Wednesday, March 31, 2021

"Remember the Ladies"


Abigail Adams is sometimes considered an early feminist for her 'Remember the Ladies' letter to her husband, John Adams. But what did Abigail really have in mind when she wrote these words? To determine this, we must step outside our 21st century mindset and enter her 18th century world.

Abigail Adams
America's 2nd First Lady

In Liberty's Daughters, Mary Beth Norton states, "No systematic defense of the broad dimensions of the female role was formulated, since no one challenged the dominant assumption that a woman's destiny was sealed at birth, determined by her sex in a way that a man's fate was not. Females would marry, have children, and direct the work of households: these propositions were so generally accepted they were usually left unstated." Women were not forced into their position solely by men, but by each other. Women expected other women to "be just what a Woman ought to be - sensible - polite - tender - & sympathizes in the distresses of her friends," as Nancy Shippen Livingston wrote. Another young lady insisted, "I would not intentionally deviate from the laws of female delicacy and propriety."

Let's get back to Abigail Adams. She is considered outspoken, but we only think this because she was forced to correspond by letter during years of separation from her husband. In fact, Abigail refused during her lifetime to publish her letters and requested they be burned (as was common at the time), considering them private thoughts rather than public calls to action.  As for remembering the ladies, Abigail's plea was for protection rather than equality in a modern sense.

Abigail's 31 March 1776 letter reprimands her husband for not writing more, expresses fear about the outbreak of smallpox, doubts that Southerners' passion for liberty is as strong as those in the north, and wonders how the state of the country will impact spring plantings. Then she states, 'I long to hear that you have declared an independancy - and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could.' (Abigail's spelling and punctuation have been retained)

Portion of Abigail's 31 March 1776
Remember the Ladies letter to John

Abigail is referring to the legal dependence of 18th century women on their husbands. She strongly believed in Biblical commands for marriage. 'Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord....Husbands, love our wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.' (Ephesians 5:22,25) This worked for John and Abigail. They loved each other and were devoted to one another. Of course, not all husbands held up their end of this bargain, and women of Abigail's era were trapped in abusive, neglectful relationships without legal recourse. Abigail believed the creation of new laws should change this, giving women attached to such men legal protection.

Not only poorly treated wives suffered under the legal system then in place. Widows were often forced to remarry in order to avoid poverty for themselves and their children. Even those who were well off might have little of their own, as their husband's estate would be split between them and their children. The dower portion might not be enough for the widow to live on. The estate might be managed by the widow until the children came of age and claimed their share, but that was a temporary situation. Widows did typically have more options than single women. If they could afford not to remarry, they might open a shop or take on boarders if they had not been left with an estate sufficient to support them. 

John Adams
2nd President of the United States

Abigail's letter continues, 'If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to forment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation,' in an echo of her male revolutionary counterparts. She softens this threat of rebellion, adding, 'That your Sex are Naturally Tyrannical is Truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing one of Friend. Why then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the Lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity. Men of Sense in all Ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your Sex. Regard us then as Beings placed by providence under your protection and in immitation of the Supreem Being make use of that power only for our happiness.'

I find Abigail Adams inspiring. She was home with her 'flock of little ones' while John served their country. She learned to do things she never expected to have to do - and managed it all with a war raging so close that 'the constant roar of the cannon is so distressing that we can not Eat, Drink or Sleep.' John had instructed her to 'fly to the Woods with our Children' should the battle reach their doorstep. And all this long before either had any idea how far things would go or how long it would last. She was fiery, brave, and devoted to both her family and her country. As Abigail insists, 'Remember the Ladies,' indeed, but remember what Abigail was saying, not just what we would like to hear. 


Letter excerpts from The Book of Abigail and John: Selected Letters of the Adams Family 1762-1784.

Women of the American Revolution by Samantha Wilcoxson available now from Pen & Sword.

Get your copy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, or your favorite major book retailer.

Now also available in audiobook! Get it from Audible or

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Mosaics of Ravenna - An Artist's Delight

I am thrilled to welcome Toni Mount to the blog once again today. Toni is a brilliant historian who just happens to be the author of one of my favorite book series. If you have not yet fallen in love with her Sebastian Foxley, do pick up The Colour of Poison immediately. You will soon make your way to her newest release, The Colour of Evil (available 3/25/21). Toni is also the author of several works of nonfiction, and her deep knowledge of the late 15th century shines in this medieval mystery series. Today, she shares with us some insight into the mosaics of Ravenna, Italy which make their way into The Colour of Evil.

Read my review of The Colour of Evil HERE. I am thankful to Toni and MadeGlobal Publishers for my early copy. I always feel like a kid on Christmas morning when a new Sebastian story shows up in my mail!
Welcome, Toni!
~ Samantha


The Mosaics of Ravenna, Italy - An Artist's Delight

Guest Post by Toni Mount

Since my amateur sleuth, Seb Foxley, lives in fifteenth-century London, readers may wonder what connection there could possibly be to the ancient city of Ravenna in Italy. The answer is: art. Seb’s craft is that of an illuminator of manuscripts with a sideline in portraiture, coats-of-arms and pub signs. His obsession is with colour, whether painter’s pigments or the rainbow in the sky. In an earlier novel, The Colour of Lies, Seb’s wayward brother, Jude, went off travelling who knows where and, in The Colour of Evil, a letter arrives from Italy in which Jude tells Seb of some of the wonders he has seen in a place called Ravenna. As a ‘gift’, he includes some filched tesserae from a mosaic in the church of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo, so Seb can appreciate for himself the incredible colours of the ancient glass. Here is an excerpt from Jude’s letter:

You must visit Ravenna, Seb. The gold and colours of the mosaics in the churches here will have you in an ecstasy. Even I’m in awe of their splendour. We’ve never seen the like in England. My favourite mosaic was in the Basilica – that’s a church – of St Apollinare Nuovo, an image of Christ in Judgement with St Michael, the good archangel in red, upon his right hand, and Lucifer in blue, the fallen archangel, upon the left. (Lucifer with his straight dark hair had somewhat the look of you, little brother.) Some repairs to a damaged mosaic having been abandoned for the holy days, I picked up a few fallen tesserae. They are my New Year’s gift to you, in the little packet, that you might see the colours for yourself.

The Judgment of the Nations, early 6th century C.E., Mosaic,  
Ravenna, Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo,  

In the upper register of the nave. 

This is the mosaic to which Jude is referring. When we visited Ravenna – purely for research purposes, you understand; the great time we had in Italy was incidental – we took photos of this but it’s so high up, the images were foreshortened and difficult to make out. I chose this mosaic because it intrigues me. It is believed to be the first known image of the Devil. Where are his horns and hideous features? In fact, you may think he must be the guy in red but he isn’t. Christ is the figure in the centre, judging souls represented by the good sheep on Christ’s right hand [the viewer’s left] and committing them to the care of the good red angel, St Michael. The wicked souls, represented by the bearded and piebald goats on Christ’s left hand, are given over to Lucifer, the fallen angel in blue, better known as Satan. In the sixth century, Lucifer’s reputation doesn’t seem to have been so bad as the later medieval Roman Catholic Church made out.

Although this mosaic and other incredible images in the Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo are telling the story of Christianity, I was fascinated to learn that the man who had this vast church built as his private chapel was reckoned to be a heretic. Theoderic the Great, King of the Ostrogoths and Regent of the Visigoths, ruled a great empire that surrounded Rome, replacing the fading empire of the Romans from 493-526 CE.  

Theoderic the Great’s Gothic Empire

The legend on this gold coin reads ‘King Theodoricus Pious Prince 


As a child, Theodoric had been taken hostage to Constantinople where he was well treated and given an excellent education but his religious tutoring was based on the beliefs of Arius, a fourth-century ecclesiastic. Arius taught that since God created His Son, Jesus Christ, Christ was not God’s equal but subservient to Him, as was the Holy Spirit. These ideas were at odds with the Roman Church’s belief in the Holy Trinity, Three-in-One. So Theodoric’s version of Christianity did not have Rome’s approval. No wonder that when, in the year 500, Theodoric visited Rome, entering in triumph like a Caesar, Pope Symmachus was not impressed.

Theodoric’s Palace today.
The interior of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo gives some idea of the palace’s lost grandeur


Theodoric had become king after defeating Flavius Odoacer in 493 and capturing the city of Ravenna in Northern Italy. There had been two battles fought against Odoacer, who won the first encounter but lost the second. Ravenna was the prize and Theodoric and Odoacer signed a treaty agreeing to rule Italy jointly. Six weeks later, Theodoric organised a feast in the new capital, Ravenna, to celebrate the treaty. Having enjoyed the sumptuous meal, Theodoric proposed a toast to the alliance and, as Odoacer drank, Theodoric slew him with his sword. Odoacer’s loyal followers were then slaughtered, leaving Theodoric the undisputed king. After this inauspicious beginning, Theodoric set about turning Ravenna into a city worthy of his own perceived greatness. He certainly succeeded.

Theodoric built a magnificent palace of which Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo is only the chapel. From here, he ruled the mixed population of Catholic Romans, Arian Goths and Jews. All sects had their separate places of worship, each tolerating the others while considering them heretics. For this reason, churches from this period in Ravenna’s history show both sides of the religious debate. Examples include the Orthodox Baptistry and the Church of Santa Croce which both predate the arrival of Theodoric and are dated to the fourth century. Both have fabulous mosaics demonstrating the ultimate skills of the Byzantine mosaicists.

Theodoric also had a fine mausoleum built to house his remains after death but the construction of beautiful churches with exquisite mosaics continued. Within a year of Theodoric’s interment in the mausoleum, the Bishop of Ravenna had commissioned the Basilica of San Vitale, a fabulous building constructed as a series of octagons. It too has a fine collection of gorgeous mosaics, two of the most famous being the portraits of the Emperor Justinian and his wife, Theodora [see bottom].

San Vitale and some of its mosaics 


If you ever have the opportunity to visit Ravenna, as Seb’s brother, Jude, did in The Colour of Evil, grab the chance. I have only mentioned a few highlights and the fabulous mosaics are just one of many delights. For lovers of colour, art and history, you can’t go wrong in Ravenna; your greatest difficulty will be deciding what to look at first. And while you’re waiting to visit, there’s an interesting novel to read to discover how Seb puts the beautiful tesserae to good use in service to the king…