Caesar Rodney, a Signer of the Declaration of Independence, and His Famous “Midnight Ride”to Save a Nation

rodneyCaesar Rodney was born on his father’s farm in St. Jones Neck in Dover Hundred, Kent County, Delaware, on October 7, 1728. His family were prominent members of the community. Caesar was the eldest of son of eight children of Caesar and Elizabeth Crawford Rodney and grandson of William Rodney. William Rodney emigrated to the American colonies in 1681–82, along with William Penn. Speaker of the Colonial Assembly of the Delaware Counties in 1704. Rodney’s mother was the daughter of the Rev. Thomas Crawford, Anglican rector of Christ Church at Dover. Among the Rodney family ancestors were the prominent Adelmare family in Treviso, Italy, as attested by genealogy studies.

The family farm, Byfield, was an 800 acre farm with many slaves. With the addition of other adjacent properties, the Rodneys were, by the standards of the day, wealthy members of the local gentry. The plantation grew to 1,000 acres, and was worked by 200 slaves; it earned sufficient income from the sale of wheat and barley to the Philadelphia and West Indies market to provide enough cash and leisure to allow members of the family to participate in the social and political life of Kent County.

He was tutored by his parents and may have attended a local Parson’s school, but received no formal education. Caesar lived here until his father’s untimely death when he was sixteen years of age. After his father’s death he was orphaned and was placed under the guardianship of Nicholas Ridgely, who was a clerk of the peace in Kent County, and this seems to be the root of Rodney’s interest in politics. The sixteen year old Rodney was known for his wit and excellent political skills. 

150px-CaesarRodney.jpegHe rose to prominence in Delaware and served in the militia during the French and Indian War.  After the war he served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. In 1755, under the royal government, Rodney was commissioned High Sheriff of Kent County, Delaware. This was quite a distinction for a man twenty-two years of age, and he apparently honored the distinction, for in succeeding years his official capacities grew to include registrar of wills, recorder of deeds, clerk of the orphan’s court, and justice of the peace. At age thirty he attained his first elected office as a representative in the colonial legislature at Newcastle. He served in that position, reelected each year except 1771, until the legislature was dissolved in 1776 and then resumed the seat as a representative to the Upper House of the State of Delaware until 1784.

Rodney was a leading patriot in his colony, a member of the Stamp Act Congress in 1765, a formative member of the Delaware Committee of Correspondence, a military leader in the colonial militia, and a delegate to the Continental Congress from formation until 1777. The following year he was elected President of the State of Delaware for a three year term, a duty that he assumed even as he served as Major-General of the Delaware Militia. In this office he played a crucial part not only in the defense of his own colony but in support of Washington’s Continental Army, for Delaware had a record of meeting or exceeding its quotas for troops and provisions throughout the revolutionary conflict. Rodney’s health and strength flagged for a time. He suffered from asthma and from a cancerous growth on his face, for which he never attained proper treatment. He saw his colony through the war at the cost of personal neglect.

Throughout the American Revolutionary War, Caesar Rodney served as Brigadier General of Delaware’s militia. He was one of the few delegates to the Continental Congress that had earlier military experience. During the Revolution, Rodney was promoted to Major-General of the Delaware militia by George Washington. Here he served until the Battle of Brandywine which resulted in the State President of Delaware, John McKinly, being captured by the British and George Read relieving himself of duties to poor health and exhaustion. These events placed Caesar Rodney and Thomas McKean back into the Continental Congress. Rodney replaced McKinly as President of Delaware and reignited Delaware’s passion for the revolution. His natural charisma allowed him to influence much of Delaware’s politics and his relentless devotion to the cause changed Delaware’s political landscape. Rodney began enforcing his authority and confiscating loyalist property and began scouring Delaware for supplies to help the Continental Army.  The men of Delaware went on to fight bravely and distinguish themselves in the Battle of Monmouth, but was nearly destroyed when Gates fled the field at the Battle of Camden. By the end of 1781 Rodney had stabilized Delaware. The coast still had to deal with loyalist privateers, but incidents were lower than it had been before. His health began to take a serious decline and he was forced into resignation shortly after the siege of Yorktown.

Like Paul Revere, Caesar Rodney is famous for a midnight ride. Rodney’s ride ended up at the doorstep of Independence Hall where he cast the decisive Delaware vote for Independence. On June 30, a motion for Independence had been put forward with nine colonies voting for independence, two voting against, New York abstaining while the Delaware delegates had split their vote. Delaware delegate Thomas McKean was in favor of independence, while George Read voted against. Rodney, also a delegate form Delaware was absent during this vote. While there was technically enough support to carry the motion, the Continental Congress didn’t want to go forward and declare independence without unanimous support.


Rodney’s image on the Delaware state quarter

Rodney had been away from Congress because his role as a Brigadier General in the Delaware militia, forced him back to Delaware to squelch a Loyalist riot. McKean got word to Rodney that his vote for independence was desperately needed in Congress. All night, as the first of July, 1776, turned into the second, Rodney rode through a thunderstorm. He covered 80 miles and arrived at Independence Hall’s doorstep in time to cast his decisive vote. Years later Thomas McKean remembered meeting Rodney at the door “in his boots and spurs.”

Rodney’s vote decided the matter. Delaware was going to war.

Once the voting for independence concluded and debate resumed, Rodney is remembered for puncturing the self-importance of the Virginia delegates who believed they were the mighty rock on which independence rested.”Let [Virginia] be of good cheer,” he said, “she has a friend in need; Delaware will take her under its protection and insure her safety.”

Rodney_NSHC.jpgJohn Adams described Rodney as “…the oddest looking man in the world; he is tall, thin and slender as a reed, pale; his face is not bigger than a large apple, yet there is sense and fire, spirit, wit and humor in this countenance.” It was not an appearance to quicken the heart of a woman, however, and it is said that Rodney remained a bachelor because Molly Vining, the woman he loved, married a rector — and soon after died.

In 1782 he was again elected to the national Congress, but was forced to decline the office due to failing health. He nonetheless continued to serve as Speaker to the Upper House of the Delaware Assembly. He died in that office, in June of 1784.


“Caesar Rodney” 

Delaware’s Hero of All Times 

The History Junkie 

The Society for the Defendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence

U. S. History 


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Are You Familiar with These Words and Phrases?

Bell the Cat ~ To hang a bell around a cat’s neck to provide a warning. Figuratively, the expression refers to any task that is difficult or impossible to achieve. This explanation comes from Phrase Finder. This expression ultimately derives from the fable, often attributed to Aesop, The Mice in Council. This story tells the tale of a group of mice who were terrorized by the house cat. One of them suggests that a bell be placed around the cat’s neck to warn of his arrival. Volunteers for the job are asked for but no mouse steps forward. The moral of the story (and with fables, there’s always a moral) is ‘don’t only consider the outcome when making plans; the plan itself must be achievable or it is useless’.

Bell the catThe attribution to Aesop is almost certainly incorrect. The tale doesn’t appear in any collection of Aesop’s Fables until the Middle Ages and is doubtless the work of a mediaeval mind.

The best known instance of the fable’s moral being put to work concerns the Scottish nobleman, Archibald Douglas, 5th Earl of Angus. In 1482, at a meeting of nobles who wanted to depose and hang James III’s favourites, Lord Gray is said to have remarked “Tis well said, but wha daur bell the cat?”, that is, ‘Who will take the necessary but highly risky action of openly defying the king?’. The story goes that Angus accepted and successfully accomplished the challenge. This story, like the Aesop attribution, is almost certainly a fanciful invention by later writers. While it is the case that the Earl of Angus was involved in an undoubtedly treasonable plot against James III, the ‘bell the cat’ story and Angus’s subsequent nickname didn’t arise until many years after his death. No earlier chronicler, not even Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie who was the official chronicler of the event, mentions the story. Nevertheless, the tag has stuck as an undeserved nickname for the fifth earl.


March up the Cannon’s Mouth ~ Words and Phrases from the Past gives this explanation: The phrases means “to walk into danger unflinchingly.” The site provides this example: From: Jefferson and Liberty: Or, Celebration of the Fourth of March : A Patriotic Tragedy, By J. Horatio Nichols, 1801, A Romance of the Republic, Chapter V., P. 51/52



To Court Disaster ~ WordWizard gives us an explanation of this phrase. “In the 16th century the verb COURT meant to ‘play or act the courtier’ (an attendant at a sovereign’s court) and also to ‘pay amorous attention to’ as Bob mentions above. The verb ultimately derives from the noun ‘court, an enclosed yard, which eventually became associated with the place where a sovereign (or other high dignitary) resides and holds state, attended by their retinue, and where the courtiers did their ‘courting.’ At the beginning of the 17th century the verb took on the more generalized meaning of ‘to seek to win or attract/entice/invite/allure (any one) to do something’ and thus went beyond the original courtly ‘courting’ and romantic ‘wooing.’ And in the 19th century some of those ‘somethings’ apparently came to include negative stuff such as death and DISASTER. An expression having a similar ring to it asCOURTING DISASTER – but not quite a synonym – is PLAYING WITH FIRE, which appears (?) to have emerged in about the same time frame.

COURTING DISASTER, surprisingly though, did not show up in any word and phrase origin books that I checked. The American Heritage Dictionary defines the relevant sense of COURT as “To behave so as to invite or incur: <‘Courts disaster by taking drugs’>.” And The Oxford English Dictionary claims that this sense of COURT meaning “To act as though trying to provoke (something harmful, unpleasant, etc.); to invite unwisely” didn’t come into use until 1930, and their one quote for the phrase TO COURT DISASTER is from 1986. I guess I don’t quite understand where they are coming from since I was easily able to find many examples of COURTING being used in the sense of courting a negative (e.g. ‘death,’ ‘ruin,’ see 1851, 1861, and 1875 quotes below) and I had no trouble finding examples of the use of COURT(ING) DISASTER dating back to 1863. Seems to me that they are clearly in error here and they have been duly e-mailed.

And I would also add that the specific relevant meaning of COURT that OED provided above (with its 1930 dating) is technically correct, but the usage of this word in COURTING DISASTER easily falls under the umbrella of their 1602 definition, which includes, “To invite, allure, entice into, to, from, out of, etc.” And that clearly covers the sense that the 19th-century examples below were referring to – no need to wait for special dispensation in 1930!


Go Through Fire and Water ~ This phrase means “Pressed to the extreme.” According to Phrasiology, its origin comes to us from the Bible. Numbers 31:23  Every thing that may abide the fire, ye shall make it go through the fire, and it shall be clean: nevertheless it shall be purified with the water of separation: and all that abideth not the fire ye shall make go through the water.

Other common phrases that comes from the Bible include: Give Up the Ghost ~ meaning
“To give up entirely.” It comes from Gen 25:17: And these are the year of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years: and he gave up the ghost and died; and was gathered unto his people.

I’ll Pin Him to the Wall ~ meaning “Acting out of anger. ” It comes from 1 Sam 18:10-11: Saul had a spear in his hand and he hurled it, saying to himself, “I’ll pin David to the wall.” But David eluded him twice.

Nursing a Grudge ~ meaning “Having a long-term resentment.” It comes from Mk 6:18-19 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to…


World Wide Words gives as “Fewmet.” 

“The fewmets have hit the windmill,” cried a character in Harvard Lampoon’s parody Bored of the Rings. Readers not familiar with archaic English hunting terms will have missed the joke.

Fewmets — also called fewmishings — are the excrement or droppings of an animal hunted for game, especially the hart, an adult male deer. For medieval hunters they were evidence that an animal was nearby; their condition gave a clue as to how near the quarry actually was. Huntsmen would bring fewmets to their masters to demonstrate that game was there to be chased and that the hunt wasn’t likely to be a waste of time.

Fewmets being shown to Queen Elizabeth I
A huntsman showing fewmets to Queen Elizabeth I. From The Noble Arte of Venerie or Hunting, by George Gascoigne, 1575.

To make a proper assessment, the huntsman needed to know a lot about the ways of the animal: You muste vnderstand that there is difference betweene the fewmet of the morning and that of the euenyng, bicause the fewmishings which an Harte maketh when he goeth to relief at night, are better disgested and moyster, than those which he maketh in the morning, bycause the Harte hath taken his rest all the day, and hath had time and ease to make perfect disgestion and fewmet, whereas contrarily it is seene in the fewmishyng whiche is made in the morning, bycause of the exercise without rest whiche he made in the night to go seeke his feede. ~ The Noble Arte of Venerie or Hunting, by George Gascoigne, 1575.

The word came into English during the fourteenth century and is from an Anglo-Norman French variant of Old French fumées, droppings.

With the decline in great landed estates and the hunting they offered, the word went into a decline, to become fashionable again in recent decades with the rise in fantasy fiction and role-playing games. The inspiration for most of the modern examples must surely be this:

    “I know what fewmets are,” said the boy with interest. “They are the droppings of the beast pursued. The harbourer keeps them in his horn, to show to his master, and can tell by them whether it is a warrantable beast or otherwise, and what state it is in.”
    “Intelligent child,” remarked the King. “Very. Now I carry fewmets about with me practically all the time.”
    “Insanitary habit,” he added, beginning to look dejected, “and quite pointless. Only one Questing Beast, you know, so there can’t be any question whether she is warrantable or not.” ~ The Once and Future King, by T H White, 1939.

In the exotic spirit of King Pellinore’s questing beast, these days the animal producing the fewmets is more frequently a dragon:

He’s going to where my dragons were! Come on, Meg, maybe he’s found fewmets!” She hurried after boy and dog. “How would you know a dragon dropping? Fewmets probably look like bigger and better cow pies.” ~ A Wind in the Door, by Madeline L’Engle, 1973.

It has become a useful substitute in such literature for a couple of coarser words: “‘Oh, fewmets,’ Schmendrick cursed” (James A Owen, The Dragons of Winter); “Speaking between friends and meaning no offense, you’re full of fewmets.” (Poul Anderson, Satan’s World); “Caryo intends to be caught, so she can kick the fewmets out of him” (Mercedes Lackey, Exile’s Valour).

The word has also been spelled fumet, which might lead to an unfortunate confusion with the concentrated fish stock used for seasoning that goes by that name, a relative of the Roman garum. The source of this sense of fumet is a related French word, originally applied to the smell of game after it had hung for a while.


Katy Bar the Door can also be found on World Wide Words. Various sources down the years have suggested at least three. However, the more one investigates, the further away a simple answer seems to get.

The idiomatic expression Katy bar the door! (also as Katy bar the gate! and with Katie instead of Katy) is an American exclamation of the later nineteenth century, at one time most common in the South. The speaker is warning that trouble lies ahead. It’s still common:

[W]hen we abandon the belief in absolutes — such as telling the truth, being honest, and doing what is right — then Katy bar the door because there is no compass to guide us and our actions. ~ Galveston County Daily News (Galveston, Texas), 9 Nov. 2013.

William and Mary Morris’s book The Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins suggests that it derives from a traditional ballad, most probably the medieval Scots one usually entitled Get Up and Bar the Door, still widely known and sung. But no version I’ve found mentions Katy anywhere. The ballad tells the tale of an argument between man and wife about who should bar the door. They agree that the first who speaks will do so. Neither speaks, and neither bars the door. At night, robbers enter through the open door. Though the ballad is really a wry commentary on marital obstinacy and its consequences, the lesson is that not barring the door has led them to trouble. It’s conceivable that “bar the door!” was adapted from it to suggest unpleasantness lies ahead.

In 1941, the renowned American language researcher Peter Tamony issued an appeal for information about the expression. In response, the even more renowned Damon Runyon wrote a little tongue-in-cheek squib, syndicated in newspapers on 9 March that year, which told how a fine Irish lass called Katherine Sullivan Jale came over to America before the Revolution. She and her husband worked a trick on Native Americans by which she would entice them into her log cabin so her husband could scalp them and sell the hair. As soon as one was inside, her husband would holler, “Katie, bar the door” and get to work. This product of a mischievous imagination may be why some people have suggested the idiom was originally Irish. Please don’t perpetuate it, or the waters will be still further muddled.

An illustration of Cathering Barless.
Catherine Barlass, by J R Skelton, from H E Marshall’s Scotland’s Story of 1906.

Many World Wide Words subscribers pointed to a quite different story that involved one Catherine Douglas. Under attack while staying at the Dominican chapter house in Perth on 20 February 1437, King James I was holed up in a room whose door had the usual metal staples for a wooden bar, but whose bar had been taken away. The legend is that Catherine Douglas, one of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting, tried heroically to save the king by barring the door with her naked arm. Her attempt failed and the King was murdered, but she was thereafter known as Catherine Barlass. Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote a poem about her in 1881, entitled The King’s Tragedy, which has been suggested as the direct source of the saying, but the nearest Rossetti comes to the usual form of the expression in the poem is “Catherine, keep the door!”

In any case, we now know that it can’t be the source because US researcher Bonnie Taylor-Blake has found examples that predate publication of Rossetti’s poem. This one, from two years before, shows that the idiom was already fully formed in the same sense as today:

To sum it all up, my advice to anyone thinking of going there would be “don’t,” unless they have a pocketfull of the “rhino” which they can afford to lose. I saw it was “Katy bar the door” with me unless I skipped, and I lost no time in skipping. ~ The Democrat (Lima, Ohio), 30 Oct. 1879.

A rather earlier one hints at a possible source: The Custom House Packet, with the Custom House colored band, U.S. Marshal Packard, in command, with the old flag triumphantly kissing the breeze of old Red, the band playing “Katie, Bar The Door,” and with waving rags touched the wharf and proceeded to land her precious cargo. ~The Louisiana Democrat (Alexandria, Louisiana), 2 Oct. 1872.

So the implication once again is that a popular melody may be involved. We have no way of knowing if the tune’s title was the source or if its authors were referring to something older that’s now lost to us. The context was an African-American event, the Radical Custom House Colored Jubilee, on the banks of the Red River at Alexandria, which may suggest a link with black popular music. But nobody has yet been able to establish what the band was playing and its title doesn’t appear in the various comprehensive online archives of American popular music. Jonathon Green suggests in his Green’s Dictionary of Slang that it was a popular American fiddle tune, though he gives no further information, nor any indication of how or why its title should be connected to the idiom.

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What Could Be in a 19th Century Vampire-Slaying Kit?

‘Vampire-slaying kit’ bought by Royal Armouries museum

Vampire slaying boxThe box contains a prayer book and “vampire-slaying equipment”

In 2012, the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds sold a “vampire-slaying kit.” The 19th Century box, contained a crucifix, pistols, wooden stakes and a mallet,  and was sold for £7,500 at an auction in North Yorkshire. It had been left to a Yorkshire woman in her uncle’s will. The Royal Armouries expected the box would prove a major attraction when it went on display at the Clarence Dock museum. The box and its contents all date from the 19th Century but are likely to have been put together in the 20th Century. It is thought it was produced to capitalise on the popularity of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula and the Hammer Horror Movies. As well as the weaponry, the box contains a copy of the Book of Common Prayer from 1851 and a handwritten extract from the Bible which quotes Luke 19:27. (But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them–bring them here and kill them in front of me.)

This article comes to us from the BBC: Leeds and North Yorkshire. To read the complete article, please visit

I found this article very interesting the first time I featured it, and it was nice to revisit it. My vampiric tale of Pride and Prejudice used a variety of means to defeat the vampire, George Wickham. Darcy, Elizabeth, and Colonel Fitzwilliam used silver, a crucifix, ash staves, millet, salt, coins in the mouth, scatterings of the ashes of the vampire’s grave, stakes, etc. 

MDP Book Cover

Book Blurb: Vampire Darcy’s Desire presents Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as a heart-pounding vampire romance filled with passion and danger.

Tormented by a 200-year-old curse and his fate as a half human/half vampire dhampir, Fitzwilliam Darcy vows to live a solitary life rather than inflict the horrors of his life upon an innocent wife and his first born son. However, when he encounters the captivating Elizabeth Bennet, his will is sorely tested.

As a man, Darcy yearns for Elizabeth, but as a vampire, he is also driven to possess her. Uncontrollably drawn to each other, they are forced to confront a different kind of “pride” and his enemy’s “prejudice,” while wrestling with the seductive power of forbidden love. Evil forces, led by George Wickham, the purveyor of the curse, attack from all sides, and Darcy learns his only hope to survive is to align himself with Elizabeth, who is uncannily astute is how to defeat Wickham, a demon determined to destroy each generation of Darcys.

Vampire Darcy’s Desire retells Austen’s greatest love story in a hauntingly compelling tale. Can love be the only thing that can change him?


“Someone looks for you, Darcy.” Wickham paced the cell in agitation.

Darcy refused to react. He forced his breathing to remain even, but the joy of knowing another knew of his capture played havoc with his composure. He kept his eyes closed, fearing Wickham could read his countenance.

Wickham leaned down, his face only inches from Darcy’s. “Do you want to know who it was?”

Darcy opened his eyes slowly and smiled. “As you appear intent on telling me, I see no reason to guess.”

Wickham walked away casually. “It was your beautiful wife, Mrs. Darcy.” Wickham straddled a straight-backed chair, turning it to where he could watch Darcy’s reaction.

For a split second, Darcy’s heart skipped a beat. He did not want Elizabeth to put herself in danger for him, but then the truth flashed in Wickham’s eyes. “You are quite amusing, Wickham, but the thought of my wife being here is ludicrous. I told you from the beginning that Elizabeth left me after your seduction of Miss Lydia. However, if what you purport were true, and my wife were here, you have not enough ghouls in your congregation to hold me in these chains, for she would not stop until I was free. Trust me, Wickham, there is no way you could defeat her. She is more than either of us can handle.”

Wickham sat in complete silence; Darcy chose to ignore him and closed his eyes again. Finally, Wickham barked out a forced laugh. “You have me there, Darcy. Your rescuer was a man. Mayhap you would have been better off with your wife. At least, she would not have abandoned you.” He stood with that statement. “The man favored you in some ways, Darcy–not quite as tall, however. Should I send for reinforcements?”

“Likely a stranger enticed by tales of the unknown.” Darcy hoped to convince his enemy to ignore the incursion.

“I can smell human blood.” Wickham looked off, as if no longer seeing Darcy. “Did you know that? I smell it as easily as I once smelled a rose. It is metallic and bittersweet. Have you ever tasted it, Darcy? It is addictive.”

At first the words were offensive, but then Darcy’s pity replaced his anger. Despite his personal loathing of Wickham’s baseness, Darcy felt empathy for what once must have been a proud and handsome man–a man who loved a woman too well and lost everything because of it. “I have not tasted it,” Darcy spoke softly, not wishing to break the understanding between them.

Wickham laughed lightly at his own show of weakness. “That was a foolish question, was it not? Naturally, you never succumbed to the noxious hunger that consumes me. You are too honorable to permit the poison to cross your lips.”

Darcy shook his head, a deep sadness overcoming him. “I simply want it to end, Wickham. It is not honor which drives me. It is the fear that my child–my son–could know such despondency–could live an inconsolable life. I would not term that honorable. It is pure cowardice.”

Wickham watched as Darcy once more took up his resigned vigil against the wall. An understanding passed between them. Darcy imagined that in another lifetime, he and Wickham might even be friends, but circumstances prevented that idea ever becoming a reality. Darcy respected Wickham as much as he abhorred him.

“Never fear, Darcy,” Wickham said as a way of parting. “I may yet do the honorable thing and fight you to the death, so to speak.”

Darcy attempted to relax the pain in his shoulders and arms. Wickham imprisoned him twenty-four hours prior, and other than the occasional break Darcy negotiated to meet his personal needs, he remained restrained by the shackles. Wickham, as he suspected, brought him no food or drink. He was to die of starvation, and Darcy accepted it. “You will bring me notice of when we meet on the battlefield,” he mumbled, closing his eyes to welcome sleep. He heard the door close and knew when the bolt slid into the latch, but Darcy remained in repose. Images of Elizabeth filled his mind. Their time together was all that brought him peace.

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Pre-Elizabethan Drama: Morality Plays


The 1522 cover of “Mundus et Infans,” a morality play ~ Wikipedia

Previously, I did a piece on Liturgical Drama. Today I would like to look at Moralities. As compared to the Miracle or Liturgical dramas, the morality play was one where the playwright had to come up with an original story line, which many consider to be a major step forward in the history of drama. No longer did the playwright use the scripture for his plots. He did, however, employ a well-known allegory, popular for several centuries in England and upon the European continent, but which had rarely been celebrated as the central issue of a tale, as it was in the moralities. 

A morality play was defined as “an allegorical drama popular in Europe especially during the 15th and 16th centuries, in which the characters personify moral qualities (such as charity or vice) or abstractions (as death or youth) and in which moral lessons are taught.” (Britannica) The issue was the struggle between good and evil in claiming the soul of man. Vice and Virtue became the central characters. In these plays, mankind always desired to chase after the vice, but he is well aware that if he does he will face eternal damnation. Evidently, the medieval mind thought much upon the dichotomy presented in the plays. 

mummers2.jpgThe characters in the plays were personified abstractions. In moralities we find Friendship, Riches, Good, Evil, Knowledge, Mankind, etc. The action of the morality play centers on a hero whose inherent weaknesses are assaulted by such personified diabolic forces as the Seven Deadly Sins, but who may choose redemption and enlist the aid of such figures as the Four Daughters of God (Mercy, Justice, Temperance, and Truth). Customarily, the play began with Man being summoned to the Grave. The action that followed involved the conflict for the possession of Man’s spirit.

The purpose of the Moralities was didactic. In Everyman, for example, the protagonist is made acquainted with the entire Catholic scheme of salvation. In the play, Man dons the jewel of Penance and later, the robe of contrition. He also consumes the seven “blessed sacraments.” Through the action, the play teaches its audience that all men must adhere to the tenets of the church. The play ends with the Doctor or Expositor reemphasizing the moral of the story. He shows the audience how Pride, Beauty, Wealth, and other worldly aspirations abandon “Everyman” at death. Only Good Deeds will accompany him to the underworld. These early plays were solemn personifications of church sermons. 

MoralityFigures.JPGAmong the oldest of morality plays surviving in English is The Castle of Perseverance (c. 1425), about the battle for the soul of Humanum Genus. A plan for the staging of one performance has survived that depicts an outdoor theatre-in-the-round with the castle of the title at the centre. Everyman was published in 1500. They both were from the York Paternoster Plays, which date back to 1378. These plays were similar to the early moralities. They took their names from the belief that each clause of the Lord Prayer could counter one of the seven deadly sins. 

The character of Vice became the first element of comedy in 16th Century Moralities. Vice’s purpose was to irritate and arouse the ire of the Devil. Vice prodded the Devil with sticks. He taunted him. He baited him into arguments. The character of the Devil was a crossover from the Miracle plays. He “excited” the audience for they anticipated his antics. Both characters met the demand of the latter audiences for action rather than sore sermons. 

“Morality plays were an intermediate step in the transition from liturgical to professional secular drama, and combine elements of each. They were performed by quasi-professional groups of actors who relied on public support; thus the plays were usually short, their serious themes tempered by elements of farce. In the Dutch play Het esbatement den appelboom (“The Miraculous Apple Tree”), for example, a pious couple, Staunch Goodfellow and Steadfast Faith, are rewarded when God creates for them an everbearing apple tree with the property that whoever touches it without permission becomes stuck fast. This leads to predictable and humorous consequences.” (Britannica)


History of Morality Plays 


New Advent: Catholic Encyclopedia 


Posted in acting, Age of Chaucer, Anglo-Normans, Anglo-Saxons, British history, drama, medieval, playwrights, Vagary | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Popularity of Primogeniture in Regency England

410f-CzGozL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgOf late, I have been studying the laws and statutes that comprised the practice of primogeniture in Regency England. In truth, I can only work on the project for a few hours each day for some of the material is written in such legal jargon that it has me back checking the meaning of certain words and of individuals, known widely in the UK, but of whom I am unaware here in the States. Therefore, I am attempting to clear my thoughts by placing them on paper (so to speak). 

First, I discovered that there are few statistics available to chronicle the incidence of primogeniture as part of settlements and wills. During the period in which I am researching there were no register of settlements of land ownership, existing in the greater part of England. Scotland had such a register, but looking at them creates a conflicting estimates of settled and unsettled property. I have looked at several sources for wills, but they do not show the extent of the land bestowed. Nor can I determine with any accuracy whether they are displaying a will that aggravates or mitigates the settlements upon the eldest son. In the Regency, as far as I can tell there was no distinction in the records as to land passing by will and land passing by settlement. Even so, we can catch a glimmer of the influence of primogeniture on the social life of England. 

First, we must recall that personal property is exempt from the law of primogeniture. Nor must it be forgotten that by English law, ordinary lease holds whether they consist of lands or houses, count as personalty and are distributed as such on intestacy; whereas, money in trust for investment in land counts as realty and falls under the same rule of inheritance. Vast lease holdings were constantly included in settlements of personalty, all without any references to primogeniture. In most instances, the funds were invested equally for the benefit of all the sons and daughters, though a power was usually reserved to the parents of modifying this distribution by “appointment,” at their own discretion. Testators of small landed estates purchased with their own funds also could direct the land to be divided equally among their children. 

For members of the yeoman class or of the gentry, the ordinary practice was of primogeniture, with the inheritance going to the eldest son, but that, in accordance with the Scottish rule of legitimyounger children could be compensated, so far as possible, for their disinherison. If the land was burdened by mortgages, it could be sold and the profit divided equally among the survivors. 

Gavelkind stood in contrast to the custom of primogeniture. Gavelkind is practiced in Kent, Wales, and parts of Ireland. In gavelkind the younger children are placed on equal footing with the eldest son, either by the subdivision or by heavy charges on the tenant-right. 

Primogeniture was popular among the landed aristocracy and those who wished to be counted among their ranks. Among English squires, Scottish lairds, and the Irish gentry, primogeniture was accepted as a fundamental law to which the practice of entails, which was introduced in 1685, added substantial power. Currently in England, where so much land is in the hands of corporations or trustees for public objects, and where almost all deeds relating to land are in private custody, we cannot venture to speak with much confidence on this point. 

Large estates were generally entailed either by will or settlement. Smaller hereditary estates were also often entailed. Some land that changed hands each year did so by the governance of the law of intestacy. What we do know is that an intestate may be carried into effect by arrangement within the family, or an amicable suit in equity, without the public becoming aware of the fact, especially if those wishes should coincide with the course of descent at common law. 

Mr. Joshua Williams, a barrister at Lincoln Inn (1845) in his Principles of the Law of Real Property says, “In families where the estates are kept up from one generation to another, settlements are made every few years for this purpose; thus, in the event of a marriage, a life-estate merely is given to the husband; the wife has an allowance for pin-money during the marriage, and a rent-charge or annuity by way of jointure for her life, in case she should survive her husband. Subject to this jointure, and to the payment of such sums as may be agreed on for the portions of the daughters and the younger sons of the marriage, the eldest son who may be born of the marriage is made by the settlement tenant-in-tail. In case of his decease without issue, it is provided that the second son, and then the third, should in like manner be tenant-in-tail; and so on to the others; and in default of sons, the estate is usually given to the daughters; not successively, however, but as ‘tenants in common in tail,’ with ‘cross remainders’ in tail. By this means the estate is tied up till some tenant-in-tail attains the age of twenty-one years; when he is able, with the consent of his father, who is tenant for life, to bar the entail with all the remainders. Dominion is thus again acquired over the property, which dominion is usually exercised in a re-settlement on the next generation; and thus the property is preserved in the family. Primogeniture, therefore, as it obtains among the landed gentry of England is as custom only, and not a right; though there can be no doubt that the custom has originated in the right which was enjoyed by the eldest son, as heir to his father, in those days when estates-tail could not be barred.” 

Posted in Act of Parliament, Anglo-Saxons, British history, business, commerce, Georgian England, history, Living in the Regency, marriage customs, primogenture, Scotland, titles of aristocracy, Wales | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thomas Stone, A Man Who Loved His Wife and a Signer of the Declaration of Independence

stone.jpgNot as vocal as his compatriots, Thomas Stone is one of the lesser known signers of the Declaration of Independence. He served his country when called to do so, but preferred a quiet life with family over a life in the limelight. Thomas Stone was born at Poynton Manor in Charles County Maryland in 1743. He was educated by a Scottish school-master, and according to legend, he loved learning, even as a boy, and, as the story goes, rode 10 miles on horseback every day to attend school. Later, he studied law at the office of Thomas Johnson, Maryland’s first governor. He was admitted to the Bar in 1764 and set up practice in Frederick, Maryland, which was moderately successful. In 1768, he married Margaret Brown. Her dowry allowed them to purachase land near Port Tobacco, and in 1771, the Stones built Habre-de-Venture. The pair were extremely happy together and had three children. Over time, Stone’s law practice grew, and he built a reputation for promoting anti-British policies. He was a prosperous landowner and moderately successful lawyer.

He began his public service on a county committee of correspondence, whose job was to establish lines of communication with other colonies for the purpose of trade, transportation, etc. According to Denise Kiernan and Joseph D’Agnest in Signing Their Lives Away (page 163, Quirk Books, ©2009), “In 1774, he received some early – but not necessarily positive – public exposure in the developing battle between the patriots and the motherland when he acted as a prosecutor in a case against a man who had refused to pay the poll tax being collected to support the Anglican clergy. By that time, taxes had long been a touchy subject for the colonists, and supporting the Crown’s position in this matter did not boost Stone’s popularity among the patriots. The defense team was made up of William Paca, Thomas Johnson, and Samuel Chase, all of who would later be at Congress when Stone took his seat. He lost the case.”

Thomas_Stone.jpgStone was elected to Continental Congress in 1774 and was re-elected several years in a row. He was not as vocal as some of the other Congressmen, but we do know that he was was pro-independence, even though he supported reconciliatory measures to begin with and the State of Maryland limited his ability to vote for extreme patriotic measures.

The Maryland legislature was cautious of the rebellious spirit which had taken over in Boston after the Boston Tea Party. Maryland ordered the delegates of their state not to vote for independence without the prior approval of the state. Therefore, Stone and the other Maryland signers, Samuel Chase and William Paca, frustrated some of the Congressmen who were very strongly in favor of separation from England. When, however, it appeared that separation was the only choice, Maryland gave the go ahead, and the Maryland delegates voted in favor of independence. They all signed the Declaration of Independence, but Thomas Stone hoped that America would peacefully resolve things with England, as he was a pacifist and hoped to avoid loss of life.

He was a member of the committee that framed the Articles of Confederation. During this time, his wife came to visit him in Philadelphia. At the time, smallpox was running rampant through the colonies, so Thomas had Margaret inoculated. The process involved removing pus from an infected person’s lesions to be transferred under the skin of person receiving the inoculation. When the person came down with a mild case of smallpox, he/she was placed in quarantine he recovered, but Margaret Stone never fully overcame the process. It affected her poorly. She grew very sick; and though she initially recovered, her health was never the same. She continued to decline over the years.

After signing the Declaration, Thomas took Margaret home, and didn’t take further part in the Congress at Philadelphia, only attending a few meetings when Congress met in Annapolis in 1784. When the Maryland legislature began to question whether they’d made a mistake joining the confederacy, Stone joined the Maryland legislature in order to help win them over. He helped explain the Articles until Maryland agreed to sign them.

After representing Maryland at the Mount Vernon Conference, he was elected to Congress again in 1783 and served as chairman, but retired at the end of his term. He was elected to attend the Constitutional Convention in 1787, but declined the office because of his wife’s failing health.

She died 1787, and Stone never got over the grief. Four months after Margaret’s death, his physician recommended a sea voyage to cheer him up. He decided to travel to England, but died in Alexandria, Virginia, while waiting for the ship. He was forty-four years old. Little else is known of Thomas Stone, as no letters or papers accounting his life have ever been found.



Find a Grave 

Revolutionary War 

The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence

U. S. History: Signers of the Declaration of Independence

Wikipedia “Thomas Stone”

Posted in American History, British history, Declaration of Independence, Georgian England | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Mashups!! Jane Austen and Vampires

MashUps: Jane Austen and Vampires

What is a Mashup?
images.jpgWhen I first became aware of the term “mashup,” I automatically thought of the music industry with its remixes and creative imaginings of oldies and the classics. By definition, a “mashup” is creating a new entity from two or more unrelated sources. Although some believe this subgenre has hit its peak, mashups still garner a substantial chunk of the market. Was not the film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies not just released? That fact probably lies in the reality that a reader of paranormal would find mixing a Jane Austen classic with vampires intriguing. Many authors are finding a new market, whether they write science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, mystery, or humor. Recently, we have seen mixes of William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, and Louisa May Alcott. It is not just Jane Austen. There is a crossover appeal, very much like the steampunk genre. Think about Hemingway or Flaubert or F. Scott Fitzgerald; there are endless possibilities because the past is always in the process of being reinvented.

Is Jane Austen spinning in her grave because of all the sequels, variations, and mashups? Maybe, because I sometimes write the genre, I do not believe so. Austen wrote in an era when women could not openly express their imaginations without censure. We must not forget that Austen loved stories of all kinds, as well as a bit of gossip and scandal, and she possessed a “twisted” sense of humor. In the movie Becoming Jane, Anne Hathaway, as Austen, refers to it as “ironical.”
How does one mix together Jane Austen and Vampires?
220px-Burne-Jones-le-VampireVampires first appeared in literature in 18th Century poetry before becoming one of the stock figures of Gothic fiction when Polidori published The Vampyre (1819), which was reportedly influenced by the life of Lord Byron. Dracula did not appear until 1897.
One finds the roots of vampire fiction in the early 1700s when the Serbian monarchy exhumed the remains of suspected vampires. In 1748, August Ossenfelder released the short German poem “Der Vampir,” which had strong erotic overtones. Goethë’s “Die Braut von Korinth” and Bürger’s “Lenore” followed, each with vampiric elements. In English literature, Robert Southey’s “Thalaba the Destroyer” (1797) was one of the first examples. Lord Byron’s “The Giaour” (1813) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Christabel” (1816) followed. Even in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff’s housekeeper accuses him of being a vampire.
Dracula remains the definitive description of the vampire in popular fiction. In it, Dracula’s “disease” is a contagious demonic possession, with undertones of sex, blood, and death. All of these elements probably struck a cord with Victorian England, where tuberculosis and syphilis were common fears. A decade before, in 1888, the British press had sensationalized Jack the Ripper’s reign in East London. Stoker’s Abraham Van Helsing became the model for all other vampire hunters. Some believe Stoker wrote Dracula to subtly criticize Victorian stuffiness, and others agree it was a social commentary on Stoker’s friend Oscar Wilde and his legal situation. Images, themes, and even actual phrases from Wilde’s trial for sexual inversion appear in the book. Count Dracula symbolizes an aristocrat, who socializes with middle and lower class people to survive – creating an image of the British aristocracy having to interact with the changes occurring in the wealthy middle class. Note how the middle class vampire hunters are the powerful characters in the book. Also, notice how all the vampires in the book, except Count Dracula, are female. Vampirism allows Lucy and the others female vampires to dominant, and Dracula’s reign represents the British fear of being “contaminated” by an outside force.
Modern vampires have evolved from those repulsive figures: They are romantic and sexy bad boys, a stark contrast to Eastern European folklore. Christian symbols no longer repel them. Anne Rice’s Lestat De Lioncourt makes both a fanatically religious girl and a nun his victims. The moon does not influence them, nor are they only sustained by drinking blood. Modern vampires can fly, can feed off energy, and can “sparkle” in the sunshine. Modern vampires may possess unusual talents and may be very passionate about things other than blood. Bonnie Anderson says in “Vampire Showdown: Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula Verses Anne Rice’s Lestat,” that “The true fans of horror no longer want to be frightened by the mere fantasy of the fearsome. We want what scares us to our very core: Ourselves. We want to see ourselves dressed up and romanticized, satirized, and suffering and sinning. And then we want to see it again.”
There have been vampires in every film genre, even children’s works: the Count on Sesame Street. Exhibiting self-control is a recent trait of vampires. Modern vampires are more sympathetic to humans. Our current vampires are less monstrous – downright sexy, in fact, and infinitely more human. Contemporary vampirism is about desire. Romance with the undead is intense and forever and perfect. These are female centered story lines featuring a powerful love, which surpasses the limits of mortality.

So, why is vampire literature so popular and in what way does Jane Austen fit? Beyond the broody, often lonely, male as a main character, vampire stories welcome anachronism. They are striking examples of the juxtaposition of past and present. Vampire stories of old were sources of terror, but contemporary vampirism is seen as desire. They are female-centered narratives, containing a powerful love that transcends the limits placed upon it.In a time after the World Trade Center disaster, we are less likely to make heroes out of those who hide their thoughts and feelings; so recent vampires must become infinitely more human. I mean, let’s face it, unless one is a vampire, there are no longer impediments to marriage. Today, Las Vegas is our Gretna Greene. Vampires who are sympathetic to humans, but whose goal is a relationship and respect are all the rage. As the majority of the readers of vampire literature are women, some believe it is a post-feminist way of taking on power: Women standing up and demanding respect. There is an allure of the forbidden, and the virtue of the individual prevails as a major theme. Now, look back at each of the underlined phrases. Are they not part of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice?

Teens embrace the concept of vampirism as an alluring idea – to be young and beautiful forever. Were women in Austen’s time not on the shelf by their early twenties? Remember that Anne Elliot had lost “her bloom” by age 27? Plus, teens think of themselves as immortal. They exist in a time of surging hormones, and they love the idea of power over another. And as a post-menopausal woman myself, the concept of being “hot blooded” appeals to me. Paranormal romance is about power. The females are tough chicks, who kill demons and hunt vampires.
And let us remember that the Twilight series has its roots in classic literature. If you have not noticed the similarities before, let me point out that Twilight is Pride and Prejudice.New Moon finds its basis in Romeo and JulietWuthering Heights becomes Eclipse, andBreaking Dawn mixes The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Vamplit has the allure of the forbidden. It is quite simply a love story. The current audience for vamplit is a mix of those who grew up on Dark Shadows, Anne Rice’s series, Buffy the Vampire SlayerX-Files, and Harry Potter.
So, why is Austen so easy to adapt to these subgenres? I would say because her works allow modern authors to insert their ideas into Austen’s point of view. Jane Austen was a forward-looking writer, who wrote thematic masterpieces. Although she writes intriguing characters, Austen’s strength lies in how the theme permeates every word. And is it fair to parody Austen? We must remember that the Lady wrote her own parody of Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho.

MDP Book Cover
Regina Jeffers speaks of Vampire Darcy’s Desire. In this book, I tried to keep certain elements of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Wickham, the book’s vampire, still tries to seduce Georgiana, and he still takes Lydia to Northumberland (where Newcastle is located). Darcy, a dhampir, desires Elizabeth as a man, and he knows he must break the “curse” upon his family in order to make her his wife. When Darcy first meets Elizabeth, he is withdrawn from society, is generous and protective of his sister, and dutifully oversees his estate. Yet, to this mix, I have added the folk elements of the Baobhan Sith (Scottish female vampires), a traditional Scottish folk song entitled “Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender,” references to Celtic gods, vampiric legends, apotropaics, and bits of Stoker’s Van Helsing.
Vampire Darcy’s Desire presents Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as a heart-pounding vampire romance filled with passion and danger. Tormented by a 200-year-old curse and his fate as a half-human/half-vampire dhampir, Fitzwilliam Darcy vows to live forever alone rather than to inflict the horrors of his life on an innocent wife. But when he comes to Netherfield Park, Elizabeth Bennet captivates him as no other ever has. Uncontrollably drawn to each other, they are forced to confront the seductive power of forbidden love, while dark forces are at work all around them. Most ominous is the threat from George Wickham, the purveyor of the curse, a demon who vows to destroy each generation of Darcys.
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