Sunday, April 26, 2020

Clashing Cousins: Richard II and Bolingbroke

My guest today writes about one of my very favorite historical periods, those fiery Plantagenets. Mercedes Rochelle is celebrating the release of The King's Retribution, Book 2 of The Plantagenet Legacy series, and she has a great post for us about royal cousins, King Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke.

Welcome, Mercedes!

~ Samantha


Clashing cousins: Richard II and Bolingbroke 

A Guest Post by Mercedes Rochelle

Richard II and Henry at Flint
MS Harley 1319 f.50, British Library

Even though Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke were first cousins and born only a few months apart, their personalities were total opposites. Whereas Richard had little interest in marshal activities and did not participate in tournaments, Henry began his training at fourteen and was a champion at jousting. Richard's early childhood was spent mostly in his own household with a father who was slowly dying; Henry was surrounded by siblings and cousins and given a first-rate education; he could write in French, Latin, and English. Richard was crowned at age ten with all the accompanying ceremony and formalities; Henry was free to come and go as he pleased. In May of 1390, while Richard was struggling to establish his own rule after proclaiming his majority, Henry was making a name for himself at the famous Tournament at St. Inglevert in France. After that, he took a huge contingent of knights on crusade, first to Tunis, then to Lithuania—all funded by his father. Oh, and he traveled all over Europe, the honored guest of kings and dukes. In between all this traveling, Henry managed to sire six children, whereas Richard had none. Surely Richard must have envied his lifestyle!

Interestingly, a year before Edward III's death, the king created an entail that ordered the succession along traditional male lines. This meant that John of Gaunt was the next heir to the throne, and after him, Henry Bolingbroke. Because of Gaunt's unpopularity at the time, the entail was kept quiet; few even knew of its existence. I can only assume that Richard and Henry were among the few, and this must have impacted on their relationship. Later in life Richard vehemently opposed the idea of Henry following him, though he never formally declared an heir. Many of his countrymen, unaware of the entail, assumed that the Earl of March, descended from Edward III's second son Lionel though his daughter, would be next in line.

Henry Bolingbroke spent much of his time away from court, although he was present with the king in the Tower during the Peasants' Revolt. Since Henry's father was one of the primary targets of the revolt, it made sense to leave him behind in safety while Richard ventured out to meet the rebels at Mile End. No one expected the insurgents to breach the Tower defenses and pour into the fortress, dragging out the Archbishop of Canterbury and Treasurer Hales and decapitating them on the spot. Henry surely would have met with the same fate except for the quick thinking of one John Ferrour, who managed to hide him from the intruders; they obviously didn't know he was there.

The first major breach in Richard and Henry's relationship came about as the Lords Appellant organized their fight against the king in 1387, leading to the Merciless Parliament. At first there were only three Appellants: the earls of Arundel and Warwick and the Duke of Gloucester (Richard's uncle). But when they discovered that the king had sent his favorite Robert de Vere to Chester so he could bring back a royal army, Henry Bolingbroke and Thomas de Mowbray joined them. Bolingbroke personally blocked de Vere at Radcot Bridge, precipitating an easy defeat on the king's forces. Although the new newest Appellants kept a low profile and broke ranks with their elders over the execution of Sir Simon Burley, the proverbial die was cast and Richard never forgave his cousin.

Richard presiding at a tournament, from St. Alban's Chronicle.
Lambeth Palace Library, MS6 f.233

But things were complicated. Once the king declared his majority, Richard relied on his uncle to support his throne—a reliance that was well placed, for Gaunt proved his champion for the rest of his life. Naturally, this meant that Henry would be treated well; Gaunt's protective cloak shielded him from Richard's revenge against the senior Appellants. All might have gone well, except that Thomas de Mowbray lost his nerve and blew things wide open. He spilled his guts to Henry who told his father who told the king, and voila! Richard had the opportunity to get rid of his last two enemies. Rather than let one of them kill the other in a trial by combat, the king stopped the tournament and outlawed them both. Shakespeare gave us the perfect depiction of this pivotal event in his play Richard II.

Richard almost got away with his revenge. Had he not confiscated Henry's inheritance after Gaunt died, perhaps his cousin would have respected his outlawry. That's one of the big "What ifs" in medieval history. But the king went too far and precipitated his own downfall. Henry's popularity in England and Richard's perceived tyranny against his own people brought about an almost bloodless revolution. At some point during his return, Henry decided to go all the way and claim the crown that he was destined to inherit, according to Edward III's entail. Valorous, handsome, chivalrous, robust, well-educated, and popular, Henry held all the advantages, and poor Richard didn't stand a chance.


The King’s Retribution: 
Book 2 of The Plantagenet Legacy
By Mercedes Rochelle

If you read A KING UNDER SIEGE, you might remember that we left off just as Richard declared his majority at age 22. He was able to rise above the humiliation inflicted on him during the Merciless Parliament, but the fear that it could happen again haunted him the rest of his life. Ten years was a long time to wait before taking revenge on your enemies, but King Richard II was a patient man. Hiding his antagonism toward the Lords Appellant, once he felt strong enough to wreak his revenge he was swift and merciless. Alas for Richard, he went too far, and in his eagerness to protect his crown Richard underestimated the very man who would take it from him: Henry Bolingbroke.

You can find The King's Retribution on and Amazon UK

Born in St. Louis MO with a degree from University of Missouri, Mercedes Rochelle learned about living history as a re-enactor and has been enamored with historical fiction ever since. A move to New York to do research and two careers ensued, but writing fiction remains her primary vocation. She lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.

Connect with Mercedes: WebsiteBlogFacebookTwitter

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Lord Tennyson and Arthurian Legend

My readers will remember Mary Anne Yarde as a past visitor to this blog, and I am very pleased for her to join us once again. Today, we are celebrating the release of her latest novel, The Du Lac Curse, Book 5 of The Du Lac Chronicles. This series is a skillful intersection of history and myth.

Welcome, Mary Anne!

~ Samantha


Lord Tennyson and Arthurian Legend

A Guest Post by Mary Anne Yarde

In 1846 William John Thoms, a British writer, penned a letter to The Athenaeum, a British Magazine. In this letter, he talked about "popular antiquities." But instead of calling it by its common name, he used a new term — folklore.

King Arthur statue at Tintagel Castle
Gallos by Rubin Eynon

What did Thoms mean by this new word?

The word folk referred to the rural poor who were, for the most part, illiterate. Lore means instruction. So folklore means to instruct the poor. But we understand it as verbal storytelling.

If folklore is just storytelling, is there any truth in the tale of King Arthur and his Knights?

Today, I am going to take a look at one of the great Arthurian writers. I will also try to answer the question I just posed.

"Wave after wave, each mightier than the last,
Till last, a ninth one, gathering half the deep
And full of voices, slowly rose and plunged
Roaring, and all the wave was in a flame:
And down the wave and in the flame was borne
A naked babe, and rode to Merlin's feet,
Who stoopt and caught the babe, and cried "The King!
Here is an heir for Uther!"

The above quote was taken from Tennyson's Idylls of the King and the place Tennyson was referring to was none other than Merlin's Cave in Cornwall. The cave itself sits under Tintagel Castle, and if you have the slightest interest in Arthur, then I am sure you have heard of Tintagel. If you ever get the chance to visit Tintagel, then do. It is a stunning location, well worth checking out.

Merlin’s Cave, Tintagel Castle

Who was Lord Tennyson?

Lord Tennyson (Wikipedia)

Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson, (6 August 1809 – 6 October 1892) was the Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland during much of Queen Victoria's reign. Lord Tennyson was appointed to the position of Poet Laureate in 1850, after the death of William Wordsworth, and he is mostly remembered for his great work — The Charge of the Light Brigade. But I am interested in him because he also published an Arthurian inspired epic poem between 1859 and 1885 and he called it, as I have already said, The Idylls of King.

Now anyone who writes about Arthur, myself included, draws on the work of the Great Arthurian Poets, and Tennyson was no different. But his poem was so epic that he split it into 12 parts, and each part dealt with a different aspect of the Arthurian tale — however, he gave his stories a slight Victorian twist!

Tintagel Castle and Merlin's Cave.

Tintagel Castle

Geoffrey of Monmouth had already given us Tintagel Castle as the birthplace of Arthur. Tennyson took this one step further, and I can understand why he did. There is a cave under Tintagel Castle, and this cave was begging to be included in the tale. The cave, in question, fills up with water at every high tide, and it is easy enough to imagine Merlin approaching the cave with a shining staff in his hand, lighting his way. If Merlin were to have a cave, then this would be it. This unknown cave became a tourist attraction that suddenly had a long association with Arthurian legend — it was just that no one knew about it until Tennyson thought to mention it!

Merlin’s Cave

Another Arthurian location...

I don't know about you, but I love checking out film locations. I am lucky enough that I live very near some Poldark film locations. I have also travelled around Scotland, checking out the Outlander film locations. Now I am sure you would not disagree with me when I say that neither Poldark or Outlander scream folklore. But when we put the same principles into Arthur's story then there are some startling similarities because let's be honest, if you are going to visit an Arthurian location, it isn't the same as spending the day at, I don't know, Hampton Court. You are instead visiting book locations, folklore locations.

View from Tintagel Castle

However, saying that, visiting Arthurian book locations doesn't feel the same, as visiting the locations of Poldark, Outlander or even Game of Thrones for that matter, because we recognise them as stories, but when it comes to Arthur, we don't do that. The folklore is so engrained into our culture that we just kind of accept it as maybe not fact, but something very close. And the reason for this is simply because Geoffrey of Monmouth's great work in the 12th Century was a must-read. A factual, must-read. And that is where the problem lies with Arthurian folklore. For centuries we were told these stories were true and somewhere ingrained deep down inside us is the belief that they are. Of course, over the centuries there are plenty of people who have exploited the Arthurian story — the monks of Glastonbury Abbey being one of them. But think on this, a thousand years ago the people of Britain were making pilgrimages to these sites that were associated with Arthur, and we are still doing it,
after all this time. Isn't that incredible? Arthur is still drawing in the crowds, and I believe that he will continue to bring in the crowds, long after we have forgotten all about Poldark and Outlander and even, dare I say it, Jon Snow. And that, my friends, is the power of folklore. It is not the same as a book. It isn't the same as factual history. It evolves, and we accept it. Suddenly Tennyson's version of events seems as old as time. Merlin always had a cave... didn't he? It is humbling when you think about it.

An Excerpt from The Du Lac Curse (Book 5 of The Du Lac Chronicles)

The Bors Tavern, Trevena (Tintagel, Cornwall, England)

The tavern fell silent as Garren stepped into the room, and all eyes turned towards them.

“Well, that shut ee all up like clams,” Chesten stated with amusement.

“What’s ee doing ’ere?” Chesten’s husband demanded to know, rising unsteadily to his feet.

“How much drink ’ave you had? I were only gone a few… Yer looks as drunk as a bee,” Chesten glared as her husband.

“Never you mind about how much I have drunk. ’Tis my tavern. My drink.”

“My money,” Chesten replied angrily, reaching for the poker which she always kept close to hand. 

Her husband and that particular poker were old acquaintances.

“Ah, put it away, woman. My quarrel’s not wi’ ee. Although come to think of it, yer brought that monk in ’ere to die, and now it looks like yer brought someone else…” he grimaced when he looked at Alwena. “I’ll not allow it. Get ’er…” he slumped back down onto his chair, “and ’er companions out of me tavern.”

“’Twas a good thing I bought that monk in ’ere, and you were more than ’appy to take Brother Sampson’s coins for the board of his companion. And there ain’t nought to fear from ’er. Nought yer can catch. It’s a woman’s illness; the likes of you would not understand.”

“They are not welcome ’ere. Especially not ’im,” he pointed to Garren. “Killed the King, they have. Killed him, and the Queen, and the children too. They are all dead. I know who ee are. She told me last time yer were ’ere. Garren du Lac, back from the dead. I don’t want no trouble, so go, be on your way.” He flicked his fingers as if he were trying to shoo away an annoying fly.

There was a gasp from the patrons who frequented the tavern, and all looked at Garren as if he were a strange and exotic species, but Garren did not see it for a cold sensation travelled up his spine and wrapped around his heart.

“Alden’s dead?” Garren asked. He had feared it, but naively he had not wanted to believe it. He heard Rozen give a little sob, and Ronec’s gentle voice as he soothed her. “Please, tell me how this has come about. I have been in Brittany. Chesten, tell me, is he dead? Is my brother dead?”

God against Gods. King against King. Brother against Brother.

Mordred Pendragon had once said that the sons of Lancelot would eventually destroy each other, it seemed he was right all along.

Garren du Lac knew what the burning pyres meant in his brother's kingdom — invasion. But who would dare to challenge King Alden of Cerniw for his throne? Only one man was daring enough, arrogant enough, to attempt such a feat — Budic du Lac, their eldest half-brother.

While Merton du Lac struggles to come to terms with the magnitude of Budic's crime, there is another threat, one that is as ancient as it is powerful. But with the death toll rising and his men deserting who will take up the banner and fight in his name?

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US 

Mary Anne Yarde is the multi award-winning author of the International Bestselling Series — The Du Lac Chronicles. Set a generation after the fall of King Arthur, The Du Lac Chronicles takes you on a journey through Dark Age Britain and Brittany, where you will meet new friends and terrifying foes. Based on legends and historical fact, The Du Lac Chronicles is a series not to be missed.

Born in Bath, England, Mary Anne Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury — the fabled Isle of Avalon — was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were part of her childhood.

Connect with Mary Anne:

Friday, April 10, 2020

Historic Places: San Antonio, Texas

I'm sure you are expecting pictures of the Alamo - and they are coming! But what you might not know is that there is tons of history packed into San Antonio, plenty to keep you busy for a spring break in your future, including four other missions that together are considered a National Historic Park.

San Antonio Riverwalk
San Antonio doesn't have beaches, but it does have the Riverwalk and you can make sure to book a hotel with a pool for soaking up that Texas sun. The San Antonio River was a significant factor in the location chosen for south Texas missions. Serious study and adjustments of the river's flow began in the early 1900s when the dangers of flooding were a concern. The River Walk as a public park and tourist attraction began development in the 1960s. Since then, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been put into making the River Walk one of San Antonio's most popular tourist attractions. Lined with restaurants, hotels, and shops, it is a nice place to take a stroll during the day or to listen to music and get drinks in the evening. You can follow the River Walk to see the five missions in San Antonio, including the Alamo.

The Alamo
It is a common misconception that the Alamo was a military fort, but it was originally built in 1744 as a church, despite the fact that its claim to fame in a battle. By the end of the 18th century, the mission was secularized and occupied by a Spanish military garrison. It remained a military fort when Mexico declared its independence in 1821, and a wave of American immigrants settled in the area. So many immigrants came that Mexico tried to halt American immigration in 1830, leading to the Texas Revolution five years later.

It was during this fight for independence that the Battle of the Alamo took place on March 6, 1836. Texas joined the United States a decade later in order to have the resources of the larger country in the fight against Mexico. As time passed, the Alamo was used as a warehouse and shop and parts of it were demolished altogether. It wasn't until the early 1900s that efforts were made to preserve the mission and its history.

Today, you can visit the Alamo for free, but pictures are not permitted inside the church or barracks, and visitors are asked to treat the site with reverence. Large portions of the 1836 Alamo have been lost, but what remains has been carefully restored and effectively tells the story of those who died there.

Mission Concepcion
What you might not realize is that the Alamo is just one of five missions found in San Antonio, originally built by Spanish missionaries to bring Christianity to Native Americans. Mission Concepcion continues to operate as an active parish, and it appears much the same as when it was built in 1755, though it has not undergone restoration work. At Mission Concepcion, you are looking at the same stonework and frescoes as visitors of the past three centuries.

Mission San Jose
Mission San Jose, the largest of San Antonio's missions has a unique blend of ruins and beautiful restorations. Work of the WPA in the 1930s make it possible for visitors to Mission San Jose to attend mass where Catholic missionaries first offered services in 1720. This mission gives visitors a good feeling of its history as more than a church, with the community within participating in all facets of life together.

Mission Espada is the oldest San Antonio mission, which set high value on teaching not just Christianity, but also skilled work such as farming, weaving, blacksmithing, carpentry, and masonry. Demonstrations of a mission era loom can be seen at Espada if you visit at the right time.

Mission San Juan Capistrano
The final San Antonio mission is San Juan Capistrano. Although it appears newer than the other missions, it was completed in 1756. An active farm at this mission gives visitors insight to what work and life were like there centuries ago when the mission fully supported those who lived there. Historically, the mission would have also had sheep, cattle, and vast miles of fields.

You can explore some nature without leaving the city by strolling Mission San Juan Capistrano's Yanaguana Trail. San Antonio has a little bit of everything for your next spring break.

All photos property of Samantha Wilcoxson

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Historic Places: Boston, Massachusetts

Trinity Church, Boston
This spring break destination doesn't have a tropical beach, but it is one of the best places in the United States to be surrounded by accessible history. During my two trips to this city famously filled with hot-headed patriots, I have followed the wonderful Freedom Trail, which makes it easy for anyone to see all the best sights in Boston without dealing with city traffic or parking woes.

Warning: lots of walking on this trip!

The trail begins at Boston Commons, a public park that was established in 1634, long before the United States were, well, united. Instead of hangings and political debates, the Commons is now mostly host to joggers and families with small children. From here, simply follow the path marked out upon the sidewalks with colored bricks to the next destination.

Massachusetts State House
Directly across Beacon Street from Boston Commons is the first stop, the Massachusetts State House which is located on land once owned by the first governor of Massachusetts, John Hancock. (Yes, that John Hancock.) The dome of the State House is gilded in 23 karat gold, replacing the copper that was originally put in place by Paul Revere. (Um, yes, that one.) Completed in 1798, this is one of the oldest and grandest buildings in the US. The interior may also be toured for free. If one chooses to do so, you will see the government at work, displays of the rich history of the area, and even the famous wooden cod that was 'codnapped' in 1933 by Harvard students.

Carrying on from the State House, the Freedom Trail leads to a series of churches and burial grounds, each with its own historical significance. In the Granary Burying Ground, so called due to the grain storage building that formerly resided there, you can find memorials to John Hancock, Paul Revere, and Benjamin Franklin's parents. Dedicated as a cemetery in 1660, it is estimated that over twice as many people have been laid to rest here than the markers indicate. Many are tilted and crumbling, creating a solemn atmosphere.

King's Chapel
King's Chapel and Burying Ground are the next locations along the trail. The Anglican Church was built in 1688 to promote worship in keeping with the King's wishes. Since marble is a resource not native to the US, wooden pillars were designed to give the appearance of grand marble pillars within and without the chapel. The ancient burying ground is the final resting place of several passengers of the Mayflower and the man who received far less credit for his midnight ride than his famous partner, William Dawes.

The Old Corner Book Store is the oldest commercial building in Boston. However, before one gets too excited about visiting it, I must temper that enthusiasm. While the exterior of the structure is intact with a lovely bookstore sign still affixed, the interior is the home of a Chipotle. I kid you not. This is history in the US. Ah well . . . .

Old South Meeting House
The next point of interest more than makes up for a fast-food restaurant in what should be a historic book store. When one walks through the Old South Meeting House, you can almost hear the voices raised in patriotic fervor still echoing through the air. It was here that men debated the next steps in making freedom a reality. It was here that the plot to dump 30 tons of tea into the bay was put into action. Here, among the plain white walls and wooden pews once designated for Puritan worship, men put the future, which we now enjoy, into motion.

Loads of historic information is presented at each stop along the Freedom Trail, and most of the buildings can be entered and explored for free or a nominal amount. No less impressive than the designated stops are the views enjoyed while strolling through Boston.

The Old State House amid its modern surroundings
The whimsical blend of new and old is especially featured when one views the Old State House. Built to be the largest and most luxurious structure of its kind in the colonies in 1713, it is now dwarfed by the modern skyscrapers that surround it. Yet, it continues to rival those modern wonders with beautiful restoration work that enables visitors to see handmade floors and curved doors that were built to suit the unique round second floor landing. A small balcony off this second floor almost escapes notice, so unremarkable it is by modern standards. Yet it was here that the Declaration of Independence was read to an eager and anxious crowd on July 18, 1776.

That balcony overlooks the location of the Boston Massacre, which took place on March 5, 1770. In an attempt to clarify inaccurate history that is taught in schoolrooms across the nation, the Old State House has on display two paintings of the so-called massacre, demonstrating what really happened compared to the legend that Americans prefer. The fact that future president John Adams was the defense attorney for those British soldiers who were accused of murder attests to the unbalanced view that this event is remembered by.

Paul Revere House
A stroll through Faneuil Hall, where the weary tourist can buy snacks and souvenirs, brings us to the Paul Revere House. Built in 1680, this home was already almost a century old when the famous Bostonian purchased it. Though it was certainly impressive for its time, my teenagers were not impressed with the four rooms within which the Reveres had housed up to a dozen people at a time and been considered blessed to have so much space! Photos are not permitted within the home, but each room is restored to a different era of the structure's existence, giving visitors an idea of what it would have been like to live there. Some pieces are from the Reveres themselves.

Lanterns in the window of Old North Church
The cobblestone street that is scarcely wide enough for one modern vehicle carried us away from the quaint downtown area that was home to Paul Revere. Soon, we found ourselves at Old North Church, where two lanterns had testified to our midnight riders that the British were coming by sea (or rather river) and not by land. On one of my visits, I was allowed to explore the old staircase leading to the bell tower where this small window looks out upon the city. At the top of that tower, I saw the bells that Paul Revere had rung as a small boy. However, this part of the church is generally closed to the public.

Bunker Hill Monument
If you press on to the most distant portion of the Freedom Trail, you will cross the Charles River with its welcome breeze to make your way to Bunker Hill. The monument and museum mark the June 17, 1775 battle. If you still have enough energy, you can climb the steps to the top of the obelisk monument and be rewarded with a wonderful view.

USS Constitution ~ Old Ironsides
Finally, The USS Constitution, or as she is more often remembered Old Ironsides, currently resides at Boston's Charleston Navy Yard. Originally launched from Boston in 1797, the old warship has a comfortable home here after her battles and world travels. You can climb on board to admire the craftsmanship of the oak ship, even as you wonder at the idea of crossing the ocean in a ship that seems incredibly tiny by modern standards. The museum near the ship has wonderful displays and information about the history of the ship, war, and life at sea during the 19th century.

By this time, you will have well earned a stop at Mike's Pastry, Cheers Tavern, or one of the wide variety of fresh seafood restaurants and cafes along the course of the trail. Enjoy!

All photos are the property of Samantha Wilcoxson

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Historic Places: Hot Springs, Arkansas

Hot Springs might be the United States' oldest resort town. Since before written histories were kept, people have traveled to this midwestern town to soak up the 143 degree water that fountains clean and clear from the ground.

In the late 19th century, Hot Springs became a European style spa town while the area around it was still considered frontier. Victorian luxury resorts lined the main street, which became known as Bathhouse Row. Almost 400 years after the first European visitor to Hot Springs, it was declared a National Park in 1921.

Because of its remote location and status as a vacation getaway, Hot Springs was a popular destination for illegal gambling and drinking in the 1920s and 1930s. Mobsters such as Al Capone are known to have stayed there, giving Hot Springs a welcome economic boost during the Great Depression.

Fordyce Bathhouse was the place to be on Central Avenue when men like Frank Costello and Owney Madden made Hot Springs a hub for mobsters and their illicit activities. Today, the bathhouse is a visitor center and museum, where one can walk through displays and rooms restored to how they would have looked in 1915 when the Fordyce was named the best place to stay in Hot Springs.

The Buckstaff Baths is an Edwardian resort spa, built in 1912, the 27,000 sq-ft structure cost $125,000 to build in the most modern luxury standards of the time. At its height, Buckstaff served 1,000 visitors each day. It remains one of the best preserved resorts in Hot Springs.

During the 1960s the spas of Bathhouse Row declined in popularity and went out of business one after another. In order to salvage the history of the town, the buildings were placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1974. 

Guests to the various resorts and spas in Hot Springs can soak in the mineral baths, enjoy a massage, and relax amid the stunning natural surroundings, just as visitors have done for centuries. The town is also surrounded by mountains, forests, lakes, and miles of hiking trails. If you enjoy spending time outdoors, but not necessarily lying on a beach, Hot Springs is a beautiful spot to spend your spring break camping, fishing, horseback riding, or golfing, with a nice dose of history on the side.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Historic Places: Charleston, South Carolina

The Pink House
Charleston, South Carolina is possibly my favorite US city. It is beautiful, inviting, far enough south to be not-quite-tropical, and it is packed with interesting history. When we are discussing travel destinations, I like to choose places that I have never been before . . . unless Charleston is an option. I'm always ready to return.

Founded in 1670, Charleston is one of the oldest cities in the United States. One of the oldest homes in Charleston is built from Bermudian limestone and would fit right in on a tropical island. The Pink House, originally a tavern, was built shortly after the city's founding. Through its long history, The Pink House has been many things, including a law firm and an art gallery (when I visited), but it is in the process of being restored as a private residence. The 1,017sq-ft structure sold in 2017 for $620,000.

The Old Slave Mart Museum
It is an unavoidable truth that the initial growth and success of Charleston was based on the slave trade. A significant number of the slaves brought to the US first landed in Charleston, and the Old Slave Market still stands as testimony to this violent past. The museum has few artifacts from the structure's time as a slave market, one of the last operating in South Carolina, but there are many informative displays.

A brighter remnant of the past is Charleston's famous Rainbow Row. On what was once a waterfront street, a line of colorful Colonial era homes create a postcard perfect scene. The area deteriorated severely in the wake of the Civil War, but restoration efforts began in the 1920s and have made Rainbow Row a widely recognized Charleston landmark.

Charleston's Rainbow Row
Over the years, Charleston has endured earthquakes, smallpox and malaria epidemics, hurricanes, and war. Yet it not only remains standing, it is widely considered the best place in America to live. It would be impossible to cover the vast history of Charleston in one post, so we will look at just one more location that can't be missed if you visit this charming city.

Fort Sumter
Fort Sumter is a ferry ride away, and, especially if you enjoy studying the Civil War, you won't want to miss it. The ride through Charleston Harbor is relaxing under the South Carolina sun, and it gives you a great perspective of how it would have felt to live in town when those first shots were fired on April 12, 1861. Now a National Monument, the fort was originally built when the War of 1812 exposed America's coastal weaknesses, but it was not complete when the Civil War's opening shots were fired. It was manned by a single lighthouse keeper before 1860. The bombardment of Fort Sumter during the Civil War left it in ruins far more devastated than what visitors see today.

Cannon at Fort Sumter
Wooden sections had been set aflame with heated cannonballs, and masonry was left crumbling. Rebuilding was carried out in response to the Spanish-American War and World Wars I & II. Now that the site serves as a historic monument rather than active defense fort, areas have been restored to how they would have appeared in the 1860s. Some authentic reminders of the Civil War bombardment remain, such as shells embedded in the walls.

Patriot's Point
Other Charleston hotspots include the Historic Charleston City Market, Patriot's Point, the city's many beautiful historic churches, and astounding plantation homes. When you're there, don't miss your chance to take a horse drawn carriage tour down the cobblestone streets to get you in an appropriately historic state of mind. Charleston has the ocean, good Southern comfort food, art, natural beauty, and history. You will want to go more than once, too.

All photographs are property of Samantha Wilcoxson.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Historic Places: Nassau, Bahamas

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.....

Me & Columbus
Bahamas Government House
And while he is remembered as the discoverer of America, where Christopher Columbus actually landed was The Bahamas. Of course, the islands were not known by that name at the time. "Baja mar" was how Columbus referred to the islands and the shallow sea that surrounded them. The Lucayans that populated the islands before "discovery" by Europeans died out over the next several decades due to new diseases carried across the sea and enslavement (the modern native population of The Bahamas is largely the descendants of African slaves). Exploration of this side of history is what has called for an end of modern Columbus Day celebrations in the United States.

But let's get back to The Bahamas. We appreciate Bahama's islands for their natural beauty and tropical weather, but 17th & 18th century pirates went there for the ease of escaping authority and hiding treasure amid the hundreds of islands. During this time, Nassau was established as a commercial port, but it was a volatile area fought over by Spanish, English, and French, leaving Bahamian natives the ones to suffer the most. By the end of the 18th century, The Bahamas were a English colony.

The American Civil War (1861-1865) caused an economic boom in The Bahamas as blockade runners and smugglers used the islands as a base for sneaking illegal goods into ports along the eastern coast of both northern and southern states. The economy was given a boost by the United States once again in 1919 when Prohibition put smugglers back in business, and The Bahamas were as convenient a port as ever.

Parliament Square of The Bahamas
Today, it is tourism that is the lifeblood of the Bahamian economy.  The two times that my family has been to Nassau, one of the first places we've visited is Parliament Square. The trio of pink and white buildings blends the formality of government authority with tropical style. Built in 1815, the center of government in The Bahamas far predates their 1973 independence.

Not far away, the Government House is built in a similar architectural style with a statue of Christopher Columbus out front. It is the official residence of the governor of The Bahamas.

Cannon at Fort Fincastle
Fort Fincastle sits atop Bennet's Hill overlooking the city and sea beyond for the purpose of protecting the town from pirates. Named for the governor who ordered its construction, John Murray Viscount Fincastle, the fort was built in the shape of a ship, a unique design found in Europe but rare in the Americas. The fort has been used as a prison and lighthouse but is now open to the public.

The Queen's Staircase
The fort is reached by climbing the Queen's Staircase, which is impressively carved from the limestone hillside. It was built with the labor of hundreds of slaves between 1793-1794 for greater access between the town and fort. In the 19th century, the stairs were named in honor of Queen Victoria for her work in abolishing slavery. A small waterfall follows the course of the steps from the fort to the town. Climbing them, or even descending them, is a good workout, and you should reward yourself with a tropical beverage at this point.

Nassau's Public Library is a cute little stop that most tourists overlook. It is worth stepping inside and climbing the steps to the top, especially if you love the smell of old books.

Balcony House Museum
My planned final stop on both trips to Nassau has been the Balcony House Museum. At more than two centuries old, it is believed to be one of the oldest wooden structures in The Bahamas. Unfortunately, each time I've arrived, it has been closed. But it sure does look cute from the outside.

Of course, The Bahamas has beautiful beaches, turquoise water, and plenty of seafood with fruity drinks on the side, but the next time you are there make sure you check out some of Nassau's history as well.

All photographs are the property of Samantha Wilcoxson