Exploring the Banqueting House

This article was originally written for the English Historical Fiction Authors Blog (EHFA) and posted Feb 2, 2016. If you haven’t yet visited the EHFA blog, I encourage you to check out their website (click here) for high quality articles pertaining to English history.


On this anniversary of the execution of King Charles I in 1649, I am reminded of the place where this drama played out–the Banqueting House at Whitehall.


Wikimedia commons- see Media below for attribution

Completed in 1622, the Banqueting House is the only remaining structure of Whitehall Palace and is situated across from the Horse Guards. During the Tudor age, the original Banqueting House was little better than a temporary venue. When King James I of England (VI of Scotland) succeeded Elizabeth on the throne in 1603 and ushered in the Stuart Age in England, he got down to work building a proper Banqueting House. His queen, Anne of Denmark, had been fond of masques and was a patroness of the arts.

The famous 17th century architect, Inigo Jones, was commissioned to design the building. What you have is a beautiful example of Palladian architecture with stately pillars and expansive high ceilings. Galleries line the upper hall. But what is truly a marvel in the Hall did not exist until King Charles I succeeded his father to the throne.

The Banqueting Hall

The Banqueting Hall- Photo by C.Bazos

Charles commissioned the great Flemish artist, Peter Paul Rubens, to create a series of paintings to grace the ceiling. The panels were completed in Ruben’s workshop before being shipped to England for installation.

The paintings were a delight of classical gods and motifs, the most noteworthy being the centre panel titled The Apotheosis of James I. The scene glorifies his late father, James I as though he were being crowned by the heavens. It is meant to reinforce the concept of the king being God’s representative on earth and his divine right to rule.


These paintings remain the only work of Rubens on display outside of a museum. Fortunately for the preservation of the paintings, masques ceased to be performed following their installation. The smoke from the candles would have damaged them over time.

Below the Banqueting Hall is an area known as the Undercroft. During King James’s time, it was used as the royal party den, but in later years, they held other amusements such as lotteries. It’s curved ceilings gives the impression of a cosy cave. One can imagine how it once looked, crowded with men drinking and gambling while lit with golden torchlight.

The Undercroft (vaulted basement)

Undercroft- Photo by C.Bazos

Ironically, the Banqueting House, which evolved as a testament to the divinity of kings, would stand as a confirmation of their mortality.

On a cold winter day, on 30 January, 1649, a scaffold was erected outside the Banqueting House, accessed from a second story landing. King Charles I stepped out on the scaffold, clad in two shirts to keep warm. Facing his subjects, he left them with his famous parting words, “I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown.” Here ended his reign.

There is so much art and history wrapped up in the Banqueting House. The next time you are visiting London, I encourage you to visit this marvellous building. You may even be greeted by a Parliamentary soldier.

Parliamentary Guard

Parliamentary Guard outside the Banqueting House- Photo by C. Bazos












Street view of the Banqueting House: “Banqueting House London” by en:User:ChrisO – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons –

Apotheosis of James I: “Banqueting House 03” by The wub – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons –

Posted in 17th century | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Mercurius Istoria


hHere Ye! Here Ye! A new broadsheet is born! Hot off the presses.

The 17th century saw an explosion of printing and in particular the publication of newspapers, the most popular being Mercuius Politicus. In that tradition, I have started my own broadsheet.

Mercurius Istoria is a monthly newsletter offering the subscriber a brief flavour of my news, interesting historical links and images.

Subscribe now and receive Mercurius Istoria by email. You don’t even need to find an urchin on a street corner hawking a copy. Delivered straight to your inbox.

The December edition is now available. Click here to view.




Posted in Mercurius Istorie | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

When did I become a pizza critic?

depositphotos_2593330_l-2015I’ve been a life-long reader and can’t imagine anything more satisfying than curling up with a book and losing yourself in its pages. If I were a foodie, it would be equivalent of eating my way through five star restaurants. As a child of immigrant parents, I had to wait until the first grade before someone taught me how to read. Before then, I would look at books and pretend I knew how. My older cousin once called my bluff, and I made up some story on the spot to convince him. And so a writer was born.

Imagine my despair when I realized that somewhere along the road, I’ve become a pizza critic. Figuratively, of course.

Early in my husband’s career, he went from a typical university student who lived on pizza to working in the food service industry as, yes, a pizza inspector. It was his job, over many years, and for a couple of major pizza chains, to go to these stores and check their product (and other things). For years, he couldn’t order a pizza without analysing the darned thing: from the rise and the stretch and the distribution of toppings and the quality of the cheese. Those of you in the industry are nodding your heads because these terms have meaning for you. But as a civilian, all you know is that the pizza tastes good (or not).

Tasty pizza and falling ingredients isolated on white

I am a pizza critic but instead of analyzing the rise and stretch of the pie, I’m picking apart books for style, character, pacing and plot. I don’t mean to do it, but living and breathing story as a writer makes me more sensitive to gaps on the page. Where I may, as a civilian, have finished reading the book with a vague sense of ‘meh’, now I can’t help analyzing it. The character arc is weak. There is no ‘world normal’ in this, the pacing is off, etc. It’s diminished my reading experience in one way because I’m no longer able to slug through ‘meh’ anymore; on the other hand, it’s heightened my appreciation for well-crafted stories and the subtlety that underscores exquisite storytelling. Here are a couple of examples.

A Good Man by Guy Vanderhaeghe


If you want to learn how to weave backstory through a complex story, read Guy Vanderhaeghe and take notes. We all get tripped up with backstory; new writers especially want to throw in their character’s cereal eating preferences and family tree. But good backstory, really the only kind we should include on the page, matters to the story. It has a place in the character arc. It isn’t a nice to know; it’s a must understand. True masters know how to thread the backstory with perfect balance. Too much in the beginning and the reader is snoring. Too little, the writer is accused of withholding. The trick, having admired and picked apart A Good Man, is to give us as much as we need when we need it and no more.

In A Good Man, the story opens with the protagonist’s father, a man of wealth, has bought out his commission. We learn that the protagonist’s service record hasn’t been exemplary and there is a blemish that no one talks about. That’s all for now and that’s enough. But as the story progresses, we gradually learn more about this past action until the end we understand how deeply this has impacted the character’s sense of worth. We see how this backstory has driven the character. It’s a beautifully constructed and flawlessly revealed backstory.

The Crystal Cave (Merlin trilogy) by Mary Stewart


I read this book to pieces in my late teenage through my twenties until the binding gave out. It took me twenty-five years to finally get another copy, and with a great deal of trepidation, I re-read it. Loved it! As well as re-discovering the magic of this story, I now saw it from fresh eyes. No one does description like Mary Stewart.

As writers, we are encouraged to use the five senses. Done well, it transports the reader into the fictional world. Done not so well, it overloads the reader with meaningless description. Think of a stew with every known spice thrown in willy-nilly.

Mary Stewart uses description not only to establish setting but also to show character. The protagonist in this trilogy, the Merlin of legend, is a man with psychic gifts and above average intelligence. He’s an herbalist, a naturalist, a bard and an engineer. No magic wand. He’s a character in tune with the world around him and the descriptions heighten that link. Instead of calling it a bird, the writer names it a marlin. She uses the specific rather than the general.

I’ve only covered two elements of craft: backstory and description. In my pizza analogy, these would be the equivalent of rise and stretch.

Now your turn. Do you have any examples that show good distribution of toppings and quality of cheese?



Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments

The Household Cavalry

When the last king of England, your father, has been executed by his enemies and you are finally reclaiming the throne, the first thing you want to do is get yourself a professional bodyguard, a crack force entirely loyal to you.


By John Michael Wright – Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

This is what Charles II did when he was restored to the throne of England, Ireland and Scotland. As the Prince of Wales, he had been living with civil war since the age of twelve. He had seen men turn against his father and fight against him on the battlefield and turn  him over to his enemies. It’s no surprise that Charles valued loyalty above all else.

Before the Restoration in 1660, Charles raised a bodyguard in Holland which consisted of Royalists who had been exiled with him. After the Restoration, they were recognized as his personal guard. The present Household Cavalry traces back to its history to this Life Guard as well as two other regiments, the Royal House Guards (the Blues) and the Royal Regiment of Dragoons (the Royals).

Today, the Household Cavalry is easily distinguished by the famous black horses accompanying the Queen in ceremonial parades, but the regiments have a long history of military service.

I can’t discuss the Horse Guards without mentioning something about these magnificent black horses. They come from Irish draught horse stock, and they were the standard mount of the Horse Guards at least from the latter part of the 17th century.

If you’re in London, the Household Cavalry Museum and Knightsbridge barracks are situated immediately across from the Banqueting House in Whitehall. Ironically, this is the place where Charles’s father was beheaded by Parliament. Or perhaps not so ironic.

Every time I visit London, I have to visit the Household Cavalry. This time, I was able to catch the changing of the Queen’s Guards. The Household Cavalry regiments ride from the Knightsbridge Barracks to Buckingham Palace. This changing of the Queen’s Guards happens at the Horse Guards Parade.

Here’s a fun question. If you were a King (or Queen) in exile and suddenly came into your own, what would be the first thing you’d do? Drop me a line and have fun with your answer.

Posted in 17th century, Charles Stuart | Tagged , , , , , | 18 Comments

Author Spotlight: Elaine Cougler


It is my pleasure to introduce historical fiction Indie author, Elaine Cougler. Elaine is the author of The Loyalist’s Wife, The Loyalist’s Luck and her third book, The Loyalist Legacy, just came out.

Elaine is a fellow Canadian whose trilogy covers the lives of British Loyalists from the American Revolution, beyond the  War of 1812 to the Rebellion of 1838. From these conflicts, Canada emerged as a nation.

Join me in welcoming Elaine as she shares her thoughts on the writing process.

Did you have any scene which was more difficult to write than the others? One that you pondered whether to include or not? 

Actually there were two scenes that I wondered whether to include. This book was so important to me for its fictional story but also for the way it had the ability to speak to some of the exciting and heartbreaking history going on in Upper Canada (Ontario) after the War of 1812. I put in a scene about a Chippewa couple and their struggles with the white people changing their way of life forever with the reservation system. And I knew that long before the American Civil War (1860-65) slavery was part of North America and I wanted to work some of that into my novel. Imagining what my characters might have been experiencing along these lines provided a way for me to present these issues in a natural way. These topics were not my main focus but they provided the backdrop to the central themes of pioneering and the vast differences in human nature.

What do you keep in mind as you write? An overarching question? A theme?

I am most interested in our human ability to rise again, over and over, no matter what difficulties we must overcome. People can be so strong, so amazing. One of my favorite songs is We Rise Again, made popular a few years ago here in Canada by the Rankin Family; in fact, our family quartet sang that at several events, a joy to remember. (Yes, I’m a singer.:-)) And music has such a way of taking a theme and imprinting it on our minds. I try to do the same with my writing; hence, Lucy’s strength and John’s ability to find the positives reoccur with their children’s families in my latest book, The Loyalist Legacy.

Is there an aspect of writing that you favor over others, e.g. dialogue, exposition, description of a scene, setting, or character, etc.? Is there one that is more difficult for you?

The thing I most like about writing is getting so into my characters and their stories that I find myself completely shut off from the actual world around me. I picture the rushing rivers, the single furrow ploughs, and I smell the sweat of a day’s struggle to survive but most of all, I join my characters in heart-stopping danger and unimaginable sadness. At those times my fingers type the words while the tears run down my cheeks and my whole being is immersed in a baby dying or a strong woman finally brought to the brink because she just can’t take any more pain.

Indie authors need to do it all on their own. How do you balance writing, marketing, promoting, bookkeeping, family and work?

Thankfully, I am past the stage of having a day job because my days are spent doing all of the above. While I love the writing, the marketing can be great fun, too, but I have to watch that it doesn’t take over my life. Yesterday I took about four hours off in the middle of the day to accompany my husband on one of his business trips; I consciously did that to work on keeping balance in my life. I now have a trilogy, a second edition of my first book, an audio book, a writing blog, a twice-monthly newsletter to my subscribers and all of the marketing for said initiatives. It’s a lot. And November is launch month with this fabulous blog tour online and many appearances at events in person. Lucky I love people!

How did writing this book change you or change how you look at the world?

That’s a hard question but it has changed me. It’s given me a joy I never had before. Oh, I have always been a happy person but finding my writing legs has tapped into my innermost desires. I think I’ve touched on something that is just mine, just me, and people seem to love it. The rewards go to my soul. Oh, that just sounds mushy! This latest book I’ve dedicated to my great great great grandparents, whose names and whose farm are the heart of the story, and to my two grandchildren who are connected to that history through me. That makes me absolutely thankful.

What would you like my readers to know about you?

Although I loved raising my children, sharing my family’s life, and being a high school teacher, once I started my writing journey a new joy found its way into my heart. I love meeting readers and writers on my speaking tours. Hearing their questions as they share their unique perspectives feeds my adrenalin. Just now I’m working on doing Skype-type speaking gigs wherever book clubs and other groups will have me. But the most fun is sitting at my computer with my hands hovering over the keyboard as my thoughts jump onto my computer screen. It’s fabulous, especially when my words make me smile or laugh out loud or cry real tears, or they just sing out a lyric melody in their own unique way. I am a wordsmith.

About The Loyalist Legacy


When the War of 1812 is finally over William and Catherine Garner flee the desolation of Niagara and find in the wild heart of Upper Canada their two hundred acres straddling the Thames River. On this valuable land, dense forests, wild beasts, disgruntled Natives, and pesky neighbors daily challenge them. The political atmosphere laced with greed and corruption threatens to undermine all of the new settlers’ hopes and plans. William cannot take his family back to Niagara, but he longs to check on his parents from whom he has heard nothing for two years. Leaving Catherine and the children, he hurries along the Governor’s Road toward the turn-off to Fort Erie, hoping to return in time for spring planting.

With realistic insights into the challenging lives of Ontario’s early settlers, Elaine Cougler once again draws readers into the Loyalists’ struggles to build homes, roads, and relationships, and their growing dissension as they move ever closer to another war. The Loyalist Legacy shows us the trials faced by ordinary people who conquer unbelievable hardships and become extraordinary in the process.

In Praise for The Loyalist Trilogy

“….absolutely fascinating….Cougler doesn’t hold back on the gritty realities of what a couple might have gone through at this time, and gives a unique view of the Revolutionary War that many might never have considered.” ~ Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews.

“….an intriguing story” ~ A Bookish Affair

“I highly recommend this book for any student of history or anyone just looking for a wonderful story.” ~ Book Lovers Paradise

“Elaine’s storytelling is brave and bold.” ~ Oh, for the Hook of a Book


Elaine Cougler is the author of historical novels about the lives of settlers in the Thirteen Colonies who remained loyal to Britain during the American Revolution.

Cougler uses the backdrop of the conflict for page-turning fictional tales where the main characters face torn loyalties, danger and personal conflicts.

Her Loyalist trilogy: The Loyalist’s WifeThe Loyalist’s Luck and The Loyalist Legacy. The Inspire! Toronto International Book Fair selected The Loyalist’s Wife as a finalist in its Self-Publishing Awards. The Middlesex County Library selected the book as its choice for book club suggestions. The Writers Community of Durham Region presented Elaine with a Pay-It-Forward Award.

Elaine has led several writing workshops and has been called on to speak about the Loyalists to many groups. She writes the blog, On Becoming a Wordsmith, about the journey to publication and beyond. She lives in Woodstock with her husband. They have two grown children.

Connect with Elaine on Twitter, Facebook Author Page, LinkedIn and her blog on her Website.

The Loyalist Legacy and Elaine’s other titles are available for purchase on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

Posted in Guest Blog | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Publishing announcement Traitor’s Knot

Opened magic book with magic light

It is with a great deal of excitement that I announce that my novel, Traitor’s Knot, will be published by Endeavour Press in early 2017. Endeavour is the UK’s leading independent digital publisher.

Traitor’s Knot is the first of a series that starts during the third English Civil war and leads to the restoration of King Charles II.

I had the pleasure of meeting Amy Durant, Endeavour’s Publishing Director, at the Historical Novelist Society Conference in Oxford during a pitch session, and later hearing her thoughts on marketing and promotion during a panel discussion. Endeavour has come up with innovative ways to attract historical fiction readers, and I look forward to working with them in the months to come.

Thank you to the HNS committee for organizing a terrific and informative conference. It’s no small feat to put something like this together and your hard work was greatly appreciated.

Follow my blog to keep up with the news, and stay tuned for updated about my release date.

And now the adventure begins…





Posted in Traitor's Knot | Tagged , , , , | 17 Comments

Worcester Cathedral 

This post was originally published for the English Historical Fiction Authors Blog on October 13, 2016. If you are interested in British History, I encourage you to visit the EHFA blog (click here).

On the banks of the Severn River stands a magnificent cathedral. Framed against a river of gliding swans, Worcester Cathedral’s history has spanned centuries, serving as the final resting place for royalty and providing a backdrop for major conflicts.

Even before the present day cathedral, the site was consecrated by a priory founded in the 7th century. Nothing now remains of this original priory, but in the 10th century, a new church was built by Saint Oswald, the Bishop of Worcester. The subterranean crypt is the only part of that earlier structure still remaining. It’s a hauntingly quiet niche still used for worship.

Another saint associated with Worcester was an Anglo Saxon bishop, Saint Wulfstan who held this see before and during the Norman Conquest. Despite his allegiance to Harold Godwinson (of the Battle of Hastings fame), Wulfstan held his post under William the Conqueror.

This stained glass panel commemorates both saints.


Work on the present day cathedral started in 1084 and was finished by 1504. It is a work of art as one can see by the magnificent vaulted quire ceiling, which is decorated with the images of saints and angels.


And now to visit the cathedral’s famous residents. King John, also known as John Lackland, Prince John, and signer of the Magna Carta, is buried in Worcester Cathedral. His sarcophagus is decorated with his likeness, carved in Portland stone. At one time, the stone would have been painted, but now has darkened to the colour of agate.

King John was a poor monarch and his reign was punctuated by periods of revolt . Though  he did sign the Magna Carta, he did so under duress, forced to do so by his barons who had had enough of his abuse. He died shortly after trying to launch a fresh attack on the rebel barons.

What is interesting about his effigy is that the two Worcester saints, Oswald and Wulfstan, have been included, sitting on each shoulder of the king. Proof that John Lackland needed all the help he could get for the afterlife.

A better mourned royal in Worcester Cathedral is Prince Arthur, the older brother of Henry VIII. Prince Arthur died suddenly at the age of 15, only five months after his marriage to Catharine of Aragon. His death was a crushing blow to his father, Henry VII.

After lying in state at Ludlow castle, Prince Arthur’s body was brought to Worcester Cathedral by boat. The Prince had a connection to the city since he had been baptized by the Bishop of Worcester, and as a child, he had spent time in the city. During his funeral, dirges were sung for him. His tomb lies in the chantry chapel and is decorated by the white and red roses of York and Lancaster.

Imagine what might have happened had he lived. Henry VIII would not have been king, would not have married Arthur’s widow, Catherine, and subsequently broken from the Catholic church for the sake of Anne Boleyn. The country may have gone down a different path, one perhaps not driven by religious conflicts.

The final grave I’d like to visit belongs to the Duke of Hamilton, killed during the final battle of the English Civil War.

The first battle of the civil war was fought in 1642 just south of Worcester Cathedral at Powick Bridge. The last battle of the civil war was fought at Worcester on September 2, 1651. During the week leading up to the final battle, King Charles II occupied Worcester with 12,000 – 14,000 Scottish soldiers. William Hamilton, the 2nd Duke of Hamilton, was a close friend of the king and led a regiment on his behalf.

NPG 2120,William Hamilton, 2nd Duke of Hamilton,after Adriaen Hanneman

By Adriaen Hanneman (circa 1604–1671) – NPG 2120 [Public Domain] Wikimedia Commons

During the early stages of the battle, King Charles observed the fighting to the south from the strategic vantage of the cathedral’s tower, with its sweeping views of the area. When he gauged the time right, King Charles led an assault against Cromwell’s forces at Red Hill (to the east of the city) while the Duke of Hamilton led an assault against Perry Wood.

The Duke was shot during the engagement, and his men brought him back to his lodgings in the Commandery (just outside Worcester’s Sidbury Gate) which was now overrun by the victorious Parliamentary soldiers.

At the Commandery, a Royalist surgeon examined him and found a musket shot had shattered in the leg and the only way to save him would be to amputate. Cromwell’s physician examined him as well, but disagreed with the prognosis and told him that he didn’t need to lose the leg. Hamilton worsened and subsequently died of his injuries. Another version of this story was that Hamilton declined Cromwell’s offer of his surgeon, determined not to be treated by a traitor.

On his deathbed, the Duke had barely enough energy to write a heart-wrenching farewell letter to his wife. The letter was found in his pocket after he passed away.


Dear Heart,

YOV know I have been long labouring, though in great weakness, to be prepared against this expected Change, and I thank my God I find Comfort in it, in this my day of Tryal; for my Body is not more weakned by my Wounds, then I find my Spirit Comforted and Supported by the infinite Mercies and great Love of my Blessed Redeemer, who will be with me to the end and in the end.

I am not able to say much more to you, the Lord preserve you under your Tryals, and sanctifie the use of them to the Comfort of your Soul.

I will not so much as in a Letter divide my dear Neeces and you; the Lord grant you may be constant Comforts to one another in this Life, and send you all Eternal Happiness with your Saviour in the Life to come: to both of your Cares I recommend my poor Children, let your great Work be to make them early accquainted with God, and their Duties to him; and though they may suffer many wants here before their Removal from hence, yet they will find an inexhaustible Treasure in the Love of Christ. May the Comforts of the Blessed Spirit be ever near you in all your Straits and Difficulties, and suffer not the least repining to enter into any of your Hearts for his Dispensations to|wards me, for his Mercies have been infinitely above his Iustice in the whole Pilgrimage of,

Dear Heart, Your Own, HAMILTON.

Worcester, Sept. 8. 1651.

Against his wishes for his body to be returned to Scotland, the Duke was buried in Worcester Cathedral. His servants repeatedly petitioned Cromwell to approve the transfer of the Duke’s body to his wife but the request was denied. A single plaque marks where he was buried.


Worcester Cathedral has a long, rich history to explore. The next time you are visiting Worcester, I encourage you to take a detour and visit the past.


Posted in 17th century, Duke of Hamilton | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments