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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Suppose you went to a wedding reception, and the guest seated beside you picked his teeth with his knife after his meal. Eww. Gross. There were rules about table etiquette during the medieval period too. Most people get their information about medieval times from Hollywood, but as in other cases, Hollywood didn’t get things exactly right.

Let’s start with the place where the wedding feast was held. It was probably the great hall in a castle. Castle floors didn’t have carpet, but rushes were often laid to keep the cold out. It’s a good thing they didn’t have carpet. People spit on the floor and tossed food to the dogs so the carpet would have gotten pretty nasty. Lighting in the castle was provided by candles, rush lights or flares, and of course the fireplace itself. Rush lights were made of wax or melted animal fat that was impaled on vertical spikes to iron candlesticks. The candlesticks were fastened to the wall with brackets.

Decorations in the great halls usually consisted of bows and arrows mounted on the walls and elaborate tapestries or perhaps banners hung from the walls or ceiling. The banners might be the great lord’s coat of arms. At a wedding feast banners from both families would be displayed, and perhaps a banner combining both families’ coat of arms would be created.

There was a dais in the great hall reserved for the most honored of guests, usually the king. If no royalty came to the feast the lord’s family would sit there.

Before entering the great hall for the feast the lesser ranking guests would line up to wash their hands. Higher ranking guests would wash their hands from a bowl of scented water that was brought to the table. Guests would then be seated in order of rank with the highest rank at the high table. Tables were usually arranged in an inverted U shape with people seated on the outside of the U. The inside was left clear for serving and entertainment. Did you look at the picture? Notice the golden shaped boat. This is a nef or salt bowl. Salt was still a precious commodity in the medieval period. Important people would sit above the salt, and lower ranking folks below the salt. Thus was born our modern terminology ‘above and below the salt.’

More than likely there would be no plates on the table. Guests were served from trenchers, stale bread used as a plate. Only a most honored guest would receive a real plate, but if he had such status the plate might even be made of gold. They didn’t use forks yet either. Guests ate with spoons and eating knives which they often had to bring from home. It was a mark of great respect for a lord to offer a knife to a guest. Didn’t they eat with their hands? Yes, sometimes they did which is the reason they washed their hands. Guests also had to share glasses. Usually they had one glass to two people. Sometimes they had to share a trencher and napkin too. Not being allowed to share was a great humiliation considered a form of ostracism.

The tables were covered with tablecloths, and it was a disgrace to get it dirty. People were also given napkins that they were expected to use. Napkins were placed over the left shoulder or left wrist if each person had their own napkin. And please be careful not to spill anything on your neighbor. That was a big no-no.
Food would be served in courses, and you would wash your hands between courses. Entertainment was provided throughout the meal. The presentation of the food was a part of the entertainment as every servant would be dressed in his best. Other entertainment might be jugglers, dwarfs, freaks, jesters, dancers, music, and costumed courtiers.

Here’s a list of some dos and don’ts as you dined.
1.Don’t blow on the soup. You might have bad breath.
2.Don’t scratch your head at the table. You might dislodge a louse.
3.Don’t wipe your hands on the tablecloth.
4.Don’t lick the dishes.
5.If you must blow your nose wipe your hand on your clothes.
6.Don’t drink from the communal cup with a mouth full of food. Backwash.
7.Never put your elbows on the table.
8.You may throw food to the dogs.
9.Don’t belch.
10.Don’t stuff your mouth.
11.You may spit from the table but do it discretely.
12.Don’t dip your meat directly into the salt bowl.
13.Turn your cell phone off. Ha ha. Just checking to see if you’re still awake.
14.Don’t eat the trencher. They save it and give it to the poor.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Medieval Weddings Part 2

Welcome back to my series on medieval romance and weddings. Last Friday we left off with the feast after the wedding ceremony, but I didn’t mention the wedding cake. Yes, they had wedding cakes back then. It was the custom for guests to bring small cakes to the feast. They were stacked on top of each other, and the bride and groom tried to kiss over the top of the stack without knocking it over. If they succeeded it was thought to bring luck and good fortune. Over time the custom of covering the cakes with the same icing evolved, and the modern wedding cake was born.

Wedding gifts were different in the medieval period. Every marriage had at least three gifts exchanged. The first gift was the dowry which the bride’s family presented to the groom. The second gift was from the groom’s family. They gave a house and an income (a way to make a living) to the newly married couple. The third gift was given to the priest who conducted the ceremony.

It was also customary for a groom to present a bride with a gift of furniture after their wedding night. This gift was to compensate the bride for her loss of virginity.

On the wedding day itself brides primped in order to look their best. They did use cosmetics and would paint every inch of their faces, just as we do. They’d also be sure their hairline was okay and didn’t need replucking. Back then they thought a high forehead was beautiful, and they plucked their hair to get it.

If the bride was wealthy she probably put on some jewelry. In the Middle Ages all gems had symbolic meaning. Here’s a list of common gems and their meaning.

Chrysoprase: Virtue
Red Jasper: Love
Beryl: Purification
Green Jasper: Faith
White Jasper: Gentleness
Amethyst: Christ's martyrdom
Chalcedony: Closeness to God
Emerald: Christian hope
Sardonyx: Chastity or humility
Chrysolite: Heavenly life
Sapphire: Heaven-bound
Hyacinth: God's grace

The wedding ceremony itself took place outside the church door before entering the church for a nuptial mass. During the ceremony in front of the church doors the man stood on the right side and the woman stood on the left side facing the door of the church. The reason they did it this way was because woman was formed out of a rib in the left side of Adam.

Due to the harsh realities of the times some people weren’t married in church at all. They were married in castles. That was okay as long as you got a priest to bless the union later.

After the ceremony itself the feast would begin. It was an amazing celebration filled with minstrels, jugglers, and other entertainers. Relatives came from far and wide to mix and mingle with the local folk. Often to mark the day a noble would free prisoners. Beggars lined up at the gates to feast on leftover food.

Our word honeymoon came from another custom of the time. For a month after the marriage the bride and groom drank honeyed mead. So the word honeymoon was born.

Does a medieval wedding sound like fun? As I did research for this article I found that lots of modern brides have medieval theme weddings. Some of their dresses and cakes are fantastic. What about you? Want to share something about your special day?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Moments In Time: Call it Fate

Welcome to Classic Romance Revival’s Blog Carnival, Moments In Time! The wonderful authors of CRR are so glad to welcome you. CRR is a group of authors who write sweet to sensual romance with no graphic sex or violence. You can visit CRR at

To celebrate Valentine's Day, the CRR authors are sponsoring a blog carnival. Each blog owner is offering a prize, so visit as many as blogs as you can. (Read on for details of my prize.) Winners for the grand prize - a 5-ARC package from Classic Romance Revival authors - will be drawn from visitors commenting on the most blogs. To qualify for the grand prize, you need to register for the contest. Please visit the Classic Romance Revival blog to find details of all the blogs and to register. That address is

Thanks for coming, and here’s my Moment in Time.

Call it fate. Call it destiny. I don’t care what term you use. All I know is that from the first moment I saw him I knew that our futures were linked.

It happened the summer after I graduated from high school. My mother had gotten me a job in the place where she worked, and after finishing my shift I was eager to get home. I had a date that night and wanted to shower and change before I went out. Okay, maybe have a date is a little bit of an understatement. We’d been going out for almost a year, and he’d been throwing out hints that he’d like our relationship to be a little more permanent. I told him I had college ahead of me, but he said he was willing to wait.

My friend Pam and I were waiting together for the final buzzer to sound when this guy who had reported for work on the second shift called to her. He wasn’t especially tall, maybe five ten or so with dark, wavy hair and beautiful sun kissed skin. He was wearing a tee shirt so I couldn’t help noticing those nice shoulders of his.

Pam introduced us. It turned out that he was her boyfriend’s brother. This was a surprise because for some reason I had gotten the impression that her boyfriend was an only child. Guess the joke was on me because there were four children in the family.

Anyway, for the rest of the summer we’d talk a little bit right before I left for the day. We never said anything really important, and he never asked me out, but each and every time we spoke the feeling of destiny grew stronger.

Both of us went away to Clemson University that fall. We saw each other a couple of times during the school year. Each and every time we did his eyes sparkled like blue sapphires. My friend Pam told me she’d given him my number, but he never called. Still, I couldn’t forget him.

Time passed. Near the end of my freshman year I broke up with my boyfriend. Things hadn’t been going well for some time, so it was a relief to end the relationship. I made sure he knew it. It took him a month or so to work up the courage to call me. We went on a picnic, and after that we were inseparable. He was everything I’d been looking for and more besides. We complemented each other in so many ways!

We had two years together at Clemson before he graduated. I missed him so much that I took extra courses and finished school a semester early so we could get married. Two sons and four grandchildren later we’re still together and looking forward to retirement. Of course this is the real world so he drives me crazy from time to time. He’s a man, isn’t he, but I wouldn’t trade him for anything.

As I was writing this blog I asked him why it took him so long to call me. He said it was because I intimidated him. After much coaxing he finally explained. He said he was shy, and he knew that I’d dated more than he had so he was scared to ask me out. Isn’t that sweet?

I like to tell our story near or on Valentine’s Day, mostly to show that there are happy endings in the real world just as there are in my novels. Honestly, I doubt that my characters could overcome the obstacles they do if in my heart I wasn’t a hopeless romantic who got her happy ending.

Now it’s your turn. Leave a comment telling me how you met your significant other, and you’ll be entered in a drawing for an ecopy of my Wild Rose Press novel Purple Heart. Fallen Angel Reviews gave Purple Heart a five angel review which said in part: ‘This is one poignant story I could read again and again.’

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Medieval Wedding Traditions

Planning a wedding is a major undertaking! It costs a lot of money and frazzles your nerves, right? We sure were frazzled when my son got married. The week before his wedding the florist doubled the price of the flowers, the caterer cancelled, and the maid of honor was hospitalized. Yeah, we were frazzled. I bet it was that way for medieval brides too. Here’s the lowdown on a medieval wedding.

Let’s start with the engagement ring. The tradition of diamond engagement rings started with the Archduke Maximilian of Austria when he gave a diamond ring to Mary of Burgundy in 1477. Italians favored diamond engagement rings because they believed that diamonds were created from the flames of love. Naturally, not everyone could afford diamond rings. Peasants often broke a coin in two parts with the bride keeping one and the groom the other.

In Britain, a gold wedding ring was given to the bride’s family, and during the ceremony a gold ring was put on and taken off of three of the bride’s fingers before being placed on the third finger of her left hand. Three times symbolized the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The ring was worn on the third finger because of the ancient Romans who believed that the vein in the third finger ran directly to the heart. The wearing of rings on that finger joined the couple's hearts and destinies.

Now what about the dress? Every bride wants a pretty dress, usually white or off-white, but things were different in the medieval era. In that era a bride’s color of choice would be blue because blue was the color of purity back then. If she couldn’t have a blue dress, the bride and groom would decorate their clothes with blue ribbons or perhaps a blue band at the bottom of their attire. Velvet was a popular fabric for wedding dresses, some of which were relatively low cut. White wasn’t really popular until centuries later when Queen Victoria wore a white dress to be married in. Peasants often had no special dress. They simply wore their best.

Veils signified purity after the Crusaders brought the custom back from the Holy Land. They were also supposed to protect the bride from the evil eye. Brides also made headpieces of flowers-orange blossoms if you were rich-to wear in your hair. By the way, a bride usually wore her hair loose which was one of the only if not the only time she did so.

Then as now, brides wore a blue garter. It was the custom for wedding guests to accompany the bride and groom to their marriage bed. Rowdy guests often tried to grab a portion of the bride’s clothes. To keep them busy the bride threw her garter. Why did the people want a part of the bride’s clothes? Because tradition held that any man who gave his love bride’s clothes would be guaranteed faithfulness.

Brides also carried a bouquet which had a practical purpose. People didn’t bathe back then as often as we do, so if the groom smelled bad the bride could put the bouquet under her nose.

What about the attendants? The maid of honor sure had a lot to do. For a week or so before the wedding the maid of honor was at the beck and call of the bride, doing just about everything for her. She helped with the decorations, prepared the bouquet, and helped the bride into her dress on the wedding day.

The best man was chosen by the groom to help him fight off any disgruntled suitors who might cause trouble for the bridal couple.

Now for the food. A feast always followed the wedding ceremony even if the couple was poor. Here’s the menu from an Italian wedding in 1488: pastries with pine nuts and sugar; other cakes made with almonds and sugar (similar to marzipan); asparagus; sausages and meatballs; roast partridge and sauce; gilded and slivered whole calves’ heads; capons and pigeons; ham, roasted suckling pig, and wild boar; whole roast sheep with sour cherry sauce; variety of roasted birds; chicken with sugar and rosewater; a mixture of eggs, milk, sage, flour, and sugar; quinces; preserves made with sugar and honey; ten different tortes with candied spice.

Drinks probably included water, ale, beer, mead, milk, and wine. The newly married couple would drink honeyed mead for a month after the wedding which is where the term honeymoon comes from.

Okay, I know we aren’t finished, but this post is getting kind of long so I’ll finish it next week. Then we’ll talk about gifts, entertainment, makeup, and the ceremony itself. See you then.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Look who agreed to be interviewed today! Catherine Bybee author of Binding Vows which is published by The Wild Rose Press stopped by to pay us a visit. Catherine, it's an honor to have you here.

Thank you for having me here today, Elaine.

1.For the benefit of anyone who is unfamiliar with your work, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m a paranormal romance author. I love writing stories where werewolves fall in love and time travel is possible. For years I’ve worked in busy urban Emergency Rooms where reality smacks me upside the head daily… escaping into a romance, either reading or writing, is my Zen Time.

2.I totally love time travel, Catherine. Where do you get your ideas for your books? Are your characters ever based on real people?

Usually my ideas stem from a character I develop from a single scene and simple idea. I’m a complete pantser when I write, so everything evolves during the writing process for me. My characters aren’t based on people I know. I sometimes think of a mannerism I see in real people and try and implement this into a character, but I don’t mimic characters after people.

3.When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? How'd you get your start?

The first time I actually wrote the words “The End” to a manuscript I was hooked. I knew I’d write plenty of books after that. I don’t think “I got my start” as much as forced it. I wrote, submitted and wrote some more. Authors “make things happen”. LOL

4.You are so right. Publishing houses very seldom arrive at our door begging us to show them our work. What does your family think about having an author in the family?

Suddenly they think I’m making money because I’m published… I hated bursting their bubble. I’ve always been a story teller, so I don’t think it came as a surprise. My family is very supportive. Although the thought of my dad reading my erotic romance stories is a bit scary.

5.I know what you mean. People have come right out and asked me if I'm making money. What's the hardest part of writing for you? What's the easiest?

The hardest thing is waiting. Waiting for agents to get back to you, publishers to get back to you… edits to get back to you… release dates to come around… reviews to evolve. Waiting!

Easiest thing? Simply writing a new story. I enjoy the actual creating of a story and characters and making it all work.

6.What are your future goals for your writing?

I’d like to see my books on the shelves at the brick and mortar stores. I’d like people looking for my backlist.

7.Great goals! Now, if you could go anywhere in the world and do anything you want, what would it be?

I’d love a weekend in a castle in Scotland with horses at my disposal.

8.What's the most romantic thing your significant other ever did for you? –
He said the words ‘I do’ at the right time and has ever since.

9.Would you share an excerpt from your book with us?

In this scene, Tara’s a bit miffed about being taken back in time five hundred years without her permission and is letting Duncan know it.

"Where are you going, Tara ?"


"I can see that, but where?"

She stopped and turned. "Far away from you."

He almost collided with her. Before he could react, she
was storming off again, as he shouted, "A lady is not safe out
here by herself."

She stopped. This time he didn't stop in time and fell
into her.

Hands at her sides, her chest thrust up next to his she
gritted between her teeth. "A lady isn't safe around you either."

"Now, Tara." He tried pleading with her.

"Oh, don't you even 'now, Tara' me." She stepped to the
side and started off, in a different direction. Stalking in circles.

He let her walk for several minutes before attempting to
speak to her again. "I would be happy to escort you on a walk. But,
we need to get you more properly dressed." He knew the effect
watching her walk in tight jeans was having on him, he could only
imagine what his men must have thought when she stormed the

"You're a bastard, you know that MacCoinnich?"

He wanted to counter what she said, but cautioned himself
against it. "Still, we need you in more fitting clothes. If someone
were to come along, questions would be raised which would be most
difficult to answer."

"You should have thought of that before you brought me
here." She waved a hand in his general direction. "Right now, I don't
give a crap what questions you might have to answer."

"I told you how necessary it is for secrecy." He turned
to the Keep and noticed some of the men watching, curious about what
would happen. He needed to put a stop to this and soon.

"Bite me."

A completely inappropriate image of him doing exactly
that popped into his head. A slow lazy smile inched over his lips.

Unfortunately, for him, Tara read his thoughts. She
didn't find them nearly as entertaining as he did. "You ass..." She
raised her hand to slap his face.

He caught her hand before it made contact. "I've had
enough of this."

10.Please give us your links so we can find you on the web.

Twitter, Facebook and Myspace are all under the name Catherine Bybee… feel free to follow or friend me.

Thanks again for having me here today.

Thanks for coming, Catherine. I'm looking forward to reading your book, and I do love your cover.