Wednesday, 20 August 2014

A Cur : A Compliment Not a Curse

"A dog of mixed type, especially one that is frightening or fierce." Oxford Dictionary

Times and language change.
Last night, whilst reading "Anecdotes of Dogs" – a charming book written by Edward Jesse in 1858, this was brought home to me in the table of contents. Reading through chapters listing dog breeds, nestled between "the Great Danish dog" and "the Lurcher", was "the Cur".

I am more familiar with "cur" being used in historical fiction as an unflattering curse, as in "You cur, unhand that woman!" but it seems in Victorian times (and presumably pre-dating this) a cur was a type of purpose bred cattle droving dog. Admittedly a cur was of mixed ancestry, but he was a noble working dog all the same.

I decided to skip straight to the chapter on curs, and indeed found out that this forgotten strain of dogs were shot through with fine instincts and loyalty to their owners- far removed from the modern implication.  

The first (true) story related by Mr. Jesse concerns a merchant's shop in London. A large box properly labelled and seemingly in order, was delivered one evening to stay their overnight and be shipped off with other goods in the morning. A customer and his cur entered the shop whereupon the dog set to sniffing the box and then barking at it with intent to draw attention. This led the merchant to investigate the box, at which point he found a boy hidden inside tasked with the job of letting in his fellow felons after dark, in order to plunder the shop.

Another moving story is that of a pregnant cur. This bitch belonged to John Lang, Esq, who used her to work his cattle. One day, large with pup, she went into labor whilst working the cattle. She gave birth on the moor, concealed the puppies in a gorse bush and went back to work herding the cattle back home with all diligence. Only once had she handed over her charge did she return to the puppies and brought them home by the scruff, one by one. In Mr. Jesse's account he notes how Mr. Lang preserved the entire litter so as not to distress so faithful an animal (this seems to imply that he might otherwise have destroyed some of them!)
The gates to Portsmouth dockyard - circa 1901
Our final tale involves the aptly named "Trusty". This cur belongs to a workman employed in Portsmouth dockyard. The man's wife prepared his meal every day, tied it in a cloth and placed it in a hand-basket. The dog was trained to carry the basket by the handle and cover a distance of a mile or so to deliver it to his master. If the dog tired, he carefully placed the basket on the ground whilst he rested, but growled at anyone who approached. Once he got to the dockyard, he had to wait until a porter noticed him and opened the gate.
Knocking off time at Harland and Wolff shipyard, Belfast

 On finding his master, by all accounts man and dog were equally enamored of one another, and the man shared his food with Trusty. Once finished, the laborer repacked the basket and the dog delivered it safe home again.

There now! Put's a different complexion of the word "cur" doesn't it? Based on these examples it should be a compliment, not a curse. 

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Painter and His Pug - by guest, Madame Gilflurt

Once again I am indebted to the lovely Madame Gilflurt, (aka Catherine Curzon) with another enchanting post about a pet from history. I have a pet crush on pugs so I'm especially intrigued to read about Trump. 
G x

The Painter and His Pug - by Madame Gilflurt

It is no secret that I adore the pets who share my house, nor is it privileged information that my constant companion is Pippa, my wonderful hound. A man who shared my love of dogs is, of course, William Hogarth, the legendary painter who, like my sister, shared his home with a pug. 

Hogarth's pug went by the name of Trump and it's fair to say that he was a celebrity in his own right, with small porcelain figures of Trump being sold to Hogarth's fans, whilst the painter himself was on occasion depicted as a pug too!

The Painter and his Pug by William Hogarth, 1745

In the 1730s, Hogarth began work on what would become The Painter and his Pug. The work depicts Hogarth as a picture within a frame whilst Trump sits outside it, reality alongside the constructed and framed image of Hogarth. Although the finished portrait shows Hogarth in informal dress, initial work on the canvas showed a very different figure, with the artist resplendent in wig and formal dress. Clearly Hogarth had a rethink though and chose to depict himself as a craftsman, rather than a figure of wealth and importance. 

He has taken great care over other aspects of the painting too, as the self-portrait rests atop a bile of books by Milton, Swift and Shakespeare, whilst the palette in the foreground bears the words, Line of Beauty and Grace. Although Hogarth painted out "and Grace", over time it has become visible again and this refers to Hogarth's artistic beliefs set out in his work, The Analysis of Beauty.

The Painter and his Pug was completed in 1745, a decade or so after work on it began. As a dog-lover, it is a painting that immediately speaks to me because of the way in which Trump is presented, obediently sitting before his master alongside the books, palette and words that mean so much to the artist. He is a vital part of Hogarth's life and art, as much a part of his inspiration as the literature on which Hogarth's portrait rests. trump would not be the only pug owned by William Hogarth but his place in history is assured, captured forever in this striking work.


Glorious Georgian ginbag, gossip and gadabout Catherine Curzon, aka Madame Gilflurt, is the author of A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life. When not setting quill to paper, she can usually be found gadding about the tea shops and gaming rooms of the capital or hosting intimate gatherings at her tottering abode. In addition to her blog and Facebook, Madame G is also quite the charmer on Twitter. 

Thank you again, Madame for your wonderful gossip. If ever you are in London, Master Hogarth's House is utterly fascinating, although it now no longer residues in rural idyll but on the edge of one of London's most filthy and ugly arterial roads.
Kindest regards,
Grace x

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Thomas Gainsborough: The Painter's Daughters with a Cat

Welcome! In the third post of a short series by guest authors, I'm especially pleased to welcome historical blogger extraoridinaire - Madame Gilflurt, aka Catherine Curzon. Madame is a prolific blogger (quite how she keeps it up I've no idea) on things historcial and the pleasure mine that she's popped by today. So without further ado, over to Madame...

Thomas Gainsborough: The Painter's Daughters with a Cat

With the recent anniversary of the death of Thomas Gainsborough, I have spent some time contemplating his work and this particular painting that caught my eye. Gainsborough was known, of course, for his remarkable portraits and landscapes; he enjoyed a most illustrious client list, including some of the most famous names in Georgian society and his reputation has endured throughout the centuries to this very day, deservedly regarded as one of the icons of 18th century art.

Gainsborough was father to two daughters, Mary and Margaret, born in 1750 and 1751 respectively. He painted them on several occasions and the work that has commanded my attention today is The Painter's Daughters with a Cat, though if you can spot the cat, well done!

This portrait is undated but is believed to have been painted around 1760-61, based on the approximate age of the two girls.The unfinished work shows Mary and Margaret in a casual embrace, looking not directly at the viewer but slightly off to the side, perhaps to where Gainsborough works at the canvas. I find it a striking image and one that captures the spirit of the children, utterly at ease with one another and with with the business of posing for the celebrated artist who to them, was simply a father.
Spot the cat (clue, look at the orange splodge to the right)
At a cursory glance the cat may prove hard to locate but look to the lower right of the painting, where a shape can be identified lounging on Margaret's forearm. Reaching over, Margaret is pulling the animal's tail gently and in the outline of its face, we can see that the feline was far from happy!

Sadly the painting was never finished and as such, we can only catch the barest glimpse of the phantom cat in the little girl's arms, or share this moment of childhood domesticity.

Glorious Georgian ginbag, gossip and gadabout Catherine Curzon, aka Madame Gilflurt, is the author of A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life. When not setting quill to paper, she can usually be found gadding about the tea shops and gaming rooms of the capital or hosting intimate gatherings at her tottering abode. In addition to her blog and Facebook, Madame G is also quite the charmer on Twitter. 

Thank you Catherine, for yet another fascinating post. You are welcome any time, especially if you post about animals. 
G x
Sorry - couldn't resist - any excuse to repost my son's sketch of Widget (she looks a lot happier than Gainsborough's cat!). 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Pangur Ban, a Medieval Cat Poem - by Guest, Kim Rendfeld

I'm delighted to welcome author of historical fiction, Kim Rendfeld, to Fall in Love with History. Kim posts on a subject very close to my heart - cats. I love learning about how cats were depicted in early centuries,  and the delightful poem about an Irish monk's cat is a new treasure. So without further ado, over to Kim.
G x
The delightfully titled "Katzen und Maeuses"
When you read about early medieval times, you expect war and brutal justice, not a charming poem about a cat.
 But such a thing does exists, and it was a pleasant surprise in my research for my novels. I stumbled across “Pangur Ban” in Pierre Riche’s Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne. Written in the margins of a manuscript found in a monastery in today’s Austria, this ninth-century piece is about a cat named Pangur Ban, written by an Irish monk. In the poem, the author compares his hunt for knowledge to the cat’s hunt for mice and describes the satisfaction both get from their arts. (A kind soul has posted two translations of the poem at .)

The poem reveals the affection the poet has for his pet, so much that he’s given his animal a name, and he refers to his cat as “he” rather than “it.” “Pangur Ban” is also relevant to those of us who write and seek knowledge today. Do we not rejoice when we capture that elusive piece of information we’ve been stalking? Are we not so proud we want to meow and drop the prey at our companion’s feet, I mean show it off?

This delightful poem shows a universality in affection for our pets and the pure joy of learning. In many ways, we’ve not changed much from our ancestors, but in this case, it’s a good thing.
Kim Rendfeld
Kim Rendfeld is a cat lover and the author of The Cross and the Dragon (2012, Fireship Press), a tale of love amid wars and blood feuds, and The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar (August 28, 2014, Fireship Press), a story of the lengths a mother will go to protect her children. To read the first chapters of either novel or learn more about Kim, visit You’re also welcome to visit her blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at, like her on Facebook at, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, or contact her at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.

Thank you, Kim! 
OK, this isn't strictly relevant but I'm going to post it anyway! A quick sketch by my son of Widget, my writer's cat. Isn't she gorgeous? Look at that smile. 
Widget - biro on paper :-)

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Thoroughbreds: a Short History of the Turf by Regina Jeffers

I'm delighted to welcome fellow author of historical romance, Regina Jeffers, to Fall in Love wit History. In a short series of guest posts with an animal theme, Regina posts about the history of the thoroughbred. 
Regina is a well-respected and highly qualified teacher, and a successful author. If you would like to know more about Regina's work here is the link to her website. But without further ado, over to my guest
G x
One of the more challenging aspects of writing historical romance is the amount of research one must do. It is not uncommon to spend 8 hours researching a fact that in less than a paragraph in the book. However, one must do it or face the wrath of history savvy readers. Recently, I added the element of thoroughbred racing to a novella entitled “His American Heartsong” (found in His: Two Regency Novellas). I have always said if I hit the lottery, I would move to Kentucky and raise thoroughbreds. So, finding out about thoroughbreds was time consuming, but oh, so exciting.
A modern thoroughbred horse
For example, did you know the origins of modern racing go back to the Crusades. Between the 12th and 16th centuries, Arab stallions were imported into England and mated with English mares to breed in speed and endurance.
Professional horse racing sprang to life in the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714). By 1750, racing’s elite formed the Jockey Club at Newmarket. The Jockey Club still exercises complete control of English racing.
Since 1814, five races for 3-year-olds have been designated as “Classics”: The English Triple Crown, which includes the Epsom Derby, the 2000 Guineas, and the St. Leger Stakes, is open to both male and female horses. The Epsom Oaks and the 1000 Guineas is only for fillies.
A modern Arab horse
In addition to writing rules for racing, the Jockey Club defined steps to regulate horse breeding. James Weatherby traced the complete family history (pedigree) of every horse to race in England. Weatherby served the Jockey Club as its Secretary in 1770. Between 1770 and 1805, he helped to lay the foundation for racehorse pedigrees. With the assistance of his nephews, The General Stud Book, a definitive record of the pedigrees of approximately 400 horses, which were seen as the foundation for all thoroughbred stock worldwide, was published in 1791. By the early 1800s only horses descended from those listed in the General Stud Book could be called “thoroughbreds.”
The General Stud Book
Published London, 1857
Now this is the amazing fact!!! Breed histories generally focus on one of three stallions, which are referred to as the “foundation sires.” These stallions are Byerley Turk (foaled c.1679); the Darley Arabian (foaled c.1700), and Godolphin Arabian (foaled c. 1724).
The three founding fathers of the turf
Following the family tree of the Godolphin Arabian, the Byerley Turk and the Darley Arabian is rather like compiling a ‘who’s who’ of racing champions!
The Godolphin Arabian
**Foaled about 1724

**Probably exported from Yemen via Syria to the stud of the Bey of Tunis

**Initially given to Louis XV of France in 1730, he was then imported to Britain

**Sired the best racehorse of the day, called Lath

**The Godolphin Arabian’s line hasn’t won the Derby since Santa Claus in 1964, and has recently been overshadowed by the Darley Arabian’s descendants
The Byerley Turk
**Foaled about 1680

**His line includes
Descendent Highflyer and his sons were champion stallions 23 times in 25 years

The Byerley Turk
One of the progenitors of the modern thoroughbred
**The Byerley Turk’s line now has much less influence than that of the Darley Arabian.
The Darley Arabian
**Foaled about 1700
**Amongst others, he sired Bartlett’s Childers whose great grandson was Eclipse
**Over 80% of modern racehorses can trace their descent to Eclipse, including the great Canadian stallion Northern Dancer.

The Darley arabian
The golden story of Eclipse
A descendent of the Darley Arabian, Eclipse was foaled in 1764, the year of the great eclipse of the sun. He won 18 races, never appearing the least bit stretched. Owners were reluctant to put their horses up against him and eight of his races were declared walkovers!
Eclipse retired to stud in 1771 and sired three Derby winners but his ability to sire offspring that were well adapted to the new shorter races for two and three year olds ensured him a place in the racing history books.
However, due to terrific competition from Herod and the Byerley Turk line, Eclipse was never actually declared champion.
After his death, Eclipse was dissected to try to work out the secret of his success – it was decided that his huge heart pumped blood around the body more effectively, while his back legs gave plenty of leverage. Powerful lungs completed the winning combination. His skeleton is still owned by the Royal Veterinary College. [Note by Grace: I have seen the sombre sight of Eclispe's skeletion. It is on display in the foyee of the main building at the RVC's site at Potters Bar. Even so, the skeleton has an elegance and vivacity that you would not credit bones with.]
The Thoroughbred Heritage website (which includes detailed lists of the sire lines for the three foundation sires) says of the “Historic Sires”: “Thoroughbreds descend in tail-male line to one of these stallions, upwards of 200 stallions, Arabians, Barbs, Turks, and others, were imported into England and are so noted in the General Stud Book. History has managed to overlook many of these early sires, despite the fact that some wielded an even more profound influence on the breed than any one of the three foundation sires. Some, such as the Darcy White Turk had male lines that survived five and six generations and produced many important runners and sires before becoming extinct in direct male descent. Others, such as Fairfax’s Morocco Barb, survive in pedigrees through a single son or daughter, but their blood still runs deep in the Thoroughbred.”

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Henry VIII's Bedtime Habits

The Tudor court was rife with politics and power-play – and never more so than in the bedroom. Being a gentleman of the King’s bedchamber meant intimate contact with the monarch – and so only the most privileged and trusted were admitted to the position. This was a reflection of the closeness to the monarch’s ear and possible influence on government policy.
Henry VIII holding court in his bedchamber
Keys to the bedchamber became a symbol of power. That most intimate of servants, The Groom of the Stool (the stool referred to is the Tudor equivalent of the toilet) wore as a badge of office ‘a gold key on a blue ribbon’ – and had to authority to demand that ‘no other keys for the bed-chamber be made or allowed.’ Even so the king had little privacy.
See his sheets be clean, then fold down his bed, and warm his night kerchief and see his house of office be clean, help off his clothes, and draw the curtains, make sure the fire and candles, avoid [throw out] the dogs, and shut the doors.

Henry VIII didn’t sleep with his wife unless he wanted intercourse in which event he visited her chambers. However, there were always attendants in his room, either sleeping on a small wheeled bed pulled out from beneath the royal bed, or even favoured servants such as Thomas Culpepper ‘ordinarily shared [the King’s] bed’.
Henry VIII had a set of household rules about how to make up his bed. He slept on a pile of eight mattresses and each night he had a servant roll on the bed, to check for hidden enemies with daggers. After this the servant would kiss the places he had touched, sprinkle the sheets with holy water and make the sign of the cross over the bed.

But over time, even Henry became tired of this invasion of privacy. At Hampton Court he built so-called ‘secret lodgings’ with a new policy for bedchamber staff. Of his six Gentlemen of the Bedchamber, only one now had the automatic right to enter – the rest had to be invited.
“The King’s express commandment is, that none other of the said six gentlemen, presume to enter of follow his Grace into the said bed chamber, or any other secret place, unless he shall be called.”
Henry I employed a ‘porter of the King’s bed’ – a man with a packhorse whose job it was to convey the king’s bed from castle to castle. A royal progress was a means by which the monarch exerted his authority over his nobles. Any aristocrat seeking to impress maintained a special bedroom for visiting sovereigns. This meant having a state-bed; a colossal construction with a canopy fifteen foot high, hung with gorgeous and expensive tapestries. One example was the state bed at Woburn Abbey, commissioned appropriately enough by the Duke of Bedford – at a cost equivalent to today of half a million pounds.

Sumptuous as a state bed sounds, sometimes there is no substitute for comfort rather than show. Elizabeth I spent her last nights of life on a pile of cushions on the floor, rather than in her 11 foot ostrich-feather bed – proving size isn’t everything. 

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Welcome! "Queen of Bedlam" Author Laura Purcell

Today I'm delighted to welcome author, Laura Purcell to Fall in Love with History. As an indie author Laura's has achieved what most can only dream of, being spotted and signed by major publisher Myrmidon. Laura is a fellow member of the English Historical Fiction Authors group, and is always so supportive that it is with great pleasure. Over to Laura...

When you write biographical fiction, you need to have a connection with your subject. One of the aspects of Queen Charlotte’s character that endeared to me was her fondness for dogs. Even though this queen had fifteen children, her heart was never too full for a canine companion.
Laura Purcell
 Charlotte rarely appears in a portrait without her dogs. Even her statue in the town of Charlotte North Carolina has a dog jumping up her skirts.  Although Charlotte’s pets would not be like the breeds we recognise today, the visual records show similarities to modern dogs. An early portrait of Charlotte with her two young sons, George and Frederick, has her resting her hand on the head of what looks to be a Great Dane. In the 1779 picture by Benjamin West, she has a long haired white dog, similar to a Papillion, at her feet. Later, in Gainsborough’s portrait of 1781, we see a white and tan spaniel like a Cavalier King Charles. Over a decade on, Charlotte appears in a painting by Sir William Beechey with no less than three dogs; one in her arms that looks like a Shi Tzu, with a possible Border Collie and Greyhound lounging behind. That’s a lot of canines, all beloved enough to make it into an official portrait!
The first dog I came across in Charlotte’s life was at the start of her marriage in 1761. An inventory of St. James’s Palace lists “a large soft cushion stuffed with hair” for the queen’s dog Presto. Presto was evidently a great favourite - there are records of him following Charlotte on official occasions and tripping her guests up! However, he was later eclipsed by a spaniel named Badine.
Queen Charlotte with one of her dogs
Badine, which means “playful” in French, was the most famous of Charlotte’s dogs. He was at court around the same time as Fanny Burney, which means he featured in many of the novelist’s diaries and letters.
The queen, Burney wrote, when she goes to early prayers, often leaves me the charge of her little favourite dog, Badine. To-day, after her return, she sent her page for him; and presently after, I had a rap again at the door, and the little Princess Sophia entered. "Miss Burney," cried she, curtseying and colouring, "Mamma has sent me for the little dog's basket."
It seems Badine was a dog particularly attune to his owner’s feelings. Charlotte was deeply distressed after an assassination attempt on her husband. Badine would not leave her while she was unhappy. When [the queen} was dressed for the chapel, she desired me to keep little Badine; but he ran out after her.

Badine was also one of the first dogs admitted to the presence of George III during his bout of “madness” in 1788. The King tied a blue ribbon around Badine’s neck, declaring that the dog loved him, not Charlotte. Poor Badine must have been very confused by the shifting mood of his master during this time.
When George recovered in 1789, the royal family set off on a celebratory tour to Weymouth. They broke their journey at the New Forest, where they were presented with two white Greyhounds wearing silver collars. These probably went into the King’s household, but we do have a record of a smaller, Italian Greyhound in Charlotte’s possession, named Phillis. Phillis was a sweet-natured, elegant pet, “a small masterpiece of nature”. She attended Charlotte and Badine to Weymouth.
Another breed Charlotte was fond of was the Pomeranian. There is a painting of Charlotte by Stroehling from 1807 with a Pomeranian jumping up at the side; this may have been one of her pair named Mercury and Phoebe. These small, fluffy dogs obviously made an impression on Charlotte’s son, Prince George. In 1791, the prince commissioned Stubbs to paint his own set of Pomeranians, Fino and Tiny.

Of course dogs were not the only animals Charlotte loved. Her menagerie at Kew boasted elephants, zebra and no less than eighteen kangaroos. With so many children and a veritable zoo of pets, I imagine the servants of George III and Queen Charlotte were kept very busy – and very stressed! 

If you would like to know more about Laura and her work, here are some useful links.