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

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