Monday, December 1, 2008

Seeking Persephone - Historical Research and Answers

Lest you think I do not do my research when writing, let me address a few questions/concerns that have been brought up regarding Seeking Persephone in terms of historical accuracy. (disclaimer - I do not profess to be perfect, and I acknowledge that I will make mistakes. I simply wish to reassure my readers that I do my research and am accurate to the best of my ability.)

From one reviewer – “The narrative descriptions of Northumberland (a county with which I am very familiar) in no way bear resemblence [sic] to reality. It seems sometimes like the book is set in a remote village in the Black Forest rather than on the wild fells and moorland of Northumberland.”
  • SP takes place in Northumberland in a Castle belonging to a Duke surrounded by a planted forest. Let's review which parts of this description could be considered inaccurate.
    • A castle in Northumberland – The official visitor's information website run by the folks in Northumberland's visitor's department lists multiple castles in Northumberland, including many that would date to the time the fictional Falstone Castle was said to have been built.
    • A castle belonging to a Duke – One particular castle, the name of which you may find intriguing, Kielder Castle, “was the former hunting lodge for the Duke of Northumberland.
    • A castle belonging to a Duke surrounded by a planted forest – When I first set out to write this book, I was looking for a location that was cold, forested and isolated. Trust me, I did a lot of research. I discovered something very interesting. There are very few old growth forests still in existence in England. This was the case in the Regency era, as well. In my searching, I came across an account of Kielder Forest. It covers an impressive 250 square miles, according to the UK Forestry Commission. Phil Lambel of The Journal wrote about Kielder Forest Park and explained its origins, “Kielder Forest Park is the largest forest in England and one of the largest planted forests in Europe.” The “planted forest” part caught my attention.
      Kielder Forest was not created until the 20th century, but the idea was intriguing. If the government could create a forest on such a large scale, could an aristocratic family of means do the same thing on its own estate? Certainly they could, but would they and would this have been done in this time period? Once again I began researching. Multiple trips to the library later, I came across a book published in 1866 in which an account is given of a castle and the changes made to it in the late 18th century.
      “Naked and bleak was the country around Alnwick in the early part of the eighteenth century; many of the forests and woods had been destroyed in the days of border warfare; but this duke began to adorn the lands around his castle. Under the direction of a native of Kirkhale, Lancelot Brown called "Capability Brown," the tops of the hills wre planted with clumps of trees; other clumps mostly of a circular form were scattered over the slopes, and on other parts were long belts of plantations, while in the valleys larger forests were created.” (Tate, George. The History of the Burough, Castle and Barony of Alnwick; vol. 1. 1866.) This Duke “created” a forest to surround his castle. It was not only possible, it was done at the time.
      Thus, Falstone Castle found itself surrounded by a planted forest. A careful read of Seeking Persephone will reveal that Adam, himself, speaks of his family's having planted the forest that surrounds his castle.
    • The reviewer expressed concerns that SP does not describe the wild fells and moorlands of Northumberland. - Bear in mind that the setting never strays from the immediate grounds of the castle which, as I established above, are surrounded by a man-made forest. I realize that one of Northumberland's crowning beauties is her moorland and fells. But let us not ignore the fact that Northumberland also boasts some lovely woodlands. Here are a few pictures of Northumberland trees, woodlands and environs that are not moorland and fells.

    Question: “There are wolves in Falstone Forest. Weren't wolves extinct by the 19th Century in England?”

    "Would Adam really be so sensitive about his scars at a time when scaring and maiming, etc. were more common than today?”
    • Before I delve into the historical aspects of this question, does a "problem" have to be uncommon for it to be a sensitive thing for someone? I don't think so. How many people are extremely sensitive about their weight in our society that has a wide-spread weight problem? Alright, back to the history. Reconstructive surgeries, modern medicine, prenatal care, etc. did not exist in the Regency Era so there were, indeed, a great many people who were born with or acquired “deformities” and “disabilities.” Could a person be really sensitive about those things that made them different from others?
      Let's look at a well-known and prime example from the Regency Era, Lord Byron, who had a clubbed foot – a not uncommon malady at this time. (From Moore, Thomas. The Works of Lord Byron: With His Letters and Journals, and His Life. 1835) “The malformation of his foot was, even at this childish age, a subject on which he showed peculiar sensitiveness. I have been told by a gentleman of Glasgow, that the person who nursed his wife, and who still lives in his family, used often to join the nurse of Byron when they were out with their respective charges, and one day said to her, as they walked together, 'What a pretty boy Byron is! what a pity he has such a leg!' On hearing this allusion to his infirmity, the child's eyes flashed with anger, and striking at her with a little whip which he held in his hand, he exclaimed impatiently, 'Dinna speak of it!'” He was sensitive about it.
      Adam's sensitivity also began in childhood, shortly after the death of his father, the abandonment he felt from his mother, his removal from his childhood home and his abrupt entrance into the world of school (and how many of us can dispute that young children can be cruel to other children with noticeable, even grotesque deformities?) So, could someone at that time be really sensitive about scarring and deformities? Absolutely.

  • From a reviewer: (speaking of the Hewitt brothers) “They are four brothers, the eldest of whom is the heir apparent to the Duke. As they are cousins with a completely different surname to the Duke, explain please HOW any of them could be in the line of (direct male) succession? Major boo-boo."
    • Oh, but it is not a major boo-boo. Let me explain (and of course provide sources to back me up.).
      “But our law does not extend to a total exclusion of females, as the Salic law, and others, where feuds were most strictly retained: it only postpones them to males; for, though daughters are excluded by sons, yet they succeed before any collateral relations: our law, like that of the Saxon feudists before mentioned, thus steering a middle course, between the absolute rejection of females, and the putting them on a footing with males.” (Blackstone, William. Commentaries on the Laws of England 1915) English law allowed for daughters to inherit in some instances provided there was no male heir. I hear you objecting. Daughters could not inherit a dukedom. True, but a Peerage could, depending on the letters of patent that originally created the title, be inherited through a female line.
      Don't believe me? Read on.
      “This, then, is the great and general principle, upon which the law of collateral inheritances depends; that, upon failure of issue in the last proprietor, the estate shall descend to the blood of the first purchaser... 'that he who would have been heir to the father of the deceased' (and, of course to the mother, or any other purchasing ancestor) 'shall also be heir to the son.'” (Blackstone, William. Commentaries on the Laws of England. 1915)
      This establishes that, if the current holder dies without a direct heir, the finding of an heir involves going back into the family tree and tracing down a different family line. If the only line with a direct descendant is a female line, can that descendant inherit?
      “On the death of James, Earl of Derby, AD 1735, the male line of Earl William failing, the Duke of Atholl succeeded... as heir general by a female branch." (Blackstone, William. Commentaries on the Laws of England. 1915, emphasis added.) Depending on the letters of patent, inheritance through a female line could happen, thus accounting for a different surname.
      A major boo-boo? No. A possibility? Yes.


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