The Castle

Mighty Edinburgh Castle, built on Castle Rock, has been besieged 26 times in the 1100 years of its existence. In the 16th century, much of the original castle was lost in a bombardment.


Just one example of the outcroppings that pop up throughout the Castle grounds.
Hence the name, Castle Rock.


One of the buildings to survive the bombardment of Edinburgh Castle is also its oldest, Queen Margaret’s chapel. The current building was erected by her son, David I, after she died at Edinburgh Castle in 1093. This chapel is thought to have been built to honor the spot on which she died. It’s small inside, but is lovely and bright and peaceful. Scroll down to see.


Margaret’s tiny chapel feels holy. It’s a happy place..


The stained glass window depicting Margaret, whom we know was beautiful.
Look at those Medieval stones!


On the wall opposite St. Margaret’s window is this replica of her 11th-century Gospel-book … which still exists! The original copy is held at the Bodelian Library at Oxford University.

In “As the Deer Yearns for Running Streams,” she receives this book as a young girl.
Since we don’t know when or exactly how she acquired it, I picked a date. The book fell into a river when she was an adult but was found several days later, undamaged by the water, except for one or two cover pages. It was proclaimed a miracle.


Small wonder people love Edinburgh.


Detail from Mary Philpott’s exquisite tile, used on the book’s cover.


Artist Mary Philpott – verdanttileco.com


Link to Amazon books:

Cherished Edinburgh

I do seem a little bleary here, I note. Looks like the makeup wore off trans-Atlantic.

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.

Edinburgh. Old. Glorious. A place that played an important role in the life of Queen Margaret of Scotland.
Narrow Victoria Street, right around the corner from our Radisson Hotel on the Royal Mile, is purportedly where J.K. Rowling wrote the first “Harry Potter” book at one of the small restaurants. We drove past her current home a few days later. It was nice.


These were in a store window on Victoria Street. No, we didn’t buy anything.
The royal kids are on their own
.


Same street. Random photo. I just liked the stairs and the red wall. This street winds down to the wider ones of Grassmarket and Cowgate, names relevant to earlier times. Edinburgh was buzzing even in the eleventh century. We found a terrific French restaurant on Grassmarket.


This image of a house from 1630 was taken in front of Edinburgh Castle, looking the other direction. Notice the books in the window. Perfect. I post this to tantalize you for the next blog, which will take us to EDINBURGH CASTLE.

As a Deer Yearns for Running Streams:
The Story of Queen Margaret of Scotland

As a Deer Yearns … the Story of Queen Margaret of Scotland is coming.

Tile by Mary Philpott

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:

Crown Jewels, Jewels, Jewels

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?

St. Edward’s Crown

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.

Are you biphasic?

You just might be and you don’t even know it.

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.

A Demon Tempting a Sleeping Monk

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.

Sorry, sometimes I simply need that nap.

– Lisa Di Vita


Medieval Falconry

From the Codex Manesse

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.

Poor duck.

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.

Serendipity or Destiny? Here’s how I met Mary Philpott.

This will be the image on the cover of "As the Deer Yearns" Queen Margaret of Scotland. It is a tile created by the magical artist, Mary Philpott.
Courtesy of verdanttileco.com

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.

Garden of Poppies by Mary Philpott.

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.

Mary Philpott is an internationally exhibited artist.
She is a Master member of the Roycraft Renaissance Artisans.

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.”

Fox and Hare, by Mary Philpott.
Courtesy of verdanttileco.com

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.

Says Mary, “Although I am Agnostic, I feel like there is an Earth Spirit who inhabits the trees and the animals that is very special, and holds so much meaning for me and for the world. In this way I find myself drawn to Celtic Mythology and the earth spirits like Cernunnos.”
(Cernunnos is a Celtic god associated with animals – Lisa)
Image courtesy of withinabrightwood.com.


Thank you, Mary, for letting me share the wonderfulness that is you!

Meet Margaret, Queen of Scotland

Here’s a drawing taken from a family tree, of Queen Margaret of Scotland. While she’s well-known in the UK, she’s lesser (or barely) known in the United States and elsewhere. Book One of my trilogy about her is nearly done. Born around 1046, she died in Edinburgh Castle in 1093, after a rather extraordinary life. More to come …

The Medieval Mind

XCF272271 White Hart, from ‘ The Wilton Diptych’ c.1395-99 (egg tempera on oak) (verso) by Master of the Wilton Diptych, (fl.c.1395-99); National Gallery, London, UK; (add.info.: White Hart was the personal badge of Richard II;); French, out of copyright

Calling all minds Medieval

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.

Thank you! Let’s do this together!

Reality and poetry

Poetry was invented by someone who realized what the Impressionist painters knew: the literal sometimes doesn’t convey reality as well as a creatively presented impression of it. Poetry speaks directly to the heart, sometimes with beauty, sometimes with humor and sometimes with pain. But it always races through the brain right into the heart.

With Armistice Day still fresh in our memories, I offer this poem, written by award-winning poet, Christopher Addé, Manager of the General Collections at the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA. Chris, who was raised near London, says, “As a boy I lived near a churchyard that had a number of WWI graves and I played on bomb sites leftover from WWII. Even so young you could not help but take it in.”

What resonated with me about this poem is the bond between the two soldiers. Ultimately, what we crave  is another human’s touch, to know we’re not alone.

English Country Churchyard

This English country churchyard
In whose quiet I now lie
Is far removed from where I fought
And lost my arm and eye
Twisted by the bullets as they spat
From every gun
I fell into a shell-hole
Where there lay a wounded Hun.

Two men, exhausted, hurt, and weak
With death to contemplate
Looked hard at one another
Yet without a trace of hate
Poor Hun had been a day or three
Laid in the stinking mire – 
A bullet lodged within his chest
From taking British fire.

He could not speak, no more could I,
Marooned in No-Mans land
We were each other’s equal
And he reached out for my hand
It was, as if, he’d clung to life
So not to pass alone
Then clasping tight he smiled and died
To leave me on my own.

I, with luck, was rescued
Living on for ten more years
Though my sleep at night was fitful
As I faced my wartime fears
At length my wounds proved fatal
And at thirty life was done
But as I slipped, I saw outstretched
The hand from that old Hun.

My battles now are different – 
Fighting briars that have grown
And the creeping lichen legions
That advance upon my stone
I did not have my children
Nor the chance to seek out fame
But this English country churchyard
Lets me keep alive my name.


– Christopher J S Addé

August, 2006