Regency and Research, The Paranormal

The Pig-Faced Woman: Found it!

466px-The_Wonderful_Mrs._AtkinsonHave you ever found a little tidbit of research only to completely forget where or when you saw it? What you have here has eluded me for months. I originally read of this legend in Captain Rees Howell Gronow’s reminiscences. Behold: The pig-faced lady.  I finally found word of it (and was jumping up and down), at Pig-faced women on Wikipedia.

For me, it’s perfect: Regency + paranormal = fantastic!

The story goes that the story originates in Holland, England, and France simultaneously in the late 1630s, of a noblewoman with a lovely human body, but the head of a pig. Perhaps her unfortunate appearance was the result of a curse; that is unclear.  When she married, her husband was given the choice: she could appear beautiful to him, but pig-like to others, or pig-like to him, and beautiful to others. When he told her the choice was hers rather than his, the curse was broken (at which point I can only surmise she became beautiful … or maybe the story is more Shrek like).

(Sorry, I digress … all wound up with Coke and finally having found this legend!)

Anyway, the legend appears again in Dublin in the early 19th century, giving the pig-faced woman a name: Griselda Steevens. This poor woman was said to be quite shy and reclusive, often remaining in her carriage while her servants gave alms to the poor. While it’s unclear whether the rumors of her having a pig-face began while she was still alive, there are stories that dismayed (obviously!) about the idea people had about her, she took to intentionally showing off her face in public, and even commissioned a painting of herself for the hospital she had built. But alas, without avail, as locals still preferred the image of the woman with a pig’s head in the tavern across the way.

Then it shows up again in London, 1814-1815 when there were rumors a pig-faced woman was living in Marylebone. Her existence was widely reported, included many alleged portraits and sketches of her. During celebrations following the end of the Napoleonic wars, traffic was tied up, and it was said that in one of the carriages was a woman with a pig’s snout protruding from beneath her poke bonnet.

“It was rumoured that during the illuminations which took place to celebrate the peace, when a great crowd had assembled in Piccadilly and St James’s Street, and when carriages could not move on very rapidly, “horresco referens !” an enormous pig’s snout had been seen protruding from a fashionable-looking bonnet in one of the landaus which were passing. The mob cried out, “ The pig-faced lady !—the pig faced lady! Stop the carriage—stop the carriage!” The coachman, wishing to save his bacon, whipped his horses, and drove through the crowd at a tremendous pace; but it was said that the coach had been seen to set down its monstrous load in Grosvenor Square.”

[Source: Reminiscences of Captain R. H. Gronow, being anecdotes of the camp, the court, and the clubs at the close of the last war with France. Gronow. p111-113: Now I can’t lose it again!]

Belief in pig women was so widespread, that often at fairs, charlatans purported to “show” one, which were usually shaved bears they dressed up in women’s clothing. Even Dickens was said to have commented on the prevalence of the legend, remarking that every age had its own pig-lady (pardon the paraphrase).

But, belief in their legend declined eventually, leading to the last “serious” work about their existence in 1924. This was in a book Ghosts, Helpful and Harmful by Elliot O’Donnell, a supernatural researcher. He claimed there was a ghost of a pig lady in a haunted house in Chelsea. Perhaps we have seen the last of the pig-lady, but I’m sure glad I found her again! I can’t wait to tell her story. 🙂

Have you ever lost that juicy tidbit of research? Have you ever heard of the pig-faced woman?

Thanks for reading. And hey, like the post? Why not follow the blog. Have a great week!


Regency and Research

Stress Driving You Mad?: St. Luke’s Hospital

Bedlam, or Bethlem, Hospital has achieved such historic notoriety, certainly most of us have heard of it. Here it was that pauper lunatics were sent up until 1751.

Now, the sad fact was that the 18th and early 19th centuries were not kind to lunatics. They were often treated little better than animals. If they were lucky enough to have wealthy relatives, somebody was paid to care and keep them out of the way. For the rest of them, Bedlam was designed specifically for the purpose. Perhaps most disturbing to modern sensibilities was the addition of galleries and methods so that visitors could go to visit Bedlam and laugh and jeer at the poor lunatics trapped there.

So, note to self: if I am trapped in Regency England and declared mad, St. Luke’s is the way to go. No provisions were made for laughing and jeering at the lunatics.

This picture, again from Microcosm of London, shows St. Luke’s Hospital, one of the galleries in the female wing. By historical standards, it was quite humane. The room is clean, some of the women are working, others take turns around the room. None of them are chained, and each lunatic is provided with a bed, blankets, and if “her habits were clean enough”, sheets. Yes, again I look to my tiny 1940 edition, and John Summerson’s helpful notes.

Summerson writes:

“The building is very like a prison and was, indeed, designed by George Dance, the architect of Newgate Gaol. Dance was an artist of extraordinary power and a grim theme sometimes drew out the best in him. This gallery, with its long thin windows, fantastically high cell doors and iron grilles, might be a stage set for the Duchess of Malfi. Compare it to Dance’s Chapel at Newgate [see Aug 16th post], another specimen of the art of being architecturally grim. Today we disapprove of architecture which deliberately dramatises unpleasant things. A madhouse which looked like a setting for the hallucinations of madmen would never do. It must look like a gentleman’s residence and must be called, not a mad-house, or even a lunatic asylum, but a ‘mental home.'” (- Summerson, 19-20, Microcosm of London, 1943)

I included the last bit because I found it rather amusing, his ascerbic notation – because in designing buildings today, we’re also conscious of making them more “friendly” for the most part. Of course, we also know (or think we know) that different environments have different effects on patients and inmates (depending on whether it’s a hospital or prison – often designed by similar people).

What do you think? Does this hospital look suitable for the mad? What improvements do you think we’ve made since then? What perhaps have we forgotten? Curious about anything else? Do leave a note – you know you want to. 😉

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Regency and Research

A Very Brief History Of Forensics: Yes, Pre 20th c.

Like most people, I got my first “taste” of forensics through CSI, and found myself fascinated.

Unlike most people, this fascination led me to want to write a book about a Regency era detective who used forensics to solve crimes, and magic to fill in the blanks of unavailable technology. First, I had to research what was possible in early 19th century forensics. Turns out, quite a bit. I’ve included references if you’re interested in finding out more.

700s – Chinese use fingerprints to authenticate documents

925 A.D. – England’s Charts of Privileges lists the office that would become coroner (“crowners” at first), who collected taxes, and also summoned inquest juries when someone was seriously wounded or died from “misadventure”. Coroner’s became “death investigator’s” by the 13th century when they examined all dead bodies to determine the nature of wounds, diseases, and a person’s matter of death. (Ramsland, Beating the Devil’s Game, p5)

c. 1000, Quintilian, a Roman attorney, wins acquittal for his client by proving that bloody palm prints were intended to frame him.

1247 A.D. – Sung Tz’u, a Chinese lawyer, offered advice in one of the oldest forensic technique books, Hsi yüan chi lu (The Washing Away of Unjust Imputations). He based his ideas on solving cases and calculated decomposition rates on strict observation and logic. In this handbook on autopsies, the author describes how different causes of death would demonstrate themselves in the state of the body. (Ramsland, Beating the Devil’s Game, p6-7)

end of the 16th century – Battista Condronchi offered De Mortis Veneficiis, a study of poisoning deaths, followed seven years later by De Relationibus Medicorum by Fortunato Fedele. (Ramsland, ibid, p11-12)

1609 – First study on handwriting analysis by Frenchman Francois Denelle.

mid 1600s – Germany’s University of Leipzig offered a course in forensic medicine.

1670 – Anton Van Leeuwenkoek develops the first simple microscope, the world’s first powerful precision microscope.

1728 – Frenchman Pierre Fauchard writes Treatise on the Teeth, which proves teeth could be used for identification purposes.

post 1780 – “Scotland established itself as a leader in forensic investigation post-1780, such as in the case of a murderer girl where a cast of a suspect’s shoe was made, and the wound was determined to be made by a left-handed killer because the slash had started on the right. (Ramsland, ibid, p.16-17).

1784 – England. John Toms is convicted of murder because a torn piece of paper in the murder gun matched a piece of paper in his pocket; this is considered perhaps the first documented incidence of physical matching evidence.

1806 – Dr. Valentine Rose showed how arsenic could be detected in human organs, showing how toxicology was valuable to crime solving.

1807 – First forensic science institute established at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Even Americans looking to improve medical jurisprudence looked to Scottish physicians.

1811 – French pediatrician and chemist, Pierre Nysten, published results of his studies on rigor mortis, identifying various stages.

1811, December 7 – Horrific crime in London’s East End along the Ratcliffe Highway; intruder murdered shop owner Timothy Marr, his wife and apprentice, and the baby sleeping in the next room. Two weeks later, similar murders at the King’s Arm Inn. A seaman’s maul was found with the initials “J.P.” and an Irish sailor was suspected, but never convicted as he hanged himself first in Coldbath Fields Prison. (Ramsland, ibid, p. 22-23).

1813 – prodigy Dr. Mathieu Joseph Bonaventure Orfila publishes the first systematic treatise on known poisons. Has a second book four years later, but not consulted by police for a criminal case – despite being the world’s authority on toxicology – until 1824. (Ramsland, ibid, p32).

1814-1815 – Vidocq, a police informant working for Napoleon (among other things he’s accused / remembered as), had a systematic approach to crime which advanced forensic techniques, like keeping detailed written records, notes, comparing spent bullets to weapons, preserving footprint casts, comparing handwriting samples, suggesting fingerprints could be used as a form of I.D.

1823 – Czech physiologist Johannes Evangelist Purkinje publishes description of nine fingerprint types, thinking they could be used for identification (and you’ll note, arriving earlier than Galton). (Ramsland, ibid, p31).

1833 – Vidocq establishes world’s first detective agency, Le Bureau des Renseignments.

1835 – Bow Street Runner Henry Goddard uses matching bullets and the discovery of an inside job to solve a crime, and become one of the forerunners of ballistics experts (Ramsland, ibid, p35).

1839 – the word “scientist” comes into use.

1843 – Belgium’s Sûreté Publique takes the first known mug shots of criminals. Throughout the 1850s, police departments across Europe and the U.S. compile archives of prisoner images. (Ramsland, ibid, p44)

1859 – U.S. becomes the first country in which photographs can be used as evidence in a court of law.

1892 – Francis Galton develops the fingerprint classification system.

1901 – Karl Landsteindr identifies human blood groups.

So, what do you think? Does forensics interest you? Have you ever gotten so interested in something that it’s led you down unusual research paths? 

Thanks for reading. And hey, like the post? Why not sign up for the blog? Hope you have a fantastic week. 🙂

Regency and Research

Strange But Fun Research Books

I’m taking a break from the Regency for this week and instead showing off some of my favorite weird-ass books that I have on my shelves for research. You know the kind: they’re kind of unexpected, they’re not exactly the kind of book you use as everyday reference, they can become an enormous time-suck, but boy are they fun to poke around in. Yep, some of those. 🙂

weaponsbookThe Complete Encyclopedia of Arms and Weapons. Eds. Leonid Tarassuk & Claude Blair.

This dear book has been a long and dutiful friend, ever handy when I’m feeling rather blood-thirsty. It’s an old guy that I picked up at a library book sale, but it’s a great reference for actually looking up weapons … or if you just want to compare different suits of armor, or maybe look for a neat-looking dagger your heroine might use. Or you know, play. 🙂

Advanced Dungeons and Dragons: Dungeon Master Guide: Arms and Equipment Guide.

I confess that I haven’t used this book as often as I might, but when a friend’s hubby said he was giving away books, well, first, who says no to a free book? and second, this one looked handy when it came to describing things I wasn’t familiar with. There are lots of pictures and descriptions of those pictures so you can understand what different weapons are, different costumes, etc. Again, a fair bit of fun to thumb through.

bodylangThe Definitive Book of Body Language. By Allan and Barbara Pease.

This was purchased in relation to writing, and because it was really interesting when I read through it somewhat randomly the first time (have no idea why I picked it up). As well as being handy for understanding body language so you can write about it, try reading it and then go out for dinner with friends, or especially with people you don’t know very well. It’s great fun all dinner long to read what their body language is saying, so much more interesting than the conversation. 🙂

You Can Read Anyone: Never Be Fooled, Lied To, or Taken Advantage of Again. By David J. Lieberman.

Yep, I got hooked on body language books, which is why I followed up the Peases’ book with this one. Also interesting, it delves into a bit more detail, and is especially used for kind of criminal profiling – though it also goes into why a read can be flawed on the basis of nervousness, etc. I, for example, swear I look like the most guilty person in the airport, because though I’m not doing anything wrong, I’m terrified I’ll be caught doing something and miss my flight.

bookromeTraveller’s Guide to the Ancient World: Rome in the Year AD 300. By Ray Laurence.

This was a bargain pick-up, and because someday, I swear I’m going to write a book with Ancient Rome in it. This one is a lot of fun because it’s formatted just like a modern travel book, which makes is super easy to find all kinds of information you’d be hard pressed to otherwise. I haven’t read – or double-checked – the sources and authenticity since I haven’t had to, but if you want it for actual reference, that would probably be a good idea. I’m not entirely certain how factual it is, but it is fun.

A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits. By Carol K. Mack and Dinah Mack.

I did mention these were weird and rather random books, right? This is an interesting book in how it’s written – as though you’re actually out encountering or hunting down demons. A bit strange, but definitely interesting for the perspective.

Planet Cat: A cat-alog. By Sandra Choron, Harry Choron, and Arden Moore.planetcat

I like cats, which is where this book originates. But I found, to my surprise, that it’s also a great source for weird cat-trivia which could come in handy if you happen to have a feline character. There’s tons of myth, famous cats, history, cat in context to said history, that sort of thing. No, you probably aren’t going to find a use for most (all?) of the info in here, but more fun than you’d probably expect.

birthdayencycThe Element Encyclopedia of Birthdays: know your birthday, discover your true personality, reveal your destiny. By Theresa Cheung.

Ah, and at last we end on my favorite weird-ass book. It grabbed the attention of my husband and I in the bookstore, and despite it’s price tag, it came home with us. It’s also often flipped through by friends when they see it, and I confess to looking up most of my friends and family to see what it has to say. (Oh, and characters for books too – though again, less research, more play.)

So what the heck is it, you ask? It’s an encyclopedia of birthdays, breaking it down by zodiac, numerology and other systems, so you can look at general “sign” information, as well as just look up your birthday and read an assessment of your personality. For example, if your birthday were today, July 26, you’d find (p297):

“this is the birthday of self-assurance.

“People born on July 26 tend to be charming and strong individuals with an almost unshakable belief in themselves. … Other people tend to listen when these dominant personalities speak because they have an air about them which others respect and admire. … From the age of twenty-seven, they have an increasing desire for more practical order, efficiency, and analysis in their lives. In the years that follow, it is important for their pscyhological growth that they don’t become over-confident …”

“On the dark-side: over-confident, tactless, uncompromising.”

“At your best: honest, authoritative, confident.”

Neat, huh? Trust me, lots of time can vanish just playing with this book.

So, what are your favorite weird-ass books – whether they live in your home or not? Why do they make your list? What makes them special?

Thanks for reading, and speaking of vanishing time, I better get back to work. 🙂 Hope you have a great week, and hey, if you liked this post, why not follow the blog? Have a good one. 🙂

Regency and Research

You Called Him What?: Some Regency name-calling

I love slang and strange turns-of-phrase, especially when it comes to swears and name calling. Now, courtesy of Mr. Southey and “Letters from England,” I have a fun post for today with some English Regency slang. Can’t be sure how much he’s just having fun, and how much truth there was in it, but hey, it’s all good. 🙂

“horse” (see Southey, p314): “employed in combination to signify any thing large and coarse, as in horse-beans, horse-chestnut, horse-radish.”

Horse godmother – a woman of masculine appearance

Jolly dog – great compliment and name for a man from his companions

honest dog – name for a man when he adds other good qualities to good naturedness

sad dog – a male reprobate

dog – a term of endearment by an Englishman for his child; also what he calls a misbehaving servant

puppy – term of contempt for a coxcomb or vain, flighty man

bitch – the worst name for a woman

spaniel – flatterer

bull-dog – a ruffian

ugly hound – an man who looks terrible

whelp, cur, mongrel – terms of contempt and reproach for young men

pug – a young woman with an upturned nose

So, know any “spaniels” or “honest dogs”? 🙂

What are some of your favorite slang terms that would appear very unusual to an outsider – perhaps indecipherable? Historical or current, it’s all good. Do share. 🙂

Thanks for reading, and have a great week. And hey, before you go, why not sign up to follow the blog? You don’t want to miss anything.

Have a good one!

Regency and Research, Writing

Research Woes: Six Ways to Overcome Research Block

Maybe it’s the treasure hunter in me, but I enjoy research. On the one hand (especially when the book is REALLY boring), it lets my mind float and come up with things that are far more interesting than the text. And of course on the other hand, you get to find that little nugget of information you were looking for.

This, of course, is when things are going well. And let’s face it, they don’t always. Sometimes it’s next to impossible to locate something obscure and obsession-worthy. Seeing as I appear to have a gift for researching (and obsessing over) strange topics, I have some suggestions.

So, here are my six ways to overcome research blocks:

1) Problem: You can’t find anything you’re looking for.

Solution: Are you searching for the correct terms? Especially in historical and other cultural contexts, just because we use a word to define one thing doesn’t mean everyone has, or ever will. I wanted to find “morgues” and “graveyards” (yes, I do seem to have a thing for dead bodies), but I found nothing. When, however, I started searching for “mortuary” and “cemetery” or “churchyard,” suddenly I found all sorts of information. The keyword is often the golden key you need to unlock the information you search for.

2) Problem: How do I find the right term?

Solution: To locate the term, try searching “around” the specific research item. For example, if I know “coroner” is and was the term for someone who worked in a morgue, I just needed to find out where historical sources thought the coroner worked, and out pops the search terms I’m really looking for and just didn’t know it.

3) Problem: Reading all these texts – especially the poorly printed / scanned ones – is putting me to sleep and making my head hurt.

Solution: Stop whining. Have some caffeine. Get back to work. Your story will be stronger for it, I promise. 🙂

4) Problem: I can find research for what I’m looking for before and after the period I’m most interested in. Now what?

Solution: Extrapolate and keep searching. While a source from 1839 can’t say much definitively about 1817, if a situation is terrible by then – and earlier research suggests things are bad pre-1817 – then it was probably bad in 1817. Likewise, remember that the more recent source may touch on information which predates it. Check the indexes and skim through, leaving no word un-sounded.

5) Problem: I found what I was looking for, but it isn’t at all what I expected. Now what?

Solution: Basically, this just sucks, and you have my sympathies (I’ve run into this before, where research proves whatever you wanted to do is highly unlikely and improbable, which unfortunately you didn’t know until later research. My condolences.) Anyhoo, I think this leaves you with essentially two possibilities. First, change your mind. Yes, it hurts, but if research proves whatever scene / action / etc is now unlikely or improbable – and your smart readers (they are VERY smart) will catch on and it will ruin the story, it’s not worth the risk. Research something new. Second option: make it work, incorporating research and developing a plausible situation. I think this especially works when the research you’ve discovered is especially obscure that maybe you and three other people know it. I don’t advise fudging it, but instead, work around it. Use the research and your knowledge to create a workable situation.

6) Problem: I STILL can’t find what I’m looking for, and I’m at wit’s end. What do I do?

Solution: Find someone who can help. Do not underestimate the kindness of strangers and the immense knowledge available out there. Be open to asking questions, sharing and receiving information. Find the expert that might have your answer, and don’t be afraid to ask your question. Don’t expect them to do the work for you, but perhaps point you in the right direction if necessary.

So, can you tell I’m working on research well re-writing? 😉

What about you? What research troubles have you stumbled upon? What kind of research always trips you up? What solutions have you found to research difficulties? Stories? Come on, share a little. 🙂

Thanks for reading, and hey, like the post? Why not sign up for the blog. Have a great week, happy writing, and see you back here soon. 🙂

Regency and Research

The Regency Period: An Introduction


I adore the Regency Period. But often when I say I write “Paranormal Regency romance,” I am greeted by blank looks, and confused stares. Unless you love the Regency (or maybe romances), there’s a good chance you haven’t heard about it.

My husband considers the Regency “that time before the Victorians, but still in the 19th century.” Jane Austen’s heyday, and the setting for her novels. Which is correct … mostly.

To be a little less vague, the period is quite short, usually from around 1810 – 1830, and my focus is the Regency period in England. What makes this period so interesting to me is that you have some flux in society, and while brief, it’s a bit like a pause and transition from one type of society to another. The Regency still has some of the wild, rowdiness of the Georgians in the late 18th century (1700s), but new rules are being established that will eventually become the Victorian Period (and really, our society still resembles the Victorians.) So essentially you have these people who like to drink and have a great time … but certain members of society are trying to tone that down and establish proper “moral” uprightness. Rules of courting get more complicated and vigilant, where an unmarried male and female have a very difficult time spending any private time together (romance novels, of course, find a way around this.)

So, there are balls and pretty muslin gowns, and delicate slippers. Yes, all that interests me.

And then there’s the dark side of the Regency period. The part where a formalized police force doesn’t yet exist because of England – and especially London’s – reluctance to accept an organized system of control which they felt trod on their rights and restricted personal freedoms. Police would be another kind of home-military, which they had no desire for. It wasn’t until 1827 that Robert Peel was finally able to convince Parliament to accept the New London Police. But the Regency era had somewhat limited policing, a taste for adventure and wildness, and naturally, significant crime. The appalling poverty – especially of the East End of London – that Mayhew describes in “London Labour and the London Poor” in the Victorian period is definitely an issue in the Regency as well. After the end of the Napoleonic wars and Waterloo – and no plan what to do with the returning soldiers, especially those who have been wounded or maimed in battle and will be unable to work – there are more homeless and desperate people on London’s streets. I’ve read before that crime was so bad, some had bars installed on their carriages to protect themselves. Walking into a dangerous area of London – and sometimes just on the streets at all – was an invitation to have your pockets picked … or worse.

That’s the part of the Regency that really appeals to me. What better environs for some supernatural creatures to poke about? 😉

All that said – and I will certainly share what I know about the Regency and what I’m learning – there’s so much more I have yet to learn. I’ve included some links below to some of the people I turn to as sources, since they know a lot more than I do!

Candice Hern’s Website

Regency Era Information from Michele Sinclair’s page

Jane Austen’s World

I hope you enjoy learning about the Regency, and come to find it as intriguing a place as I do to visit – in fiction at least. 🙂

Time for you to comment. So, what is your impression of the Regency period? The same as mine? What’s your favorite historical period?

Thanks for reading, and have a great week. And hey? New to the blog? Like what you see? Why not sign up to follow so you don’t miss a post.