Real Time Reading

Shadow of Night – Real-Time Reading – 31 December – Chapter 18

unsplash-logoScott Rodgerson

Today in the Real Time Reading of Shadow of Night, it’s time to descend into the crypt and meet Father Hubbard. I hope your New Year’s Eve plans are better than Matthew and Diana’s…

“She’s taken over one of the castle’s towers and painted the walls with images of the philosopher’s stone. It’s like working inside a Ripley scroll! I’ve seen the Beinecke’s copy at Yale, but it’s only twenty feet long. Mary’s murals are twice as big. It made it hard to focus on the work.”

In the Real-Time Reading Companion, Deb shares some personal photographs of the Ripley scrolls from the Yale copy Diana mentions in the text. George Ripley was a renowned alchemist whose poetry adorns the “Ripley scrolls,” a series of illustrated manuscripts showing the stages of creation of the philosopher’s stone. There is no evidence that Ripley actually created the scrolls; the 15th century original attributed to him has been lost.

I had planned to include photos from one of the scrolls, but Google beat me at my own game. I highly recommend the Google tour of the British Library’s Ripley Scroll, which is interactive and beautifully-rendered. One can only imagine the color and detail Diana noticed on the walls of Mary’s laboratory.

You can also explore other copies of the scrolls via the Bodelian’s website. Because they’re the best.

“We hunted the green lion.”

As Diana tells us in the text, the hunt for the “green lion” refers to the point in the process of creating the philosopher’s stone where alchemists combined two acid solutions (usually green vitriol, distilled from copper sulfate and something else) capable of dissolving anything (save gold).

Symbolically, the dissolution of substances in green vitriol is said to represent the purification of the innermost self — the stripping away of torment to reveal the “golden self” within.

“Andrew Hubbard is a former priest, one with a poor education and enough grasp of theology to cause trouble. He became a vampire when the plague first came to London. It had killed nearly half the city by 1349. Hubbard survived the first wave of the epidemic, caring for the sick and burying the dead, but in time he succumbed.”

Andrew Hubbard succumbed to the first outbreak of the plague to reach England in the twelfth century. According to the BBC, the plague entered the country in its bubonic form and then transformed into pneumonic form by the winter. Bubonic plague results from the bites of infected fleas (delightful) — the bacteria move from the flea bite to the nearest lymph node before attacking the rest of the body. Pneumonic plague spreads through infected droplets inhaled by the unwary — it’s harder to control because it’s passed from person to person. Matthew’s stats are correct — the first plague to hit London killed 40,000 people within eighteen months.

The medieval plague devastated England — especially the poor. Survivors buried the dead in mass graves with children occupying the small spaces between adults. During this period, many believed that the plague was evidence of the wrath of God, so outward observances of religion increased. Unfortunately, pilgrimages and other religious processions did little but spread the disease between communities. The plague had lasting impacts on the structure of English society, including changes in agriculture and religious observance, that determined English history into the present day.

Hubbard’s cold glance touched my neck, taking in the scar there. For once I wished Francoise had outfitted me with the largest ruff she could find. He exhaled in an icy gust smelling of cinnabar and fir before his wide mouth tightened, the edges of his lips turning from pale peach to white.

Cinnabar is the solid form of mercury sulfide, an ore often used to refine mercury for commercial use. It is also the source of brilliant red pigments, such as vermilion. The Met has a great resource on the use of cinnabar in art and pigment making. I couldn’t find anything to tell me what it smells like, precisely, but the fact that it’s normally sourced from volcanic soil makes me think it smells rocky and mildly sulfuric. Unsurprisingly–given the world of the AST, at least–cinnabar was prized by alchemists because of its unusual properties and because it supplied mercury.

Jen and I hope that you have a wonderful, prosperous new year — one that doesn’t start with someone threatening you and your family in a crypt in the middle of the night. In fact, we hope that your 2019 is full of blessings and good luck. We can’t wait to celebrate with you and continue exploring this amazing world together in the new year.

Happy 2019!



Real Time Reading

Shadow of Night – Real-Time Reading – 30 December – Chapter 17

unsplash-logoJonathan Pielmayer

Our first stop was at Master Prior’s bakery for some buns studded with currants and candied fruit.

Let’s be honest — the entirety of my experience with Tudor baking came and went with the Tudor Week episode of the Great British Bake Off. If you’re inclined to bake some Tudor-y fare, Paul Hollywood has been kind enough to provide you with a recipe for biscuits using caraway, aniseseed, and mace. He says you’re welcome

“He is not a goldsmith.” Field protested. “We do not want to cause Monsieur Vallin trouble.”

Jacqueline was unperturbed. “There are benefits to living in the Blackfriars, Richard. Working outside the regulations of the guilds is one of them.”

Tudor London was a warren of competing trade regulations and powerful monopolies. Beginning in the middle ages, guilds began to take on an important role in the commerce of the City of London. Guilds filed charters with the City of London and retained extraordinary control over their members–and others. For example, take the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers, established 1403. The Guild of Stationers was empowered to seize and destroy books produced by anyone who did not belong to the guild within the City of London and also had the power to impound books that “offended” standards of decency. Members were entitled to lay claim to particular texts — once a member of the guild purchased or obtained the “right to copy” a particular book, no other member of the guild within the City could do so.

In this passage, Diana’s neighbor highlights that one of the benefits of living in the Blackfriars–and therefore outside the City of London–was that one’s economic choices were less prescribed. Accordingly, Diana does not have to seek out an actual goldsmith from the Goldsmith’s Company (est. 1180) in order to have something made. The Goldsmith’s Company had the right–within the City of London–to search for goods made by craftsmen outside the guild and to enforce their monopoly over the production of fine metal work.

The Blackfriars is a neighborhood in the southwest corner of the City of London designated as a “liberty,” meaning it was outside the jurisdiction of city authorities. You can explore more about the history of the Blackfriars via

“That’s where Henry’s mother lives,” George said, gesturing at a particularly imposing set of buildings to our left. “He hates the place and lived around the corner from Matt until Mary convinced him that his lodgings were beneath an earl’s dignity.”

There isn’t much to be had on the internet about Katherine Percy (nee Neville), Countess Northumberland. Henry Percy’s London home, Northumberland House, occupied a choice piece of real estate on the Thames along the Strand. The Strand connects the City of London with the royal properties at Westminster and was once the site of mansions owned by England’s most prominent families. Northumberland House was a large Jacobean townhouse that overlooked Trafalgar Square and the River Thames. The house was demolished in 1874. You can see a print of Northumberland House courtesy of the Museum of London.

The blank sheet of paper folded discreetly around it masked the salacious contents. It enumerated cures for venereal diseases, most of them involving toxic concentrations of mercury. No wonder Chandler had objected to selling a copy to a married woman.

As one might expect, the sixteenth century isn’t well-known for sexual hygiene. We apparently don’t have a good idea of where syphilis came from, but we definitely know that it spread like wildfire through Europe in the fifteenth century. According to Sarah Dunant, writing for The Guardian, “The theories surrounding the disease were are as dramatic as the symptoms: an astrological conjunction of the planets, the boils of Job, a punishment of a wrathful God disgusted by fornication or, as some suggested even then, an entirely new plague brought from the new world by the soldiers of Columbus and fermented in the loins of Neapolitan prostitutes.” Apparently, at one time, as many as one-fifth of the people in Britain suffered from syphilis as a result of a terrible cycle — the disease spread from brothels to households to children and nursemaids and often resulted in painful, agonizing death.

The history of STDs is fascinating, but so is the history of their (putative) cures. If you had herpes in Rome, the medical author Aulus Cornelius recommended cauterizing all of the sores with a hot iron. As Diana points out in the text, the most popular (and dangerous) remedy for syphilis in Tudor England was the application of mercury. There were also sweat and fumigation treatments, all of which sound profoundly unpleasant.

Diana’s possession of a treatise on the treatment of venereal disease is remarkable because very few authors started writing about STDs in England until the latter half of the 16th century. She likely holds one of the first published books on venereal disease in the English language — a true collector’s item.

We’ll catch up to Matthew and Diana in Mary’s solar tomorrow before we ring in the new year with a visit to Andrew Hubbard. If you’re enjoying the Real-Time Reading, come tell us about it in our Facebook group or shoot us an e-mail at

Until tomorrow,

Cait and Jen


Episode 35 – Mischief Pansy

Andrey Grinkevich

Happy Sunday, Clovers!

We hope you’ve been enjoying Episodes 1 & 2 of A Discovery of Witches TV on Sundance Now and Shudder. We’ve enjoyed the premiere and can’t wait to celebrate the release of the whole series with our live tweet on 1/17 at 9pm EST/6pm PST. In the meantime, we present our coverage of the first three chapters of Section V of Shadow of Night. In this episode, we cover sanism, plot development, antagonists, and a mild exploration of Cait’s (very complicated) psyche. We hope you enjoy it.

Download the episode here.

We hope you’ll join us for additional fun in our Facebook group, The Chamomile & Clove Clovers. If you have something you’d like us to cover in our wrap episodes, shoot us an e-mail at or on Twitter at @chamomilenclove. We hope you enjoy Episode 35.



Cait and Jen

Real Time Reading

Shadow of Night Real-Time Reading – 26-29 December – Chapter 16

Jenny Marvin

First off, darlings, you have my sincere apologies — the holidays caught up to me and this entry is a day later than I would like. I hope you can forgive me. I also hope your holiday was restful and that you have time for yourself between now and the new year.

“Women do have babies in the sixteenth century,” I said mildly. “Besides, I don’t feel any different. I can’t be more than a few weeks pregnant.”

As you might know from our episode on this chapter, this argument between Matthew and Diana is really difficult to stomach. They’re both a little bit right and a little bit wrong, but the effect is painful for anyone who loves them and wants their relationship to succeed.

Matthew isn’t wrong to be worried about Diana carrying the child to term in Tudor England — at that time, approximately one in three women died during their child-bearing years. At the time of Queen Elizabeth I’s birth in 1533, women were encouraged to write wills before delivering children.  Bearing healthy children was difficult for women of all classes, but aristocratic and noble women (like Diana) were often blamed for their perceived inability to produce viable male children. Patriarchy being, well, especially virile during Tudor times, the leading medical treatises viewed women as “incomplete” men and the popular advice on childbirth was accordingly… compromised. 

Unlike modern women, women in Tudor England lacked reliable pregnancy tests and prenatal care. Women generally realized their pregnancy after several months of missed menstrual cycles — it sounds straightforward enough, but it’s a dodgy thing when your menses are already affected by other factors, such as your age or your access to good nutrition. You could, of course, rely on other methods, such as asking the putative father whether he felt “sucking or drawing” during sex. Oy. 

In an age that placed great stock in the legitimacy and survival of heirs, noble and aristocratic families often went to great pains to prepare for childbirth. Society expected women to confine themselves to the indoors for the latter part of their pregnancy to avoid diseases that could affect mother and child. This seems reasonable… until you realize that one of the greatest threats to women and children was sepsis and staph infection carried (unwittingly) between new parents by physicians and midwives

For further reading about childbirth and the Renaissance, I recommend the following:

Victoria and Albert Museum – Renaissance Childbirth

Mental Floss — The Historical Horror of Childbirth

Pregnancy and Labor in Renaissance England 

“Religious books are popular gifts, and easy to sell. Books about medicine have a smaller audience and are too costly to bind without a commission.” Matthew explained as I fingered the limp covering. He handed me yet another volume. “Luckily, I had already ordered a bound copy of this one. It’s hot off the presses and destined to be a bestseller.”

Matthew presents Diana with a bound copy of Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia, a prose romance that the poet dedicated to his sister, Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke. 220px-Sir_Philip_Sidney_from_NPGSir Philip Sidney died in 1586 of a leg wound that turned gangrenous after the Battle of Zutphen. Arcadia was incomplete at the time of Sidney’s death — the story apparently left off in the middle of a sword fight — but Fulke Greville published an early version of the story in 1590. You can meander through an early copy of Arcadia via the British Library’s website. 

My initial reluctance to meet Mary Sidney faded as our rendezvous approached. The more I remembered–and discovered–about the Countess of Pembroke, the more excited I became.

Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke (1561-1621), made a name for herself as a patron of the arts and a poet in her own right.

According to the Poetry Foundation, she skillfully navigated the strictures against women’s writing “by focusing on religious themes and by confining her work to the genres thought appropriate to women: translation, dedication, elegy, and encomium.”

The Countess of Pembroke’s success was also boosted by her dedication to finishing the work of her brother, Sir Philip Sidney, upon his death. She used her rank and influence to form the Wilton Circle, the “most important literary circle” in the history of England. The Wilton Circle included literary greats such as Edmund Spenser, Michael Drayton, Sir John Davies, and Samuel Daniel. The Countess believed in the power of the English language at a time when many believed that English was inferior to the classics of Italian, French, Latin and Greek. The Countess translated a number of important works into English, including Petrarch’s “The Triumph of Death” and Philippe de Mornay’s “Discours de la vie et de la mort.” In addition to the biography of Mary Sidney in The World of All Souls, I recommend her profile published by the Poetry Foundation.

“Baynard’s Castle was built to be approached from the river, Diana,” Henry said in an apologetic tone as we traveled down another winding lane. “This is the back entrance, and not how visitors are supposed to arrive — but it is a great deal warmer on a day like this.”

Baynard’s Castle, built in the 11th century on the banks of the Thames, enjoyed a long and glorious history before it was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. You can see its outlines on the fabulous Agas Map of Early Modern London and see how it dominated the river front between the Blackfriars and Poles Wharf.

Baynard’s Castle from

Baynard’s Castle was one of three stone castles built on the River Thames after the Norman conquest. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, passed the residence to the Crown upon his death and it became the royal residence of Henry VI. Henry VIII gave the castle to Catherine of Aragon on the eve of their marriage; it later passed to his sixth wife, Catherine Parr, and then to her brother-in-law, the Earl of Pembroke. The property passed to the Earl’s son, Henry, Second Earl of Pembroke, who took Mary Sidney as his third wife in 1577.

A London Inheritance has a fascinating little article on the excavation of the site that once housed Baynard’s Castle. I imagine that it gives you a bit of glimpse into what it was like for Diana to return to modern London in The Book of Life.

“I forget, you have not met my wife. Diana, this is Nicholas Hilliard, the limner.”

Nicholas Hilliard is well-covered in both the Real-Time Reading Companion and The World of All Souls, but it’s worth taking a moment to discuss the art of limning. Limning refers to the execution of portraits in miniature on vellum, card, copper, or ivory. The name of the art form derives from the use of “minium,” or red lead, common in medieval illumination. Artists like Hilliard produced miniature portraits in watercolor on small tokens exchanged by friends and family. In the age before photography, miniatures were sometimes used in marriage negotiations to showcase the beauty and character of a potential bride.

Hilliard’s self-portrait.

Miniature portraits are extremely complex — painters used tiny brushes and minuscule amounts of paint to produce highly-detailed, personalized works of art for private collection and display. For especially complicated portraits, Hilliard used to have the clothing of the sitter brought to his studio separately so that he could study its textures and materials — he believed that long portrait sessions were tiring and that limning was extremely delicate, demanding work for the artist.

“Well, well, well,” Matthew interrupted with a chuckle. “My wife has arrived.” I looked at him in confusion. “Mary’s most treasured project is not alchemical but a new rendition of the Psalms for English Protestants. Her brother Philip began it and died before it was complete.”

Here is Psalm 51, by Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke:

O Lord, whose grace no limits comprehend;
         Sweet Lord, whose mercies stand from measure free;
To me that grace, to me that mercy send,
         And wipe, O Lord, my sins from sinful me.
         Oh, cleanse, oh, wash, my foul iniquity;
               Cleanse still my spots, still wash away my stainings,
               Till stains and spots in me leave no remainings.

For I, alas, acknowledging do know
         My filthy fault, my faulty filthiness
To my soul’s eye incessantly doth show,
         Which done to thee, to thee I do confess,
         Just judge, true witness, that for righteousness
               Thy doom may pass against my guilt awarded,
               Thy evidence for truth may be regarded.

My mother, lo, when I began to be,
         Conceiving me, with me did sin conceive:
And as with living heat she cherished me,
         Corruption did like cherishing receive.
         But, lo, thy love to purest good doth cleave,
               And inward truth: which, hardly else discerned,
               My truant soul in thy hid school hath learned.

Then as thyself to lepers hast assigned,
         With hyssop, Lord, thy hyssop, purge me so:
And that shall cleanse the lepry of my mind.
         Make over me thy mercy’s streams to flow,
         So shall my whiteness scorn the whitest snow.
               To ear and heart send sounds and thoughts of gladness,
               That bruised bones may dance away their sadness.

Thy ill-pleased eye from my misdeeds avert:
         Cancel the registers my sins contain:
Create in me a pure, clean, spotless heart;
         Inspire a sprite where love of right may reign
         Ah, cast me not from thee; take not again
               Thy breathing grace; again thy comfort send me,
               And let the guard of thy free sprite attend me.

So I to them a guiding hand will be,
         Whose faulty feet have wandered from thy way,
And turned from sin will make return to thee,
         Whom turned from thee sin erst had led astray.
         O God, God of my health, oh, do away
               My bloody crime: so shall my tongue be raised
               To praise thy truth, enough cannot be praised.

Unlock my lips, shut up with sinful shame:
         Then shall my mouth, O Lord, thy honor sing.
For bleeding fuel for thy altar’s flame,
         To gain thy grace what boots it me to bring?
         Burt-off’rings are to thee no pleasant thing.
               The sacrifice that God will hold respected,
               Is the heart-broken soul, the sprite dejected.

Lastly, O Lord, how so I stand or fall,
         Leave not thy loved Zion to embrace;
But with thy favor build up Salem’s wall,
         And still in peace, maintain that peaceful place.
         Then shalt thou turn a well-accepting face
               To sacred fires with offered gifts perfumed:
               Till ev’n whole calves on altars be consumed.

We’ll continue our real-time reading tomorrow as Diana runs errands in Tudor London. In the meantime, we hope you’re taking advantage of the sneak peek of Episodes 1 and 2 of A Discovery of Witches TV on Sundance Now and Shudder. We’d love if you popped by our Facebook group to share your excitement or sent us an e-mail at We hope to see you there!


Cait and Jen

Real Time Reading

Shadow of Night Real-Time Reading – 25 December – Chapter 14

unsplash-logoRoman Kraft

“Time is tricky. Even if everything went according to plan and Diana took Matthew back to the first day of November in 1590, it may still be too soon to look for a message from your husband. And you wouldn’t have found a message before, because Philippe hadn’t met my niece yet.” Sarah paused. “I think Tabitha’s eating that book.”

I agree with Sarah — time is tricky.

In this chapter, we flash forward to the library with Ysabeau. As I mentioned yesterday, the calendar gets funky as Diana and Matthew travel back to London after their time at Sept-Tours. Lucky for us, we get to spend Christmas back at the chateau. The chapter is short and doesn’t have much for us to puzzle out, so I am going to leave you with a wee tidbit from another chapter and get back to celebrating the holiday.

Philippe went to the shelves and picked out a volume in a worn leather binding. “This is one of our favorite stories, The Song of Armouris. Ysabeau and I have simple tastes and enjoy stories of adventure. We are always hiding messages in this.” He stuffed a scroll of paper down the spine between the binding and the gatherings of vellum. A folded rectangle fell out of the bottom as he worked it into the tight space.

Okay, I cheated. This quote is from Chapter 13, but I love the note passing so much that I absolutely can’t help myself.

The Song of Armouris is a Byzantine story loosely based on the Byzantine-Arab conflict. The story follows a young man – Armouris – as he completes feats of strength and secures peace between his people and the Saracens. The poem probably dates from the 11th century — only two full copies of the manuscript survive. One can be found in St. Petersburg and one in Istanbul. I love to think of Philippe and Ysabeau reading this story to one another by the fire.

“Anomalies,” Ysabeau murmured. “Philippe was always looking for anomalies in the world. It is why I still read all the newspapers. It became our habit to look through them each morning.” Her eyes closed against the memory. “He loved the sports section, of course, and read the education columns as well. Philippe was worried about what children would learn in the future. He established fellowships for the study of Greek and philosophy, and he endowed colleges for women. I always thought it strange.”

“He was looking for Diana,” Emily said with the certainty of someone blessed with second sight.

Philippe and Emily aren’t the only ones who believe that anomalies reveal time travelers in our midst. There’s a whole spate of them in history, including blips in Charlie Chaplin films showing people using cell phones and a hipster in a photo from 1941.

Lucky for you, we all got to be time travelers today. Have you checked out Episodes 1 and 2 of A Discovery of Witches TV on Shudder and Sundance Now. You can stream both channels on Google Play, Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon FireTV. Tell us what you think about the episodes in our Facebook group or send us an e-mail at

We wish you and yours a merry merry holiday and can’t wait to catch up with you (and Matthew and Diana) tomorrow.


Cait and Jen