Showing 47 posts tagged duchess
London in the 18th century was sharply divided between the gentry of Westminster and the squalor of the East End. Those dwelling within the peel of Bow’s bells would often be more than a foot shorter than their Western contemporaries due to malnutrition. Their life expectancies were decades shorter. Yet the characters to be found in the East End are priceless.
Nessa runs the herb bazaar of the Bow Road market and earns an honest living for herself as an independent merchant. This would be an impossibility for women born into the aristocracy, where ladies were beholden first to their fathers and then to their husbands. Ethnic minorities would also have found a home in the East: hardy travellers like Issa, caravanning along the trade routes from Asia and through Europe. Old Cao, the proprietor of an Opium den and purveyor of Eastern wisdom would have found Chinese compatriots in Limehouse with whom to practise taijiquan in the morning.
Featured in Poison Diaries, Weed…
Of Tacitus’ descriptions of the Roman Conquest of Britain, the Menai Massacre at Anglesey in 60AD is the most arresting. Weed sees in his vision, the clamour of the Celtic horde, their women and priests as they launched themselves against 7,000 Roman Soldiers. What a battle that must have been!
Two whole Roman legions were deployed at Anglesey, a strangely large number to send to so distant an outlying island. Yet those Britons who fought were not simple rebels spoiling for a fight. Tacitus writes how Anglesey, or Ynys Môn, was the heartland of a Druidic religion that had ordered and commanded the Britons since the Stone Age. During the decisive massacre at Menai, Roman Generals brutally exterminated the Druids and their ardent defenders. They ensured that none survived the cultural genocide of a priesthood that gave the British Isles their distinctive culture and unique theology of sun worship, sacrifice and augury.
Soutra Aisle is situated in the Scottish Boarders along the ancient arterial Dere Street road that connects York to Edinburgh. If you go there today you will see a stone chapel with a lintel baring the name Pringle over the door. The chapel is all that remains of a great chain of structures that formed one of the greatest medieval hospitals of Europe. Analysis of the soil has revealed extensive blood pits containing residue of medicinal Henbane and Hemlock as well more exotic herbs such as Opium and Cloves, which must have been imported from Asia.
There has also been discovered an abundance of substances used in natal care, pointing to Soutra Aisle as a centre for the medieval care of pregnant women and midwifery. The fortunes of Soutra Aisle changed dramatically in the 1460s when, following a scandal involving the Master of the hospital, its funding was withdrawn by the crown and diverted to Trinity College Hospital in Edinburgh.
Jessica is Weed’s beautiful and expressive, dark-haired final love interest. She is beholden to no man and makes her own living as an actress in Covent Garden’s Theatre Royal. Meeting Weed and making him her lover is a choice between equals and their loyalty to one another is mature and honest. Her devotion to Weed is tested and proven when she leaves London to join him in the final battle at Anglesey.
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The Brythonic languages, including Welsh and Cornish, are an ancient offshoot of the Celtic tongues spoken throughout Europe in the 1st millennium BC. They are the original languages of the British Isles, being far older than the Anglo-Saxon derived English imported from Europe in the 7th century. Although primordial to these shores, languages like Welsh and Cornish can seem strange and enigmatic to modern reader because there has been so little imprint of them into English. This antiquated familiar-foreignness dwelling quietly at the heart of British culture is what makes these languages so attractive to use in the Poison Diaries. Connell, the Lindisfarne Druid uses Welsh; Malina’s chants are built from this ancient tongue; Jessica, Weed’s final lover hails from Cornwall; and our hero’s journey ends at Anglesey, or Ynys Môn, in the Welsh heartland. When spoken in the book, these magical words have a mysterious quality and they provide a kind of music for occult incantations. So: to all Welsh speakers out there Henffych! (Hail!) – how to pronounce this language remains another mystery.
Bryn Celli Ddu is a hollow Neolithic cairn, which can be found near the Strait of Menai on the island of Anglesey. It dates to around 3000BC, which makes it older than the Great Pyramids of Giza. Much like Newgrange in Western Ireland and Maeshowe in the Scottish Orkneys, Bryn Celli Ddu is an astronomical lightbox. It is carefully constructed to act as a prism and lens for the power of the sun. Each year, at the Winter and Summer Solstices, beams of sunlight will illuminate the hollow chamber within the cairn in a spectacular light-show to mark the brightest and darkest hours of the solar calendar. What this ancient temple of light meant to the Celtic Britons is unknown but the fact of its construction points to a highly sophisticated culture. A tribe that engaged in sun worship and had the precise technical understanding to build an astronomical observatory when much of the rest of the world was living as hunter-gatherers.
Weed and Ruth set up home at 58 South Molton Street in London’s West End near modern day Bond street tube station. It is from here that the industrious duo makes their fortune, brewing up cosmetics for sale to London’s high society. This particular address has a long history as the home to one of London’s very first cosmetics salons. In the late 19th Century Fanny Forsyth converted the front room of 58 South Molton Street into a treatment centre dedicated to discretely provide beauty treatments to those who could afford it. In 1902 she originated the Cyclax beauty product range, which remained headquartered at that address until the 1970s. Now incorporated into the cosmetics giant Richards & Appleby Ltd., the Cyclax range continues today in the grand tradition that Weed and Ruth establishes in the Poison Diaries: using largely natural ingredients and eschewing harsh chemicals.
Poor Ruth, hardly used. She is a child warrior who has lived a dozen good lives and seen a deal of ill fortune. And yet she is a strong and cheerful soul; a battler who will not be moved. She is a student of Malina’s witchery and an apprentice of Weed’s own plant lore. As such she becomes a vessel for all hidden knowledge of the natural world. She lives on.