18th Century and Earlier, 19th Century and Onwards, Books, Places

Weather, history and the origins of words

Note: This post originally appeared on Wordscience, a now defunct writing-focused blog of mine, on September 2, 2009. I was recently flipping through that blog’s archives and came across this post, which I thought would be neat to share here too.

Two things I like (after writing) are history and the weather. So it would come as no surprise that a book called Blame it on the Rain: How the Weather Has Changed History would be a lot of fun for me. Thank you, discount book store in St. Jacobs, Ontario!

Anyway, I’m awful at book reviews, so this isn’t one. Instead, I’m going to talk about some things I learned in this book that happen to not actually be weather-related: the origin of certain words. I didn’t expect to learn about that while reading this, but I did and I thought it was interesting. So, here:

  • Cheap: From the Old English word ceap, which used to mean “market,” hence the name of Cheapside in London.
  • Deadline: A line, painted between two markers, used outside war camps during the American Civil War. If anyone crossed this line, they would be shot dead.
  • Hooker: Named for Joseph Hooker, who was an American general during the same Civil War. Apparently his troops frequented prostitutes enough for his name to become a synonym.
  • Libel: From the French word libelle. Libelles were pamphlets circulated to spread rumours about the French royals before the Revolution.
  • Normandy: From the word “Norsemen.” Vikings conquered the area and the Normans were descended from them.
  • Sideburns: Named after General Ambrose Everett Burnside, who fought in the American Civil War and was apparently was known for his sideburns before they were called that.
  • Welsh: The Angles’ word for “foreigner” was wealas. They didn’t like the Celts much.

There you go. Wasn’t that fun and educational? Okay, well I thought it was!

18th Century and Earlier, Places

Ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, York

In 2010 I visited York, England. I’d always wanted to go there, primarily because I was excited about all the historical sights in the town. My site’s header comes from that trip – it’s a small bit of what remains of St Mary’s Abbey, a Benedictine abbey established in 1088. As a Canadian, finding a structure that old and still standing was amazing. And it was made no less amazing by the fact that it was a short stroll from my B&B, and in the middle of the Yorkshire Museum Gardens, completely open to the public.


The abbey walls were built in the 13th century. Even though a small portion remains, you can see how it once was the richest abbey in all of the north of England.

The plaque reads “Apse of Norman Church.”


St Mary’s Abbey was destroyed after our old friend Henry VIII disbanded the monasteries. There are foundations still present on-site, as well as other structures including the abbott’s house (built in the 14th century) and the Hospitium, which was used to entertain guests – and is now a wedding venue.

You can find more about life in the abbey at History of York’s website.

I don’t remember what caused me to remember this particular portion of my 2010 trip, but now I’m itching to plan another trip to York! I’ve been sharing some historical memories from York on my brand-spanking new Instagram account, if you’re curious.

18th Century and Earlier

Who was Perkin Warbeck? About the pretender to the English throne

Note: I wrote this article for another site in 2009. As the site seems now to be defunct, I’m re-posting it here. Since writing it, I’ve developed a small fascination with pretenders to the throne – in the time before photographs, when even nobility may not have been commonly recognized, it seems like a halfway decent strategy to try out, if one had designs on swindling their way onto a throne. I may write about more, later.


During the reign of King Henry VII, Perkin Warbeck claimed a birthright to the English throne, pretending to be Richard of Shrewsbury, son of King Edward IV.

Warbeck’s Claim

Perkin Warbeck claimed to be Edward IV’s exiled younger son Richard of Shrewsbury, the Duke of York. Richard, along with his older brother Edward, were the sons of King Edward IV and the heirs to the English throne. Upon their father’s death, their uncle Richard was appointed “Protector,” as Prince Edward was a mere 12 years old. However, their uncle believed that he had a rightful claim to the throne and placed Prince Edward and, later, Prince Richard into “lodgings” in the Tower of London, where they became known as “the Princes in the Tower.” They were seen in and around the Tower less and less until they seemed to disappear entirely. They were believed to be dead. During this time, their uncle Richard successfully had the princes declared bastards and himself crowned as Richard III.

If Perkin Warbeck really was Edward IV’s son Richard and escaped his confinement in the Tower of London, then he would have a legitimate claim to the throne. Richard’s sister, Elizabeth of York, was married to Henry VII in the 1490s, the time Warbeck came forward with his claim.

Who was Perkin Warbeck?

The year of Perkin Warbeck’s birth is unknown, but he claimed to have been nine years old in 1483. He was born in the Flemish community of Tournai to local official Jehan de Werbecque and Katherine de Faro. In a confession made by Warbeck near the end of his life, he claimed that he worked as a servant in his younger days. In 1491, he served a silk merchant working in Ireland, a country that was then strongly opposed to the rule of Henry VII. In Ireland, Warbeck dressed in his master’s fine silk clothing, causing people to believe him a person of royal descent.

Warbeck Attempts to Take the English Throne

In Ireland, Warbeck was encouraged to take the identity of Richard, the son of Edward IV, by Yorkist supporters. Edward IV’s sister Margaret, Charles VIII of France and James IV of Scotland were among the royalty that backed Warbeck’s claim. Warbeck attempted an invasion England in July 1495, only to retreat to Scotland. Here, his marriage to Catherine Gordon was arranged by her cousin, James IV.

In 1497, Warbeck again attempted to invade England, gaining the support of Cornish citizens who were in revolt against a tax to fight the Scots, 400 miles to the north. Warbeck and the rebels marched towards Exeter. The Queen, Elizabeth of York, fled Eltham Palace with her son Prince Henry. They took refuge in the Tower of London, an event that eerily mirrored the fate of Prince Henry’s uncles Edward and Richard.

At Exeter, Warbeck’s forces were defeated by the royal army. Warbeck himself fled and was soon captured. He was then compelled to confess his true identity. In 1498, Warbeck escaped his captors and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Here, it is said he and the imprisoned Earl of Warwick, who had a legitimate claim to England’s throne, plotted their escape. Both Perkin Warbeck and the Earl of Warwick were executed in 1499.


18th Century and Earlier, 19th Century and Onwards, Books

Napoleon complex


For Christmas, my husband got me a print of my favourite Kate Beaton comic, above (though this is actually a photo of her book, Step Aside, Pops, which is great). We’ve moved twice since Christmas, and the fact that I still have yet to get the print framed is becoming embarrassing.

Napoleon’s height is my favourite historical fact, and part of me is considering not framing the print. Maybe I should carry it around with me and unfurl it whenever I feel the need to interject the fact into an otherwise pleasant conversation. Yes, I can be kind of annoying about it. To those who know me in real life, I apologize!

(You can buy Step Aside, Pops on Canadian and American Amazon.)