By now, most of you have seen some photos of our trip to Scotland and the visit to Castle Dunfermline. It was inspirational for me, since I’m writing about Queen Margaret and King Malcolm III.
Now I’m going to let you view an “outtake” from the excursion. My excuse for what you’re about to watch is that I’d recently had leg surgery and was still gimpy. Those of you who know me personally may insist that no, this is just typical Lisa, although I can’t imagine why.
Our friend Colin Hewitt (see my last post) and I went down inside the ruins to the kitchen area. I don’t know how the servants got up and down the steep and very narrow winding stairway. My right leg was having none of it, so I wound up crawling. What I didn’t know, was that Chuck was waiting for me at the top of the stairs. No problem. I think I salvaged my dignity.
Somewhere on my journey, on some rail station platform, I stood in a crowd, hoping to catch the right train. An unintelligible announcement came over a scratchy speaker. I couldn’t understand a word, so I turned to a rosy-cheeked gentleman to my right, asking, “What did he say?” John Hewitt laughed and filled me in. We chatted and decided to sit next to each other. Across from us was an Englishman and an Aussie – each of us speaking a different flavor of English. My accent sounded crass to my ears, but it was quite an amusing ride to Musselburgh, where John and his family lived.
John told me he was taking me home, where the family would take care of me for a few days. They did, driving me all around the countryside, where I saw lambs gamboling for the first time; and to castles; and back to their home for dinner. They had three boys, David, Colin and Alistair – three fine lads – I liked them all.
After my two weeks in Britain ended and I returned to Los Angeles, the Hewitts and I stayed in touch. John and Doris and I corresponded for years. Doris sent me photos as the boys grew up. Then John and David died, but Doris and I kept up, until one day, the letters stopped. I knew.
About two years ago, Chuck and I decided to visit Edinburgh, so I could research my trilogy about St. Margaret of Scotland. I wanted to reconnect with the “boys.” I remembered that Colin had become a policeman. In this era of social media, I found him in five minutes. He’d gone on to become a detective, and was now retired. He picked up where his parents had left off, driving us to Dunfermline, the home of Margaret and Malcolm III.
My husband, Chuck, on the left, and Colin on the right, stand outside a closed St. Margaret’s Cave, where she often went to pray.
Colin points to a large chimney in the kitchen adjacent to the abbey. Cooks got burned frequently in those days!
This is the new church at Dunfermline Abbey. For an image of the old section, in which Queen Margaret and King Malcolm III were married, see the photo at the top of this page. Do you remember the Mel Gibson film about William Wallace, “Braveheart?” Well, Robert the Bruce was much more important to Scotland’s history than Wallace was. Would you like to see what Robert the Bruce looked like? He’s just to the right of the altar.
Anyway, the next day, we met the “boys” and their wives for lunch at a local pub called Greyfriars Bobby.
Bobby was a sweet Skye Terrier who guarded his master’s grave for 14 years until he died in 1872. People still leave sticks for the pup to play with. Don’t miss Bobby’s grave the next time you visit Edinburgh.
“Let his loyalty & devotion be a lesson to us all.”
Oh, my heart.
Finally, what you’ve been waiting for: Colin Hewitt; my husband, Chuck; and Alistair Hewitt. We toasted John and Doris over lunch. I’ll never forget John’s kindness to me at the train station that day, so long ago. The Hewitts will always be a part of my family.
Here’s the rest of the “family.” In the back, left to right: Colin and Alistair. In the front: Carol, Colin’s superb wife; me; and Liz, Alistair’s fabulous wife.
By the way, after all those years as a detective, Colin has written a detective mystery you will want to check out: Neglect of Duty.
And now that you know my story, I invite you to read the result of that first visit to Scotland – Book One about Queen Margaret of Scotland’s life.
These are a few of the books I referenced at home in writing “As a Deer Yearns for Running Streams,” about the eleventh-century Queen Margaret of Scotland. I also scoured ten or so more books during our stay near the the Scotland National Library in Edinburgh, and took copious notes from more than thirty at San Marino’s Huntington Library. Research is truly one of my favorite things: it’s falling down the rabbit hole; searching for Easter eggs; holding the golden ticket for Willy Wonka’s factory. It’s weirdly exhilarating !
If you enjoy historical novels or know someone who does, may I suggest this book as a Christmas present? It’s full of history, as seen through the eyes of many of those who lived it. Queen (and Saint) Margaret was a beautiful, kind and conflicted woman. “As a Deer Yearns for Running Streams” is Book One in a trilogy. Book Two is well underway on my computer, and, surprise – there’s even a prequel in the works! This is a project from my heart. I hope it will touch yours.
MAY THIS SEASON BRING PEACE AND JOY TO THE WORLD AND MAY YOUR HEARTS SWELL WITH THE PROMISE OF A NEW YEAR! With love, Lisa
“Lisa brings history alive … a marvelous panoramic view of a young princess’s life in the eleventh century … a fascinating read and a marvelous addition to historical fiction.”
– Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Reader’s Favorite
” … before Lisa’s book, Margaret could never have been understood as the complex figure she was … Lisa Di Vita has succeeded in presenting her holistically as the robust, energetic, holy and courageous woman she truly was.”
– The Very Reverend Canon John E. Crean, Jr., Ph.D
“A perfect book for readers longing to be transported to another time. This enthralling eleventh-century saga is filled with all the color and historical details needed to enter palace intrigue and understand that powerful life forces remain constant no matter the civilization.”
– Nan Rae, Internationally recognized Chinese Brush Painter, Author of “The Ch’i of the Brush.”
You’re invited to enjoy eleventh-century history in Book One of a trilogy about “The Pearl of Scotland,” Margaret of Wessex.
These photos are from an earlier visit to Scotland. We were dragging our tail feathers until we got to the hotel and looked out at the city of Edinburgh. As I mentioned in the previous blog, the National Library of Scotland was right across the street, making my research about Margaret, 11th-century Queen of Scotland, pleasantly convenient.
You may remember seeing this tile crafted by Mary Philpott on this blog. Scroll down to earlier posts to read the story about how I “met” Mary online and asked to use this tile for the cover of my historical novel, which is entitled, “As a Deer Yearns for Running Streams, The Story of Queen Margaret of Scotland,” and will be out in about five days, as an eBook and soft bound.
This novel is one in a series of three about a fascinating 11th-century queen and saint who conquered personal loss, survived the Norman Conquest and became a beloved queen. Researching her for nine months, both in Scotland and at the Huntington Library in Southern California was an exciting adventure for me.
Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing some images from our 2018 trip to Scotland. I managed to book a hotel right across the street from the National Library of Scotland.
I hadn’t been in Scotland since I was 25. (I’m older than that now.)
I love Scotland and Chuck and I had a great time there. We traveled to Dunfermline, where Malcolm III and Margaret lived. I can’t wait to show you the photos from there.
I’d love to share Margaret’s story with you. You should be able to preorder the book now on Amazon, at least the eBook. The bound version will be showing in a few days. Amazon looks favorably on preordering, so if you feel so moved, please do. Here’s the cover:
Heavy the head that wears the crown. Well, actually, the quote is, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” Shakespeare wrote it for “Henry the Fourth, Part Two,” and he’s referring to uneasy sleep when you carry heavy responsibilities. Still, any way you slice it, crowns are heavy. Can you imagine trying to nod your head while balancing this on it?
But there’s something very special about this particular crown: it holds the oldest jewel in England’s crown jewel collection. Nope, it’s not the large jewel in the center of the crown. It’s the one at the very top and it dates back to the eleventh century. This sapphire once belonged to King Edward the Confessor, who is responsible for beautiful Westminster Cathedral. His death in 1066 precipitated the Norman Conquest, which changed history.
Edward, who despite his renowned piety, left something to be desired as a king, wore the sapphire in a ring. The legend goes that one day he came across a poor beggar and discovered he had nothing to give him, so he removed the ring from his finger and handed it to the beggar. Several years later, two men returned the ring to him, saying that St. John the Baptist had appeared to them. The biblical John had told them that one day, he had approached King Edward disguised as a beggar and that the king had given him the ring. Because of his generosity to the poor, the king would be blessed forever.
The stunning sapphire has been recut since the eleventh century, but it truly is a crowning jewel in England’s rich history. And now you know, if you didn’t before.
But don’t worry, no one can tell just by looking at you.
Find out if you’re biphasic: 1. Do you take a nap during the day? 2. Do you sleep for awhile at night, wake up and do some things and then go back to bed? 3. Did you live at any time in human history before about 1925? (!)
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are biphasic, meaning you sleep twice during a 24-hour period. In fact, from the dawn of mankind, until electricity became common (by 1925 half of American homes had it), many, if not most, people went to bed around dusk for their “First Sleep,” awakening around midnight. Then they might play a game, stoke the fire, meditate, do a few chores, have sex, or steal some fruit off a neighbor’s tree. After about an hour, they’d go back to bed for what was called “Second Sleep,” until the sun came up.
Of course, Medieval monks had to be biphasic, rising around 2:00 a.m. during winter for Matins (one of the divine offices as set by St. Benedict), after which they might or might not go back to sleep for a while longer. The above picture depicts a demon suggesting to an eleventh-century monk, Raoul Glaber, that he stay asleep, rather than dragging himself to pray the Psalms in the middle of the night. “I wonder why you are so eager,” the demon would say, “to jump so quickly out of bed, as soon as you’ve heard the signal, and to interrupt the sweet rest of sleep, while you could give yourself up to rest until the third signal.”
The wealthier the Medieval individual, though, the later they tended to go to bed and the more likely they were to take their sleep in more or less a single block, say, going to bed at midnight and awakening briefly early in the morning and then going back to sleep until the sun was fully up. In fact, it was something of a status symbol if one was able to sleep all night without waking up.
Interestingly, it was recommended that children sleep through the night, getting nine or ten solid, consecutive hours. I’m thinking that was more for the parents than the children.
Unfortunately, biphasic sleeping didn’t eliminate sleep disturbances like insomnia or sleep-walking. Nor did it quiet the neighbors’ barking dog. Furthermore, studies show that people who sleep for a single block of time live longer. Einstein slept ten or more hours a night, so I guess it also makes you smarter.
Falconry, or “hawking,” a method of hunting game wildly popular during the Middle Ages, probably originated about 4000 years ago, possibly in Persia. My single brush with the sport occurred in Riverside, CA. I took two sessions of what was supposed to be classes in the rudiments of animal training, and perhaps they were. I only know that in my experience, we mostly cleaned up animal poop. But I loved it anyway. I was around elephants, primates, big cats and exotic birds. In theory, our instructor, the head master, was a film animal trainer, known for having developed a unique, gentle way of getting the best from his animals. They must have missed him greatly when he was convicted of animal abuse!
Anyway, the high point of my animal “training,” (in-between poop runs), was the day we each took a turn donning a thick elk hide glove for an opportunity to have a Peregrine Falcon land on our arm. In my case, the dang glove ended somewhere near my shoulder, but nothing mattered the moment that very solid and primal bird landed and dug her talons into the leather, which I now was grateful covered most of my arm. And yes, I could feel the talons through the elk hide.
The raptor’s power was magical. Awe short-circuited my brain as I imagined this beautiful and deadly assassin taking out a duck mid-air with one slicing move.
Medieval falconry, or hawking, terms that are sometimes used interchangeably, but rather erroneously, was more than just a sport. Much more, for a while. Certainly, it was an effective method of hunting and one that was highly regulated by class. But the sport reached the level of a fad, a craze, an obsession, sought after by rich and poor alike. Nuns, yes, nuns walked around with hawking birds on their arms. Given what these birds of prey eat, can you imagine how much Febreeze the nuns’ habits required?
In the trilogy I’m writing about Queen Margaret of Scotland, falconry is highlighted several times. One example I give of an avid falconer is Edward the Confessor, who is King of England when young Margaret and her family arrive from Hungary. He was known to go daily from Mass to the mews to pick up his hooded bird. As always, it’s good to be king.
A number of birds can be utilized for hunting, and each one has its unique skill set. Let me just say that the Peregrine Falcon flies very high in the sky, exceeding speeds of 200 miles per hour. She can dive during flight at 186 miles per hour. The Peregrine is not only the fastest bird on the planet, but the fastest animal. The Peregrine kills on impact with clenched talons.
Now when you read about Edward the Confessor hunting in “As the Deer Yearns: Queen Margaret of Scotland, Book One” (coming soon), you’ll be better able to picture what it was like! You’re welcome.
This image, “Medieval Bestiary Deer: Deer in a Rowan Bower,” is a tile created by artist Mary Philpott. It will grace the cover of the first book in my trilogy about Queen Margaret of Scotland. I couldn’t be happier with this magical deer, or more amazed that I found it. Generally, the internet seems as destructive as it is interesting, but occasionally it connects people who would never meet but for electronic surfing. That’s how I found Mary. I don’t remember exactly what I clicked on that brought up her work, but what I saw made me stare at the screen in joy. It felt like destiny.
I clicked my way to Verdant Tile Co. (verdanttileco.com), Mary’s company, and discovered the extent of her talent. These hand pressed porcelain tiles are contemporary, yet feel historical. She’s got a Medieval soul, for sure. I’ve already chosen two other tiles for the 2nd and 3rd books in the trilogy, but you’ll have to wait a while to see them, (just for the suspense). Mary’s been most gracious and generous, and as it turns out, she has numerous facets to her art, personality and lifestyle. I had to share her with you, so here goes:
Mary Philpott lives out in the countryside in Uxbridge, Ontario, surrounded by hundreds of acres of forest, “part of which we are stewards of and maintain paths, keep bees and report to the government on wildlife.”
Mary attended the University of Guelph to study Art History and Archeology. Her goal was studio art, but she fell in love with history, especially the Medieval era. After studying Anthropological Archeology, she enrolled in Sheridan College School of Craft and Design for textile design. Once she discovered clay, she’d found her calling.
I asked her some questions about her work. Her palette is unabashedly rich, and she described much of her inspiration as from Provence, France.
Mary: “I think the clouds of Provence are found in the textiles of the region. They are that sunny, deep ochre type yellow that the sun shines through. My yellow is like that and (also) like the honey I find, and the green is that deep, rich emerald type green. The blue is also found in (Provence) textiles. The colours are also similar to the early 1900s Majolica ware found in France, Italy and Portugal.”
More recently, Mary has discovered a love of sculptural ceramics, and I think her delightful forest animals vibrate with character! She says she’s always loved animals. I think she sees them in a unique way.
Thank you, Mary, for letting me share the wonderfulness that is you!
I’ve spent the last 10 months researching an 11th-century historical work of fiction: a trilogy about Queen Margaret of Scotland. “Living” in the medieval world has grabbed me and I want to make contact with others who also love that time period. Here’s my request to you: I need to select an image for the cover of the first book, post-haste. I find the image above very appealing. Do you? There’s a white hart featured in book one, which is a reason I like it, even though it was painted way after Margaret died.
If you have other ideas for a cover, please comment. And include an image! At the moment, I’m not so interested in an image of a female, but it you think you have the perfect one, send it along.