What I’ve Been Reading: “Lady Clementine”

Big Ben. London, England.
Big Ben, London, England. September, 2008. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Back in November, I blogged about my trip to the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. The staff calls this library the “Carnegie Carnegie.” I travelled to the Carnegie Carnegie to hear author Marie Benedict speak about her historical fiction novel “Carnegie’s Maid.”

Benedict impressed me so much with her presentation that I vowed to hear her speak again. Well, lucky me. Benedict announced during her Carnegie Carnegie talk that she had a brand new novel – “Lady Clementine” – coming out in January. (This historical fiction novel is about Mrs. Winston Churchill.) Benedict planned to speak at the Barnes & Noble in Monroeville about this new book today – January 5.

So, I marked my calendar for January 5.

Now, I have a confession. Before today, I don’t think that I have EVER driven myself from New Kensington to the Monroeville Mall. I used to drive to Monroeville all of the time back when I lived in Johnstown. I knew how to hop onto the Turnpike in Somerset or else Route 22 and show up in Monroeville. But I had no reason to visit Monroeville after I got my job in downtown Pittsburgh.

Google Maps told me that I could drive from my house to the Monroeville Mall in less than 30 minutes by taking a whole bunch of back roads. I left my house two hours early and I ended up in Penn Hills.

I still showed up at the Monroeville Barnes & Noble about 1.5 hours early. I went into the mall’s Bath & Body Works, but this still left me with way too much time to kill.

This was a really long way for me to tell you that I was the very first person to sit down in the special section of folding chairs reserved for Marie Benedict’s book talk. Since I sat down first, I went for the gold and sat in the center of the very first row.

A lot of people showed up for the book talk, but NOBODY sat down in the first row with me. Maybe I scared everyone else?

At the book signing, I told Benedict that I marked my calendar to attend this talk because I enjoyed her November presentation about “Carnegie’s Maid” so much.

Then, I overheard a man telling somebody else that he was a journalist for the Trib (one of Pittsburgh’s online “newspapers”). So, I approached him and told him the same thing that I had just told Benedict. He didn’t ASK me for a quote; I GAVE him a quote. Then I made him write down my name and town.

So, yeah, I guess that I acted creepy today. My sisters should feel so relieved that they weren’t with me.

The talk was totally worth getting lost in Penn Hills. Benedict is a very good speaker. I learned all about the Churchill family’s life in Great Britain through two World Wars. I cannot wait to read the actual novel.

I want to attend Benedict’s future talks in Pittsburgh when she launches her next books. And maybe next time, I won’t act like a stalker.

It Started Here: Lochry’s Defeat

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. January, 2010. (Photo: Jonathan Woytek)

Lochry’s Defeat started in 1781 when Archibald Lochry raised a militia unit in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. About one hundred men set off down the Ohio River from Fort Pitt (which later became Pittsburgh). A few weeks later, the entire group ended up captured or killed.

Archibald Lochry was a Westmoreland County leader during the American Revolutionary War. The British occupied Detroit. The American colonists in Western PA were at war with the British and their Native American allies. Many of these Native American allies attacked from the Ohio territory west of PA.

(The colonists referred to the British general in Detroit as “Hair Buyer Hamilton” because the British paid for the scalps of American colonists.)

Thomas Jefferson, then the governor of Virginia, promoted George Rogers Clark to the Virginia rank of Brigadier General. In 1781, Clark left Fort Pitt to navigate down the Ohio River into the Ohio territory.

Lochry and his militiamen followed in their own flotilla some time later. Lochry was supposed to meet up with Clark’s expedition downriver. Unfortunately, after a number of issues including supplies, communication, and the threat of desertions among Clark’s men, Lochry missed Clark several times. Lochry never caught up to Clark.

In August 1781, Joseph Brant and George Girty led Native Americans allied with the British. (George Girty was Simon Girty‘s brother.) This group set out looking for Clark.

Brant and Girty instead surprised Lochry, who had stopped on the banks of the Ohio River in present-day Indiana. Brant and Girty ambushed Lochry and killed him. They killed dozens of his men and took the rest prisoner.

The families back in Westmoreland County didn’t learn about this until a significant time later.

The Wikipedia entry for this event also refers to it as the Lochry Massacre. I chose to not use the word “massacre” because indignenous people were involved in the victory. I explained my choice of semantics in this other blog post.

If you want a much more detailed account of Lochry’s Defeat and Clark’s expedition, by all means go read the Wikipedia entry on this. The Wikipedia page includes a photo of the Lochry’s Defeat site in Indiana. I also saw in this photo some military equipment that I believe came from a 20th century war. To be honest, at first glance I mistook this equipment to be an empty boat trailer. (This is IS along the Ohio River banks.)

I wrote today’s blog post for all of the people who, like me, don’t remember learning about this in high school history class. In fact, I never even heard this story from my Westmoreland County family members who first told me about Simon Girty. I learned about Lochry’s Defeat from the historical fiction novel “The Day Must Dawn” by Agnes Sligh Turnbull.

Just to keep this in context with other local history, Lochry’s men from Westmoreland County set off from Fort Pitt in the summer of 1781. Lochry’s Defeat happened in Indiana in August 1781. The Crawford Expedition set off down the Ohio River in May 1782. (William Crawford led this expedition. Most of his militiamen came from Westmoreland and Washington counties.) The British and their Native American allies captured and executed Crawford in Ohio in June 1782. Simon Girty was present at Crawford’s execution. Then, the British and their Native American allies attacked and burned Hannastown in Westmoreland County in July 1782. The Revolutionary War ended in 1783.

According to Wikipedia, Joseph Brant allegedly got into a violent, drunken brawl with Simon Girty over the issue of whether Brant or George Girty deserved the credit for Lochry’s Defeat. Brant was a Mohawk military leader and Girty (who was himself raised by Native Americans) has an infamous reputation in frontier America. At least one Canadian monument refers to Simon Girty as a British Loyalist. Keep this in mind when you read such tales.

What I’ve Been Reading: “The Huntress”

Last summer, Jonathan gave me a copy of “The Huntress” by Kate Quinn for my birthday. World War II novels aren’t really my thing, so I put it in my stack of “to be read” books.

I’ve been sick since the day after Christmas until yesterday, so I read “The Huntress.” It was so good! I could not put it down. This is a historical fiction novel about a British Nazi hunter in the 1950’s mixed with flashbacks from a female Soviet fighter pilot (a member of the Night Witches in World War II) and also the tale of a Boston teenager whose father married a German war refugee with a shadowy past.

Here’s a random scene that pleased me to read: the British Nazi hunter walked into his office and saw his team member, the female Soviet pilot, reading the 1950’s British Regency romance novel “Regency Buck” by Georgette Heyer.

The Brit asked the Soviet woman, “Why do you read that tosh?

She responded, “I come to library my first month in Manchester – need books to learn about England, practice my reading. The librarian, she says, “Georgette Heyer is England.” Is not much like the England I see, but maybe is the war?

I personally didn’t read “Regency Buck” by Georgette Heyer, but I DID read “The Spanish Bride” by Georgette Heyer. Now, romantic historical fiction doesn’t have a very good reputation for literary snobs. However, it fills its own role in a nation’s culture. Georgette Heyer researched her historical fiction. She wrote the book “The Spanish Bride” about the adventures of real-life army wife Juana Smith during the Napoleonic Wars, and she based the tale partly on the memoirs of Smith’s husband, Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Smith. (Sir Harry served as a junior British officer during the Peninsula Wars. He was at the White House when the British burned it down during the War of 1812. He was at the Battle of New Orleans when Andrew Jackson defeated the British. He was at Waterloo. He commanded his own victory in India. He became a governor of British South Africa.)

Now that I think about it, the fictional character in “The Huntress” who read Georgette Heyer novels was a war refugee who spoke no English when she entered into a marriage of convenience with a British man who could keep her from starving to death. Real-life Juana Smith was also a war refugee, and she did the same thing.

I like to think that back in the 1950’s, a British librarian really DID tell war refugees to improve their English and learn about England by reading Georgette Heyer romance novels.

******* This last paragraph contains spoilers: Most of the English Regency romance novels (and also most of the non-English Regency romance novels that are STYLED after English Regency romance novels) that I read include the following story line: a woman marries a man because she HAS to marry him. She needs to have a husband so that she doesn’t get raped, so that she isn’t labeled as promiscuous, so that she can get her papers to emigrate to England. Whatever. The man agrees to the marriage of convenience out of the goodness of his heart because he sees himself as the woman’s protector. Both parties agree that it’s a paper marriage. However, as the story progresses, the couple falls in love with each other. The exact same thing happened in “The Huntress” between the British Nazi hunter and the female Soviet fighter pilot. ******

The Brutal Tale of Colonel William Crawford

Monument to Colonel William Crawford. Dedicated by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Monument says, "FORT CRAWFORD ERECTED MAY 1775 THIS STOCKADE WAS USED AS A MUNIITION-SUPPLY AND REFUGE POST FROM 1776 THROUGH THE INDIAN RAIDS OF 1791-1793 NAMED FOR COL. WILLIAM CRAWFORD. PLACED BY MASSY HARBISON CHAPTER D.A.R. 1942)
The Massy Harbison Chapter of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) dedicated this monument to Colonel William Crawford in Parnassus, New Kensington, PA, in 1943. Photo dated October, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I just learned that Parnassus (in New Kensington, PA) shares a man’s brutal life story with downtown Columbus, Ohio. In fact, this story even left its mark on Columbus’ current National Hockey League arena.

I discovered this from an episode of Haunted Talks – The Official Podcast of the Haunted Walk, hosted by Creative Director Jim Dean. In Episode 68 – Columbus Ghost Tours, the host interviewed the Columbus tour co-owner Bucky Cutright.

Cutright shared one ghost story from his tour – the tale of haunted (cursed, even) Nationwide Arena, the home of the Columbus Blue Jackets, an NHL team. Cutright revealed that the arena was built on the parking lot for the former Ohio Penitentiary.

Cutright noted that an indigenous Mingo village (Salt-Lick Town) once stood on this entire property. He talked about the village’s destruction in 1774. He noted the tragic death toll of Mingo families, at the hands of white settlers led by a man named William Crawford.

Wait a minute,” I thought. “Our William Crawford?

See, I live in the Parnassus neighborhood in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. Parnassus emerged from the remains of Fort Crawford, at the confluence of Pucketa Creek and the Allegheny River.

Colonel William Crawford’s troops in the Continental Army built Fort Crawford in 1777. This was during the American Revolutionary War. Crawford previously fought with the British in the French and Indian War in the 1750’s. Crawford survived the Battle of the Monongahela (Braddock’s Defeat) in 1755. Crawford knew George Washington!

I Googled “William Crawford” and “Columbus.” I saw the portrait of the man who led the attack on Salt-Lick Town in present-day Columbus. This was indeed “our” William Crawford!

Now, to be clear, I do realize that William Crawford doesn’t “belong” to New Kensington. Crawford was born in Virginia. Connellsville, PA, reconstructed his Pennsylvania log cabin. Crawford County, PA, was named after William Crawford. Crawford County, OH, was also named after William Crawford.

I just read a bunch of Crawford’s top Google search results. I skimmed his Wikipedia page. He incites controversy today. He led military expeditions during a time when colonial America was at war with various Europeans and also with various Native Americans. Carnage resulted. I could write an entire blog just on Crawford’s bloody travels and still not get my hands around his legacy.

For instance, Crawford entangled himself in Lord Dunmore’s War. The white settlers and the Shawnee and Mingo tribes attacked each other in this conflict. Virginia and Pennsylvania also violently challenged each other over their border, including a chunk of Western PA. The Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh has an exhibit about this.

Let me tell you a little bit about how Colonel William Crawford died.

First, keep in mind that the American Revolutionary War ended in 1783. However, in the years before this, the settlers in colonial Pennsylvania and Ohio fought the British and they also fought assorted Native American communities. The settlers killed Native Americans, and the Native Americans killed settlers.

In 1778, Crawford led an expedition of colonial settlers that massacred a village of Native American women in Ohio. (The men who lived in this village were away from home at the time.) This colonial expedition included a guide named Simon Girty.

Girty witnessed the slaughter of these Native American women. He later expressed his revulsion for this violence.

Girty returned to his “home base” at Fort Pitt in Pittsburgh. However, Girty then fled west from Pittsburgh. Girty defected from the colonial settlers and joined the British who were in Ohio and Detroit. (Again, this was during the American Revolutionary War against the British.)

The whole “Simon Girty thing” was a big deal at this time because Girty was a white man from Central PA who had been captured by Seneca warriors as a child. Girty grew up learning the Iroquois, Delaware, and Shawnee languages. Girty built relationships with several Native American communities. He worked as a guide and interpreter. Can you imagine the talent and “institutional knowledge” that he could provide to the British?

(Alexander McKee, of McKees Rocks fame, defected with Girty.)

Then, in 1782, Crawford led the Crawford Expedition against Native American villages along the Sandusky River in Ohio. These Native Americans and their British allies in Detroit found out about the expedition, and they prepared to engage it. These Native Americans and the British troops defeated Crawford and his militiamen. 

A force of Lenape and Wyandot warriors captured Crawford. They tortured Crawford. They executed him by burning him on June 11, 1782.

Simon Girty was there, at William Crawford’s execution.

In fact, witnesses alleged that Girty “egged on” Crawford’s captors as they tortured him. Witnesses even alleged that Crawford begged Girty to shoot him as he burned alive, and that Girty laughed at Crawford.

Girty denied that he encouraged the warriors who tortured Crawford.

Girty settled in Detroit, among the British. Years later, Detroit became part of the United States and Girty fled to Canada. At least one internet source listed Girty as a Canadian historical figure. I learned that Girty’s name appears on an Ontario memorial for “Loyalists” (to the British Crown).

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) dedicated at least two plaques in Girty’s memory.

Now, Hannastown was the first county seat of Westmoreland County, PA. I read that the town lost a significant portion of its able-bodied fighting men in the Crawford Expedition. On July 13, 1782, Seneca warrior Guyasuta and his men burned Hannastown and its crops. Greensburg became the county seat after this.

If you want to read historical fiction in which William Crawford and Simon Girty appear, then I suggest “The Day Must Dawn” by Agnes Sligh Turnbull.

Fates and Traitors

This spring, author Jennifer Chiaverini released Resistance Women, a novel about the German Resistance in World War II. The protagonists in this novel included Mildred Fish Harnack, a Wisconsin native whom the Nazis arrested for spying. Adolf Hitler personally ordered Harnack’s execution. Resistance Women reached bestselling lists and garnered accolades this summer.

I didn’t read Resistance Women (yet). Instead, I read Chiaverini’s 2016 historical fiction Fates and Traitors: A Novel of John Wilkes Booth.

In case you’re not an American, actor John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC, in April 1865.

Fates and Traitors” told the story of Booth and these four women who “loved” him (according to the book jacket):

1.) his mother Mary Ann Booth;

2.) his sister Asia Booth Clarke;

3.) his secret fiancée Lucy Hale (the daughter of an abolitionist Republican senator from New Hampshire); and

4.) boardinghouse owner Mary Surratt. The United States government executed Surratt over her alleged role in the Lincoln assassination.

Now, before I get into too much detail about Fates and Traitors, I want to use Chiaverini’s work to explain one reason that I love historical fiction so much.

Chiaverini’s published historical fiction highlighted these families (among others): the Booths, the Lincolns, the Chases (Salmon P. Chase and daughter Kate Chase Sprague), the Grants, and the Byrons (Lord Byron and daughter Ada Lovelace). 

The historical characters in Chiaverini books discussed the characters from other books.

For instance, several of the historical figures from Chiaverini’s other books (including Abraham Lincoln) went to see the Booth brothers perform prior to the Lincoln assassination. Several of the historical figures from these books enjoyed reading Lord Byron’s poetry. Several of the historical figures from these books gossiped about Kate Chase Sprague’s political ambitions for her father. Several of the historical figures from these books observed Mary Lincoln’s fine wardrobe. In Fates and Traitors, John Wilkes Booth stalked both the Lincolns and the Grants prior to the Lincoln assassination. In another Chiaverini book, Mrs. Grant observed John Wilkes Booth stalking her.

 I learned from my reading that nobody’s family dynamics are perfect.

I personally enjoyed Fates and Traitors. However, the first part of the book moved slowly. I learned about the large Booth family. Family patriarch Junius Brutus Booth Sr. was named after one of the assassins in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Junius Sr. established a highly successful Shakespearean stage acting career in London and Europe. Junius Sr. and Mary Ann fled to the United States to avoid a scandal. Junius Sr. reestablished his acting career in America to great fanfare and acclaim.

The Booth family struggled with one family crisis after another. (Pardon the cliché, but the Booth family created a lot of family drama!)

Three of Junius Sr.’s sons (Junius Jr., Edwin, and John Wilkes) followed their father into acting. I’m under the impression that historians considered Edwin to be a more accomplished actor than his famous father.

Asia raised her own large family and also established herself as a writer and poet. She produced several memoirs about the Booths.

I recommend this book to readers of Civil War historical fiction.

The Next Together

I went looking for books that “seemed to be similar” to Green Darkness by Anya Seton. This, I mean books about sweethearts who lost each other in one time period, were reincarnated, and found each other in another time.

I found The Next Together by Lauren James.

The Next Together followed two sweethearts, Katherine and Matthew, as they lived through four time periods: The Siege of Carlisle, England, during the Jacobite rising in 1745; The Crimean War in 1854; a British government conspiracy in June 2019; and a second British government conspiracy in 2039.

Several times, Katherine and Matthew parted in tragedy and found each other in the next life.

In my opinion, The Next Together qualified as: Young Adult (for mature teenagers), Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Historical Fiction. The book referenced sex and included a few off-color jokes. The book did not include graphic sex scenes.

I actually gave the book a not-great rating on one of the book rating websites. However, I blog about this book tonight because you might disagree with my reasons for the harsh rating.

I rated the book unfavorably for two reasons:

Reason #1: The Next Together ended with several loose ends. I can’t elaborate more without giving away spoilers. However, after I finished the book, I learned from reading the book’s other ratings that at least one sequel exists. This was not at all evident to me from the promotional material that I saw when I purchased the book. I saw absolutely nothing on the book’s jacket or opening pages that this was the first book in a set. I’m not happy that the book ended with loose ends and that I need to purchase at least one additional book in order to read a resolution. If I wanted to read a series, then I would have actively searched for a series.

Let me explain something: back in high school, I read the book The Giver by Lois Lowry. The Giver ended with no clear resolution. I finished the book feeling annoyed and confused. I wondered if somebody tore the final pages out of the school library’s copy. Up until then, Lois Lowry was one of my absolute favorite authors. I discovered YEARS later that The Giver was actually the first book in a four-book series. Absolutely nothing on The Giver‘s jacket alerted me to this. We didn’t have the internet back then at my high school, so I couldn’t find this out via a Google search. I guess that I’m still slightly ticked off about this.

Reason #2: One of the protagonists concluded that society was better off because the Jacobite rising for Scottish independence ended the way that it did in 1745. I’m an American. I didn’t study the Jacobite rising in high school or college. I don’t have an opinion on the Jacobite rising. However, I’m under the impression that the issue of Scottish independence is still a touchy subject across the pond. I felt as if this author forced her own opinion on readers, especially the Young Adult readers.

Diana Gabaldon’s The Outlander series also explored the Jacobite risings. So did Sir Walter Scott’s The Waverly Novels. So, you probably don’t agree with my reason #2.

By the way, the book listed a copyright of 2015. So, the author wrote this book prior to the 2016 United Kingdom Brexit vote, the 2016 United States presidential election, and the 2019 United Kingdom Conservative Party leadership election. Be assured that the protagonists made NO statements about Donald Trump, Brexit, or Boris Johnson.

Let me know if you read The Next Together.

Misery Bay and Graveyard Pond

You are all fantastic for reading my blog! I’ve had several readers reach out to me in the past month. I appreciate you all for taking precious time out of your full lives to digest my stories. I don’t want to let you down.

I will tell you a little bit more about our brief sailing adventures on Lake Erie. First, let me tell you about Misery Bay and Graveyard Pond.

The “Greater Erie, PA” region sits on the south shore of Lake Erie, and also on the south shore of Presque Isle Bay. Presque Isle Bay’s west and north boundaries exist due to a Peninsula that extends into Lake Erie.

To the west and the north of Presque Isle Bay is a peninsula that extends into Lake Erie. (On this peninsula now sits Presque Isle State Park. )

The Native Americans known as the “Eriez Nation” inhabited this area hundreds of years ago. The Iroquois defeated the Eriez in the 1600’s.

If you leave from Erie and head toward the open lake, then Erie (the city) will be on your starboard side and the peninsula will be on your port side.

You will travel past a monument to Commander Oliver Hazard Perry at Presque Isle State Park. Then, you will travel past Misery Bay.

Monument to Commander Oliver Hazard Perry

Then, you will travel through a shipping channel. Finally, you will pass the North Pier Lighthouse. Congratulations. You are on the open lake.

Perry commanded the U.S.’s Lake Erie naval fleet in 1813. This was during the War of 1812, the United States’ second war against the British. This U.S. naval fleet was at Presque Isle Bay when Perry took command. Perry’s forces broke a British blockade at Presque Isle. Then they defeated the British off of the Ohio coast at the Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813.

Perry then returned to Presque Isle Bay.

Do you remember when I wrote that the bay next to the Perry monument is called “Misery Bay?” Well, the bay earned its name from what happened after the Battle of Lake Erie. Many returning sailors contracted smallpox and died in quarantine. They died aboard ships harbored in Misery Bay. The ones who didn’t get sick buried these sailors in the pond next to Misery Bay. Then, sailors who got sick but hadn’t yet died also got “buried” in the pond.

Local storytellers renamed the pond “Graveyard Pond.”

The navy sunk the hulls of two of their ships, the USS Lawrence and the USS Niagara, in Misery Bay for preservation.

In 1875, preservationists raised the Lawrence. They shipped her to Philadelphia. Exhibitors displayed the Lawrence at the U.S. Centennial International Exhibition of 1876. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the Lawrence at that same exhibition.

Preservationists raised and rebuilt the USS Niagara in 1913, then rebuilt her again in 1988. The reconstructed USS Niagara now sails regularly from her dock in Erie, past Misery Bay, on her way to the open lake.

Flagship Niagara Passes Fishermen on the North Pier

My husband, Jonathan, and I purchased our sailboat, S/V Pinniped, last autumn from the original owners, P. and M. In fact, P. built the boat himself from a set of plans. P. told us to be careful to stay away from Misery Bay when we travelled through the channel. Misery Bay is shallow, compared to the shipping channel. P. admitted that he actually grounded Pinniped on various sandbars in Misery Bay.

So of course, when we returned to the bay from our first sail together on the open lake, we accidentally steered into Misery Bay.

Misery Bay at that particular spot has a datum depth of four feet. Pinniped drafts five a half feet.

Fortunately for us, Lake Erie is high this summer. So, the actual depth on that spot on that day was seven and a half feet. We lucked out!

A week later, we again sailed onto the open lake. We sailed past a docked freighter before we left the bay.

Freighter

We sailed about one third of the way across Lake Erie.

And . . . we avoided steering into Misery Bay on the way back!

However, after several hours of sailing, the wind died and the flies appeared. Lots of flies. We motored for over an hour, covered in flies, to reach our slip at our marina. (For the record, we sprayed ourselves generously with bug spray. We still received fly bites.)

Despite Misery Bay and the flies, we both had positive experiences on both sailing trips. Stay tuned for more sailing adventures and more stories from history.

Tintern Abbey, Iron Maiden, and Jane Austen

Once upon a time, I followed my husband Jonathan on his business travel to London. We rented a car. We drove to Tintern Abbey, in Wales, on the River Wye.

Well, Jonathan drove our British rental car on the left side of the road. Jonathan maneuvered the traffic circles (roundabouts). I navigated.

Here’s the first road sign that we saw after we crossed the line into Wales. Note that the first three lines of this sign are in Welsh and the final three lines are in English:

PAN FYDD

GOLAU COCH

ARHOSWCH YM

WHEN RED LIGHT

SHOWS WAIT

HERE

We almost didn’t tour Tintern Abbey.

The government runs this landmark as a day-use attraction, so it closes before the sun sets. The staff ends ticket sales 30 minutes before the attraction closes for the day. We got lost and then we arrived at Tintern Abbey about an hour before it closed.

But we made it!

Cistercian monks established and maintained Tintern Abbey between 1131- 1536. Tintern Abbey closed in 1536 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Here are some of the things that happened:

1.) The monarchs in England used to be Roman Catholic.

2.) The Protestant Reformation began in Saxony (Germany) in 1517.

3.) Henry VIII of England wanted to end his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon in 1533 so that he could marry Anne Boleyn.

4.) Henry VIII rejected papal supremacy. Parliament passed a law establishing Henry as the head of the Church of England.

5.) In the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry closed all of the monasteries, including Tintern Abbey.

6.) Henry’s agents stripped the monastic property of anything and everything valuable, including the lead roof.

(In Anya Seton’s novel Green Darkness, one of the main characters lived as an English monk in a different Catholic monastery. Henry VIII also closed this monastery during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The novel detailed how Henry VIII’s officials plundered that monastery of its valuables and banished the monks. At least one of these monks fled to France. Many of them remained in England but hid from the Protestants during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI. The King’s officials grew their own wealth by closing the monasteries. See my prior blog post about Anya Seton.)

The band Iron Maiden filmed their music video for “Can I Play with Madness” partly at Tintern Abbey.

Jane Austen shouts-out to Tintern Abbey in her novel Mansfield Park.

Wikipedia taught me that Allen Ginsburg tripped on acid here in 1967 and then wrote his poem Wales Visitation.

William Wordsworth also wrote a poem about Tintern Abbey.

The Wye Valley Railway established a station near the Abbey in 1876. Though prior tourists visited Tintern by boat, fashionable Victorians could now access it by train.

We left the Abbey and grabbed dinner at a local pub. Other patrons spoke Welsh to each other.

We drove through the rural darkness back to London.

Watch for my upcoming blog posts about my adventures in travel.

Ancient Henge and Modern Pagans

Today is May 1. May Day. The ancient festival of Beltane.

Ancient residents of Northern Europe celebrated May 1 as a spring festival. My ancient ancestors most likely celebrated on May Day.

In Anya Seton‘s historical fiction novel Katherine, the serfs living on the English protagonist’s estate snuck off and observed Beltane. A nobleman discovered them and ended the party. The powerful men in this novel forbid Beltane since it wasn’t a “Christian” holiday. They labeled Beltane as “pagan.”

In honor of May Day, I blog today about a place in England that predated Christianity in England. Modern-day Pagans (Contemporary Pagans / Neopagans) still gather at this landmark to observe their own beliefs. I blog today about Avebury.

My husband Jonathan travelled to London for business a few times. I took vacation days from my own job, purchased plane tickets, and squatted in his hotel room so that I could blog about England.

Jonathan had a weekend “off,” so we rented a British car. We drove several hours out of London and visited rural England.

My cousin R. previously lived in the United Kingdom for a year. We asked R. for sightseeing recs. Cousin R. told us about Avebury in Wiltshire, in southwest England.

Avebury Henge, a Neolithic henge monument, encircles a section of the village of Avebury. A ditch surrounds the henge.

UNESCO classifies this as part of its “Stonehenge, Avebury, and Associated Sites” World Heritage site.

We decided through our research that Avebury was more accessible to us than Stonehenge from our hotel “base” in London. We had limited “free” time during our trip. So, we skipped Stonehenge in favor of Avebury.

To our delight, Avebury and its attractions charged no admission. We found it uncrowded, too!

Visitors can even shop inside the henge.

Sheep graze among the Avebury Henge.

In fact, I watched a sheep rub itself against the henge stones.

Look at the below photo. Some of the henge stones show long-term wear at sheep level.

We explored the actual village of Avebury:

Here is the Parish Church of St. James in Avebury. To be clear, this IS a currently operating Christian (Anglican) church. I include St. James in the middle of this blog post because it sits in the village of Avebury.

St. James dates from approximately 100o A.D. The Normans possibly altered the church after the Norman Invasion in 1066 A.D.

The residents on this land now called Avebury once celebrated such pre-Christian rites as Beltane. The status quo maintained Beltane as a festival.

Then, the (Roman Catholic) Church brought Christianity to Avebury. The status quo no longer maintained the pre-Christian beliefs and festivals. The status quo maintained Roman Catholicism.

Then, in the 1500’s, Henry VIII established the (Protestant) Church of England. Henry dissolved the Roman Catholic monasteries. His supporters prosecuted practicing Catholics. Henry VIII died. Henry’s son Edward VI maintained Protestantism as the status quo in England. Edward VI died.

Henry’s daughter, Mary I, then became Queen. She reinstated Roman Catholicism and persecuted Protestants. Mary I died.

Henry’s daughter Elizabeth I became queen. The status quo changed again, this time in favor of Protestants.

(This actually provides much of the setting for Anya Seton‘s time travel / reincarnation novel Green Darkness.)

In 1561, Elizabeth I ordered that all churches destroy their rood screens. (The rood screen separated a church’s chancel from its nave.) Unknown parties disassembled the rood screen at St. James and hid it behind a false wall. Church inhabitants discovered the rood screen in 1810. St. James parishioners restored the screen and reinstalled it by the end of the 1800’s.

Here is St. James’ churchyard:

Again, I include St. James in the middle of this blog post because it sits in the village of Avebury.

The rest of this post details landmarks several miles outside of Avebury. We had to drive to these these places. They are “associated sites” included in the official Stonehenge, Avebury, and Associated Sites UNESCO World Heritage Site:

West Kennet Long Barrow:

This neolithic tomb contained the remains of over 40 individuals.

We parked and walked up a hill in order to view West Kennet Long Barrow. Partway up this hill we came upon a tree filled with ribbons. Unknown visitors tied various items to many of the ribbons.

Here is the inside of West Kennet Long Barrow. Earlier visitors lit candles inside the barrow before we entered it.

Silbury Hill:

This prehistoric artificial mound is the largest one in Europe.

Thank you for letting me share my adventures with you!

Check back for my upcoming blog post about Tintern Abbey, Iron Maiden, and Jane Austin.

(Note: Henry VIII closed Tintern Abbey in 1536 when he replaced Roman Catholicism with Protestantism as the status quo.)

Happy Beltane!

Anya Seton and Reincarnation

This is a book report on Green Darkness by Anya Seton.

Anya Seton (1904 – 1990) wrote several historical fiction novels about real-life and fictional protagonists. My high school library, my college library, and my Grandma Gaffron’s library all carried her books. Philippa Gregory wrote forwards to new editions of several Seton novels.

I read Dragonwyck first.

Perhaps our high school librarian set it out as one of her recommended books. Dragonwyck told the fictional tale of a poor young farm woman in New York State who married a rich man who knew President Martin Van Buren. She learned that the rich husband actually poisoned his first wife and intended to kill her as well. Dragonwyck has the same gothic plot as movies (such as The Babysitter’s Seduction starring Kerri Russell) and at least one Mary Higgins Clark book (A Cry in the Night).

Then I read Seton’s novel Katherine because I saw it on a list of the “best historical fiction that aspiring writers should read.”

Katherine fictionalized Katherine Swynford’s life in the 1300’s. Katherine grew up in a convent after her father (a knight) died serving the King of England and the Black Death killed her grandparents. Her sister Philippa married Geoffrey Chaucer. Katherine married John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster after his first wife died of the Black Death and his second wife also died of something horrible. Katherine’s stepson, Henry, overthrew his own cousin Richard II from the throne of England. Henry became Henry IV of England.

Next, I read My Theodosia.

My Theodosia fictionalized the life of Theodosia Burr, daughter of Aaron Burr. This is the same Theodosia who inspired the song Dear Theodosia in the Hamilton musical. In real life, Theodosia Burr married a future governor of South Carolina and she moved to his plantation. She ended up “lost at sea” at the age of 29. She was a passenger on a boat that disappeared in the Atlantic Ocean in 1813. (Just a note of caution: My Theodosia‘s story line and language turned racist after Theodosia moved to the plantation.)

Finally, I read Green Darkness.

Now, I consider Green Darkness (published in 1972) as a cross between fantasy and historical fiction. The story “begins” in the year 1970. A fictional American – Celia Marsdon – moves to England with her British husband, Richard.

Richard grew up in his family’s ancestral seat in Sussex, but he hated his childhood there. Richard still decides to move back home after his father’s death. Big mistake.

The Marsdons show up in Sussex on Halloween. They stop first at the ruins of Chowdry House, a real-life Tudor mansion that burned down in the 1700’s. Celia insists that she remembers being in that mansion before it burned. The Marsdons watch bonfire lights in the rural darkness. They meet business associates at the real-life, ancient Spread Eagle Inn. During drinks, somebody jokes about Halloween and its “wormy dead” which “rise from their graves.” The business associates tell Celia a ghost story about a “black monk” (a Benedictine monk) who haunts the area. Celia slips out of the inn to look for the ghost monk. Celia finds the ghost monk and chases it. (Just like every episode of Scooby Doo!) Richard finds Celia and gets angry.

The Marsdons “settle” into Richard’s ancestral home. Their marital problems continue. Richard plays the song “Celia, Wanton and Fair” over and over on his record player.

Celia tours a famous “real” landmark, Ightham Mote, with her mother. They learn that renovation crews recently found a skeleton walled up in the estate’s main house. Celia suffers vague flashbacks to prior events there and she falls ill.

The Marsdon newlyweds hold a dinner party for a bunch of people that they barely know. However, all of the guests at the party actually seem “familiar” to Celia. Celia suffers a medical emergency that night.

As Celia recovers in a hospital, her mother brings to her bedside a physician / Hindu teacher. Under this doctor’s “guidance” Celia recalls memories from her prior life as Celia de Bohun in the 1500’s in Sussex.

The story goes back to the 1500’s for about 500 pages.

Celia’s husband from 1970, Richard Marsdon, is a Catholic Benedictine monk named Stephen Marsdon in the 1500’s.

Brother Stephen Marsdon lives in an English monastery until Henry VIII closes it through the Dissolution of the Monasteries. I imagine that Stephen’s monastery resembled Tintern Abbey. (I will blog about Tintern Abbey next.) Stephen flees to France, but later returns to Sussex.

I need to mention that Celia de Bohun’s aunt, Ursula, is obsessed with predictions and divinations. Aunt Ursula hires a famous mystic to tell Celia’s fortune. The mystic predicts Celia’s early and violent death.

For the next several hundred pages, Celia de Bohun and Stephen Marsdon fall in love as they dodge the wrath of the Tudor monarchs.

As you probably guessed, Stephen Marsdon and Celia de Bohun leave behind “unfinished business” in the 1500’s that Richard and Celia Marsden resolve in 1970.

Celia Marsdon wakes from her trance in 1970 and she realizes that the guests from her dinner party were all reincarnated from people that she knew as Celia de Bohun in the 1500’s.

The two Celia’s, Richard, and Stephen are all fictional, as are all of the guests from the 1970’s dinner party. However, several of the characters that Celia de Bohun met in the 1500’s are real historical figures. The “ghost monk” that Celia Marsdon chased on Halloween is based on the “real” ghost story about the Black Monk of Pontefract.

Green Darkness spans about 600 pages. In my opinion, Seton should have cut this down to 300 pages. The story goes off on many side plots (tangents) that have nothing to do with Celia and Richard’s “unfinished business.” I suspect that Seton plugged unused material from her other books into this, her final finished novel.

I laughed when Celia de Bohun mentions Katherine Swynford’s famous marriage to John of Gaunt two centuries earlier. (John of Gaunt’s son, Henry IV, married Mary de Bohun in 1380. I suspect that the author intended that the fictional Celia de Bohun of the 1500’s belonged to the same de Bohun family.)

If I ever return to the United Kingdom, I might visit these real places listed in Green Darkness: the Chowdry Castle ruins, the Spread Eagle Inn, and Ightham Mote.

In Green Darkness, some of the characters who mistreat and abuse others in the 1500’s pay dearly for it in 1970. Similarly, kindly Aunt Ursula suffers in the 1500’s but during the 1970’s dinner party she is rich and beautiful.

It’s important to be nice to people. Karma exists.

Anya Seton passed away in 1990. Hypothetically, if she was born into another life in 1991, she would now be 28 years old in her new life. Perhaps Anya Seton lives on in the body of another writer.