London (which caused some friction on many occasions). I like to think of Lucy ministering to the citizens of the Tower as well as the prisoners, walking not just in the areas where her aristocratic prisoners were lodged, but among the houses and gardens of the residents who all helped this important institution run smoothly.

The Tower of London played a crucial role in inspiring my first novel, which has become a best-seller in both the US and the UK. One of the most exciting achievements was the day Her Majesty’s Royal Palaces asked if they could stock The Lady of the Tower in the Tower’s gift shop. Two years later, we are still on sale within the White Tower. In her own special way, Lucy has returned home.

Many thanks, Liz for sharing your inspiration and some of your fascinating family history.

Elizabeth St.John was brought up in England and lives in California. She has tracked down family papers and residences from Nottingham Castle, Lydiard Park, to Castle Fonmon and The Tower of London to inspire her writing. Although her ancestors sold a few mansions and country homes along the way (it’s hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth’s family still occupy them – in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their imprint.

The Lady of the Tower, Elizabeth’s first novel, a Discovered Diamond and a B.R.A.G. Medallion winner, is on sale on Amazon, and at the Tower of London. Elizabeth’s award-winning second book, By Love Divided, is also an Amazon best-seller and follows the lives of Lucy and her children during the English Civil War. Currently working on the third in The Lydiard Chronicles series, Elizabeth is also releasing the audio book of The Lady of the Tower in May, 2018. You can reach Elizabeth at her website on Amazon, Twitter @ElizStJohn and Facebook

Photos: © Elizabeth St.John 2018

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Furs and Foes: Tales of the Early American Frontier

savage_wilderness-john-m-cahillToday’s guest – aren’t we lucky to have such interesting guests stop by? – is John Cahill. John was born and raised in the history-rich Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. It was there that the works of James Fenimore Cooper, Kenneth Roberts and Walter D. Edmonds stimulated a lifelong interest in American colonial history.  Later, while living in New York’s Mohawk Valley, he immersed himself in the history of 17th– and 18th-century New York and explored the interaction of the Dutch, English and French settlers and traders with the Five Iroquois Nations. Take it away, John.

Furs and Foes: Tales of the Early American Frontier by John Cahill

The third quarter of the 17th century was a time of turmoil in colonial New York (previously, New Netherland). The British had taken the colony away from the Dutch for the second time in 1674, but it was still very much a Dutch world from Manhattan to Albany and extremely dependent upon the trade in beaver pelts.

By the 1680s, however, the fur trade at Albany was in trouble as the Iroquois could find fewer and fewer beaver within their territory. In order to keep themselves supplied with arms and the ironware which they had come to value, they attacked French trading parties going to the Great Lakes for weapons and trade goods and those returning from the Great Lakes for furs which they could then trade at Albany.

Needless to say, this situation highly antagonized the French. Unable to sway the allegiance of the Iroquois, the governor of New France, Joseph-Antoine le Fèbvre de La Barre, mounted an attack on the Seneca, one of the Five Nations of Iroquois. However, La Barre’s invasion ended ignobly when his army was stricken with fever and forced to return to New France without firing a shot.

These, then, are the historical facts behind Primitive Passions, Book 1 of The Boschloper Saga, which was released in Spring 2015. The story is told through the eyes of my fictional protagonist, Sean O’Cathail, a young Irishman who deserted from the English navy and went to Albany where he became a fur trader and the British governor’s envoy to the Iroquois. Book 2 of the saga – Savage Wilderness – is now available in paperback and ebook formats from W & B Publishers at http://www.a-argusbooks.com/ and other online booksellers.

The facts of Savage Wilderness are that, by 1687, the flow of beaver pelts to Albany had slowed to a trickle. In response, New York Governor Thomas Dongan granted licenses to Albany traders to enter French territory and divert the furs of the Far Indians in the west from Montreal to Albany. However, as the expedition set out for the Great Lakes, the new governor of New France, under orders from King Louis XIV, mounted another invasion of Seneca territory. Caught in the middle, the Albany traders were captured by the French and their Indian allies and sent to Montreal and Quebec where they were held as bargaining chips in the continuing power play between the governments of New France and New York. At this point, Sean found that his adventure was only just beginning. He would need all his wits to survive and return home.

I became interested in this historical period while living in Albany and began researching it when I retired. Most important to me, at that time, was the fact that, despite the evidence of the Dutch presence throughout New York State, very little attention had been paid to the period.

As I read more and more, I began to suspect that the reason for the apparent lack of interest was due to the fact that the Dutch, when they came to Albany to trade for furs, just sat there and waited for the Indians to come to them! “Oh, boy,” I thought to myself, “Isn’t this exciting!”

It was not until I moved to Vienna, Austria, that things really began to come together for me. While working in the Austrian National Library, I discovered a Young Adult encyclopedia, in English, about explorers. It identified two Dutch fur traders who had had the courage to leave the confines of their little village on the Hudson River and go out into the wilderness: Johannes Roseboom, who was the leader of the ill-fated 1687 expedition to the Great Lakes; and, Aernout Viele, who had accompanied Roseboom and later explored the Susquehanna, Ohio and Mississippi rivers while seeking to open trade with the Shawnee Indians.

There! I had some things to hang a plot on! Now, where would I find source materials? In the Austrian National Library, of course! There, I came across a volume entitled Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York procured in Holland, England and France: Vol. II (Holland Documents: 1657-1678). Shortly thereafter, I found volumes III (London Documents: 1614-1692) and IX (Paris Documents: 1631-1744).

I had found the mother lode of source materials for the period in which I was working!

These materials, published in1855, were the product of the work of one man, John Romeyn Brodhead. Brodhead (1814-1873) was an American diplomat who devoted himself to the study of the colonial history of New York. While serving as an attaché of the American Legation at The Hague in 1839, he discovered that the Dutch archives were rich in materials on the early history of the state. At his urging, the New York Historical Society encouraged the New York State Legislature to appropriate funds for Brodhead to gather and translate, where necessary, documents from archives in England, France and the Netherlands.

After spending I don’t know how many Euros coping pages from the three volumes, I learned that the entire collection, volumes I to X, was available online! For free!

And, as they say, the rest is history!

Readers can learn more about John Cahill and his research and writing at www.john-m-cahill.com .

SAVAGE WILDERNESS by John M. Cahill – In 1687, the English Colony of New York is in dire financial straits. The flow of beaver pelts, the life’s blood of the colony, has slowed to a trickle. In response, New York’s governor grants licenses to Albany traders to enter French territory and divert the furs of the Far Indians from Montreal to Albany. Although only recently married to Laurentje, Sean O’Cathail joins the small group of adventurers who have the courage to face the savage wilderness. However, the governor of New France learns of their plans, and the traders must avoid capture by the French and their savage allies. Optimistic that they can avoid detection, Sean and his fellow boschlopers begin to cross the Great Lakes. But, when they are surrounded and captured, Sean finds that his adventure is only just beginning. He will need all his wits and the help of Kai, the beautiful Mohawk woman who was once his lover, to survive and return home. Available at Argus Books and other retailers.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.