Jessie: In New Hampshire where the Thanksgiving leftovers are now just a fond memory. Once again the Wickeds are delighted to welcome multi-published, and versatile Maine author, Kathy Lynn Emerson. Kathy has a rare ability to bring settings and characters to life whether they are modern residents of rural Maine or historical figures of England. Thanks for visiting with us today!
For Wicked Cozies, the story of a wicked woman.
I admit it. I have a soft spot for the Elizabethan underworld. Of course, the Elizabethans didn’t call it that, but they certainly had one—vagabonds, beggars, thieves, prostitutes, players and spies. Since what the distaff side was up to has always been my focus when studying history, I tend to pay particular attention to anything written about women who ran afoul of the law. It was far too easy for a woman to end up in gaol. Often this was through no fault of her own, but there are also some spectacular examples of women who turned sin into profit and avoided, for the most part, the perils of arrest and punishment.
One of the most infamous went by the name Black Luce of Clerkenwell. Since she was in her heyday during the period when my Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries take place, I couldn’t resist making her a featured player in the second in the series, Murder in the Merchant’s Hall. I created a character that has some basis in fact, but one that also contains a heaping helping of imagination. You see, the real Black Luce is something of a mystery woman.
By 1576, a woman called Black Luce was running a bawdy house in St. John Street, Clerkenwell. Whether she was actually a black woman, simply dark skinned, or only black-hearted, is unknown, but her nickname led Leslie Hotson, in Mr. W.H.(1964), to suggest she might be the dark lady who inspired Shakespeare to write his sonnets. He also identified her as having once been a gentlewoman (Lucy Morgan) at the court of Queen Elizabeth. For decades, no one did any further investigation. Then Gustav Ungerer, in his “Prostitution in Late Elizabethan England: The Case of Mary Newborough,” and Duncan Salkeld in Shakespeare among the Courtesans discovered that Black Luce was married to a man named Baynham and, while they don’t completely discount her connection to the players, they do disprove Hotson’s claim that she was Lucy Morgan.
There was a real Lucy Morgan, a gentlewoman at the court of Queen Elizabeth from 1579 to 1582. She may have married a man named Parker and been the Lucy Parker who, at Yuletide 1588/9, gave the queen a box of cherries as a New Year’s gift. And this same Lucy Morgan does appear to have fallen on hard times and turned to a life of sin. The records of Bridewell for May 3, 1598, include charges brought against her for living at the house of Edward Tilsley at Pichet Hatch at the upper end of Aldersgate, where she was visited by Tilsley once a fortnight and also visited by friends of his. Tilsley gave her three shillings a week for her maintenance and paid the rent on the house. There is no record that she was imprisoned for immoral behavior, perhaps because the testimony also revealed that Sir Matthew Morgan gave her an allowance of ten pounds when he was in England and had sent her five pounds at Christmas. Sir Matthew was undoubtedly a relative, although the connection is unclear.
Luce Baynham, however, as Black Luce, was far more notorious. She shows up frequently in court records. Shortly before January 2, 1576/7, for example, her house was raided at midnight and the occupants forced to flee to another establishment in Westminster, where a Mrs. Stallis operated as a bawd. Luce occasionally entered into a partnership with Gilbert and Margaret East, who ran a brothel in Turnmill Street. By 1595, Luce was well-established as an underworld figure. In that year, she entertained students from Gray’s Inn with her choir of “black nuns.” She seems to have managed to avoided prosecution until January 15, 1600, when she was committed to Bridewell for being a “notorious and lewd woman.” She was released on January 31st and was soon back in business. Just after Christmas 1604, she was living in the Boar’s Head tenements on Bankside, apparently with Gilbert East, and paying an annual rent of twenty shillings.
In the seventeenth century the career of Black Luce was celebrated more than once in print. One satirical epitaph, “On Luce Morgan,” claims that she became a Roman Catholic late in life and that she died diseased.
My Black Luce is young—it is only 1583 when Murder in the Merchant’s Hall takes place. I paint Luce as a sharp businesswoman but as someone who has a sense of humor. Rosamond Jaffrey’s attempts to gain information that will prove a friend innocent of murder amuse her, but she’s also quick to step in when Rosamond herself is faced with arrest. Given the choice of helping another woman or turning her over to a corrupt officer of the law, Luce doesn’t hesitate to come to Rosamond’s aid. She may be a wicked woman, but she’s wicked clever, too.
Readers, are you fans of Wicked Women? Do you love historical mysteries? Writers, do real people inspire your own work?
How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries (The Scottie Barked at Midnight)(Murder in the Merchant’s Hall)Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of over fifty books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award in 2008 for best mystery nonfiction for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2014 in the best mystery short story category for “The Blessing Witch.” Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (The Scottie Barked at Midnight) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries as Kathy (Murder in the Merchant’s Hall). The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” series and is set in Elizabethan England. Her websites are www.KathyLynnEmerson.com and www.KaitlynDunnett.com
This is so intriguing, Kathy! Can’t wait to read the new book. I loved the first Rosamond. Where do you go poking to discover this level of detail?
Longevity helps. I’ve been researching Tudor England for over 45 years. The trick is remembering where I filed things. For the next one I need to know more about Elizabethan pirates. There are two fairly new books on just that subject, which I bought, and I’m also consulting an expert on Elizabethan seafaring who actually sailed as crew on the reproduction of Sir Francis Drake’s The Golden Hinde. How did I find him? We both belong to the Historical Novel Society, but he also turned out to be the son of one of my favorite college professors. Small world!
That’s cool. I posted about this post on the HNS facebook page this morning!
This is so fascinating! I love this kind of book. If I tried to write one, however, I’m afraid it would never get written. I’d never be able to finish the research because it’s so interesting!
Oops. See reply below.
Looking forward to this one. I love to hear the results of research and how they are seamlessly incorporated into a story.
That’s always a problem, but having a deadline helps! Plus I ‘ve discovered that there are always things that turn up once I start to write that need more research, so I’m not really stopping one to do the other.
I like it when real historic figures play a role in a novel. After reading Matthew Pearl’s The Dante Club, I felt as if I’d personally met the New England writers whose poems I read in school: Longfellow, Holmes, and Lowell. Their very different characters emerged through the story. I’m looking forward to meeting Black Luce on the pages of your book.
Thanks, Mary Ann.
How fascinating and I agree with Edith the depth of your research is amazing. I remember when I was studying Shakespeare in college that there was much discussion of the line “get thee to a nunnery” (might have misquoted but it’s something like that). Our instructor said the nunnery was a bawdy house. It always fascinated me. Great post!
Thanks, Sherry. They were also known as stews and at least one otherwise reputable scholar put the fact that Henry VIII tried to abolish all stews in England in his chapter on FOOD. I kid you not.
Interesting history. I’d never heard any of this before.
Thanks, Mark. What can I say–I love trivia.
I love the Wicked Cozy Authors and love Maine Writers.Enjoy Historical mysteries, seems everyone of that period could fit in a mystery book.
Very true, Ruth, and a whole lot of them have!
Hi Kathy–Welcome! I love your dedication to looking at history through the female side. It’s a rare, especially in the times you write about. I imagine that’s why it still feels like a worthy challenge.
Thanks, Barb. And I guess that’s my cue to say I maintain “A Who’s Who of Tudor Women” online–over 2000 mini-biographies I’ve written up between 1976 and now. My hobby.
I found your Who’s Who! My daughter loves the Tudors — what a great resource!
Love this story, and that you are telling people historical stories that are unknown, or forgotten. Like the others, your depth of research is amazing, and inspiring!
This sounds most intriguing. I’m almost wishing I were still teaching, to share it with students (but then I remember that 5 a.m. alarm clock 😉
Just read and reviewed:
Murder in the Merchant’s Hall by Kathy Lynn Emerson
Rosamund Jaffrey, headstrong, reckless, and exactly the person to have on your side. Even after being warned to “stay out of it,” she is determined to help her friend Lina, who is accused of murder of her brother-in-law, who had betrothed her to an Italian silk merchant “old, and fat, and ugly.” She encounters spies, bawds, and Papists and is almost arrested for (shocking!) wearing men’s clothing! Aided by her stepmother, Lady Susanna Appleton (I’m starting on her series next), her husband Rob, and other true friends, Rosamund travels courageously, giving the reader insights into streets and alleys, and plots and counterplots, of Elizabethan England. I hope there will be many more visits.
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