Plague: How it began!

The Italian town of Genoa was one of the busiest ports in Europe. Ships sailed from Genoa to trade all over the Mediterranean and into the Black Sea. Some goods were even shipped around the coast of Spain and France to England. Merchants traded many goods from Asia such as spices, precious metals and silk. They didn’t know, however, that the plague had broken out in Asia and was fast spreading westwards.


      Crews carrying goods back to Italy from Caffa took the plague with them. On some of the ships, every single member of the crew died at sea. When it became known that sailors on Genoese ships were suffering from the plague, Italian ports refused to allow them to enter. So they sailed to the southern coast of France instead.

        Plague in Europe

        In December 1347, the plague broke out in Marseilles. From there it spread rapidly all over France. Because people had no idea how the plague was carried, there was nothing to stop it spreading. Rich and poor alike fell victim to it. In some places, rich people were able to escape the plague for a while, by moving away from an infected area. But eventually there was nowhere left to run to: every city, town and village was affected.

        Wherever the Black Death took hold, at least one person in four died in dreadful pain. Sometimes all the people in a village or a town were killed by the plague.

          Plague in England

          With the war continuing between France and England it was only a matter of time before the same disaster hit England. The chronicler Geoffrey the Baker described its progress:

          “At first it carried off almost all the inhabitants of the seaports in Dorset, and then those living inland, and from there it raged so dreadfully through Dorset and Somerset as far a Bristol. The men of Gloucester refused to allow people from Bristol into their region, as they all thought that the breath of those who lived amongst people who died of plague was infectious.

          But at last it attacked Gloucester, then Oxford and London, and finally the whole of England with such violence that scarcely one in ten of either sex was left alive. As there were not enough graveyards, fields were set aside for the burial of the dead.”

          William Dene, a monk of Rochester, described the effect of the plague on one household:

          “The Bishop of Rochester didn’t keep many servants or retainers. Yet he lost four priests, five gentlemen, ten serving men, seven young clerks, and six pages, so that not a soul remained to serve him in any post…

          During the epidemic, many chaplains and paid clerics would serve only if they were paid excessive salaries … priests hurried off to places where they could get more money than in their own benefices … There was also so great a shortage of labourers and workmen of every kind in those days that more than a third of the land over the whole kingdom lay uncultivated.”



          When we think of chivalry, the most likely image to spring to mind is one of the perfect gentleman – an impeccably mannered individual who displays gentle and courteous behaviour, especially towards women.

          The word ‘chivalry’ has its earliest roots in the French word for horse, cheval, and a knight in that same languare is called a chevalier, the ambassador of la chevalerie (chivalry). The chevalier was a horseman equipped with lance and sword for battle. As time progressed, the knight’s image grew in sophistication, and by the end of the eleventh century knighthood had come to denote a person of noble birth, often possessing property, whose responsibility it was to uphold certain religious, moral and social systems.

          No one can put a precise date to the birth of chivalry, but it is generally agreed that it was at its height between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, falling into decadence and decline during the fourteenth, ultimately to disappear in the fifteenth century.

            The Crusades

            The first Crusade was proclaimed in 1095 by Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont in France. “A people without God,” he exlaimed, “the son of the Egyptian slave, occupies by force the cradle of our salvation – the country of our Lord.” Every person of nable birth, it was urged, should take a solemn oath before a bishop that he would “defend to the uttermost the oppressed, the widow and the orphan”.

            Although it remained a sin to kill Christians, a pilgrimage to the Holy Land involving the slaughter of the “Saracen infidels” who attacked Christ’s sacred tomb would be quite acceptable in the sight of God. As a reward for this great work, knights would receive plenary indulgence upon their return to Europe.

              The People’s Crusade

              The First Crusade, which became known as the People’s Crusade, was not quite what the Pope had foreseen, however. The call to arms was taken up by a far greater portion of the peasantry than the Church would have liked. Full of savage passion and ignorant faith, the undisciplined rabble marched eastwards, massacring Jews in the Rhineland, attacking and pillaging Hungary and Bularia until, finally, they were ambushed and slaughtered themselves by the Turks in Asia Minor.

              crossChristian chivalry was yet in its infacy, but slowly, through the Church’s refusal to abandon its crusading ideal, it began to assume a more definite aspect, and by the time the official army of the First Crusade travelled to Constantinople the following year, the nobility rather than the persantry dominated the ranks. For now, as the century drew to a close, it was the custom for every noble father to educate his son in the orders of knighthood. The Crusades continued and the great Crusading Orders were established. By the early twelfth century, the Church had begun to take control of the ceremony of knightly investiture. Religion had succeeded in consecrating knighthood to that most lordly vocation every young man of gentle birth longed to follow.

                The Knight’s Education

                At the age of seven, a boy with ambitions to be a knight usually had to begin their training. The boy was taken from his home and placed in the service of a neighbouring lord (who was a fully-fledged knight). Here, the boy took up his office as page. He was taught implicit obedience to the wishes of his lord and lady. He served them at table, he learned to ride, and he accompanied his lord on various excursions. It was left to the lady of the manor to develop the gentler aspects of the boy’s character. She schooled him in the basic rules of chivalry, discussed love and religion with him and supervised his musical training.

                At the age of fourteen, the page was usually promoted to the higher grade of squire. During a religious ceremony, he exchanged his dagger for a manly sword and received moral instruction on its correct usage. His duties now were far more varied and challenging. He became proficient in the use of sword, lance and battle-axe. He took care of his lord’s armour, followed him to war, supplied him with fresh arms, dragged his body from the battlefield if he fell, and buried him if he were killed.

                At the age of twenty-one, if he had served his lord well, the squire was judged eligible to receive the honour of knighthood. Many squires, however, remained devoted to their lords an entire lifetime.

                  Ceremony of Knighthood

                  That a knight’s sword should uphold the dignity of the Church as central to the notion of Christian chivalry and it was considered only proper that the ceremony which elevated him from the position of squire should be rich in religious symbolism.

                  The young man was expected to fast the day before his initiation and to spend the night in prayer. On the following morning, he was stripped of his clothing and taken to bathe for purification. He was then dressed in a red robe (symbolising the blood to be shed in the course of duty), and over this robe was placed a black doublet (symbolising the mortality of mankind).

                  After the high mass had been chanted the young man approached the alter and handed his sword to the bishop or priest. It was laid upon the alter and blessed.

                  The religious part of the ceremony completed, the candidate was led before the lord who intended to knight him. Once he had given a satisfactory response to the questions which challenged his motives in demanding the honour of chivalry, he was granted his knighthood.

                    The Code of Ethics

                    • Thou shalt believe all that the Church teaches and shalt obey all her commandments.
                    • Thou shalt defend the Church.
                    • Thou shalt respect all weaknesses and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them.
                    • Thou shalt love the country in which thou wast born.
                    • Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy.
                    • Thou shalt make war against the infidel without cessation and without mercy.
                    • Thou shalt perform scrupulously thy feudal duties, if they be not contrary to the laws of God.
                    • Thou shalt never lie, and shalt remain faithful to they pledged word. Thou shalt be generous, and give largesse to everyone.
                    • Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and Good against Injustice and Evil.

                    Animal Mummies

                    The ancient Egypians didn’t only mummify people. They also mummifed animals.

                    Some of the most popular animal mummies were ancient Egyptian cats, which were said to be looked after by the god Bastet. The bodies of favourite cats were taken to the city of Bubastis. There they were embalmed and wrapped in cloth before being buried in the cat cemetery!

                    mummycrocOne ancient Egyptian, called Hapymen, was so fond of his pet dog that it was mummified, wrapped in cloth and placed at the side of his feet in his coffin.

                    Other pets and sacred (holy) animals were mummified in ancient Egypt, too. The strangest was probably the Nile crocodile. Some of these fierce, human-eating crocodiles were kept as pets by Egyptians, where they were fed the best meats and wines. When one of the crocodiles died, the Egyptian mummy-makers would wrap it up in cloth and begin the mummy-making process.

                    Egyptian Scribe

                    egyptianscribeA Scribe’s Education

                    At the beginning of Egyptian history, in the time known as the Old Kingdom (about 2575 BC to 2130 BC), scribes passed on their knowledge from father to son, in their own homes. This system was eventually changed to one in which boys were sent to special schools. The schools where built within the grounds of temples, to which they were linked. They were called “Houses of Life”.

                    Boys went to school from the age of four or five, whereas girls did not go to school at all. Boys learned to write by copying out words and passages from well-known texts over and over again. They wrote their school exercises on many different materials, such as pieces of broken pottery and flakes of limestone, or on wooden boards that could be wiped clean and re-used. By the time he was sixteen years old a boy was ready to leave school, and start work as a professional scribe.

                      The work of a record-keeper

                      Scribes were record-keepers, and in Egypt’s highly organised society it was important to have detailed, written information. They recorded just about everything – from brief notes about how many cattle a farmed owned, to long reports from the vizier about the progress of work on the pharaoh’s building sites. Scribes also copied out religious, scientific and historical texts. They drew up contracts for the sale of land and goods, and wrote and read letters for ordinary people who could not do it for themselves.


                        When scribes wrote, they usually used an everyday script that was quick and easy to use. At first, they used a script called hieratic. Hieratic was used for hundreds of years, until it went out of fashion around 600BC. From then on scribes preferred an even simpler script, called demotic. As well as being able to write and read these two scripts, scribes could also use Egypt’s most famous script – hieroglyphs. To write Egyptian hieroglyphs, scribes had to learn more than 700 different signs. Hieroglyphs were slow to write, and their main use was for writing sacred texts.

                          Other Facts on Scribes

                          To write, a scribe sat cross-legged on the ground. He pulled his kilt or skirt tight against his knees, which made a flat surface for him to rest on. He wrote with a reed brush or pen, held in his right hand. He used his left hand to hold and unroll the papyrus roll on which he wrote.

                          A scribe carried his brushes and pens in a wooden writing case. Most writing cases had two hollowed-out circles, where the scribe mixed his writing inks. He made black ink from soot or charcoal, and red ink from a mineral called ochre. Water was added until the ink was the right consistency with which to write. The ink took time to dry, and the scribe was careful not to smudge his work.

                          The most important writing material for a scribe was papyrus. It was a kind of fine white paper, made from the pith (the soft inner part of a plant stem) of the papyrus water reed. Reeds were gathered from the banks of the River Nile, their tough outer stems were removed, and the pith strips were placed together at right angles, then beaten until the plant fibres became a single flat sheet, about 50 by 40 centimetres. Sheets were joined together to make rolls. There were usually twenty sheets in each roll, but rolls themselves could be joined together. The longest known papyrus roll is more than 40 metres in length.

                          Change of Plans

                          I recently had an offer from an editor to read through my completed manuscript and tell me if there were any trouble spots. Unfortunately, he found some. Yet, as a writer, I know that his comments are true and I’m willing to go back and do… yet another… rewrite.

                          The editor said that by the end of chapter 3, he was quite prepared to murder the main character. This is not the first time I’ve been told this. Apparently, the other characters are fine but the main character is enough to drive a person to suicide… or murder.

                          I’m a serious writer, and while some people will hide in a corner and cry, I will take note and do something about it. The editor didn’t make that comment and leave it at that – he made heaps of suggestions on how to improve the character’s personality. I love those suggestions and after some discussion, I’ve decided that she will be given a complete “face lift”.

                          So… change of plan. I was using the snowflake process to plan a new novel but I’m now using the process on this manuscript instead. I started yesterday, and I’m onto step 3 already. This shows that I know the plot and characters well (by the way). I have to work out how I’m going to change the scenes to reflect the character’s new personality. It should be fun!

                          I have a positive feeling about these changes.

                          History of Pens & Pencils

                          Early writers didn’t have the enormous range of pens, pencils and other writing implements we have at our fingertips today. In the Middle East, where writing began, reeds and rushes grew in many areas. So people cut lengths of reeds, sharpened the ends, dipped them into soot or ink and used them to write with.

                          Since then, writing has progressed leaps and bounds. And the need for greater accuracy and speed has led to many improvements in writing instruments. The basic rules behind pens and other tools of the trade, however, have remained much the same.

                          Quill Pens

                          The first quill pens were made in about 500BC and were still in use in the 17th and 18th centuries.

                          Quill pens were made from swan or goose feathers, cut into a point at one end to make a nib. This was then dipped in ink.

                          Quill pens were quick and handy to use. The only problem was that they kept going blunt and having to be resharpened.

                          Stylus Style

                          In Greek and Roman times, metal and bone replaced the reeds of the earliest pens.

                          Writers used styli of bronze, bone or ivory to scratch letters on to was panels. The pointed end of the stylus was used for writing with, the blunt end for erasing mistakes.

                          Nibs of Steel

                          The first metal nibs were so hard and rigid, they scratched paper to pieces. But by the mid-1800s, things had improved and steel-nibbed pens became very popular.

                          The first fountain pens used eye-droppers to contain their ink but the ink kept clotting and clogging up the nib.

                          The first workable fountain pen was produced by Lewis Waterman of the USA in 1884. You can still buy Waterman pens today. One problem remained, however. Every time the pen ran out of ink, it had to be refilled. This could be messy and time-consuming.

                          In the 1950s, an answer was found – the disposable ink cartridge. Once its ink supply was used up, it could be thrown away and a new cartridge inserted.

                          Pencil Power

                          Pencils were first made in about 1795. A pencil is a stick of “lead” (it’s actually a mixture of clay and graphite), held inside a wooden case. Bet you didn’t know that?!?

                          Pencils have different degrees of hardness or softness, indicated by the letters printed on them. Soft pencils (B and 2B) contain more graphite in their lead. Hard pencils (H and 2H) contain more clay.

                          Ballpoint Pens

                          These days, we live in the “disposable age” and most people use a ballpoint pen, which has a tiny ball-bearing in its writing tip, instead of a nib. As you write, the ballbearing gets coated in ink from a tube inside the pen and rolls the ink on to the paper. When the ink runs dry, you can throw the pen away and get a new one.

                          Did you know…?

                          The inventor of the biro was Mr Ladislao Josef Biro, a Hungarian living in Argentina. He registered his invention in 1938.

                          The American, Thomas Edison, is best known for his invention of the electric light bulb and the phonograph. But another of his more unusual inventions was an electric pen. It was designed to make copies of handwritten documents but it never really caught on.

                          In Ancient Roman times, ink was made from soot and water.

                          Rejection: How should it be handled?

                          Rejection is something you will have to think about sooner or later if you decide to try and get your work published. Everyone gets rejected but what you need to keep in mind is that it is only your piece of writing that has been rejected, not you as a person. No matter how difficult it may be try to see the rejection in a positive light. The fact that you actually completed your story, revised it and rewrote it until you were satisfied that it was good enough to be sent to an agent or publisher is an accomplishment in itself. Not many people get this far, no matter how fond they are of their work.

                          If you received your manuscript back with a rejection slip or a quick “thanks but not interested” letter, sit down and go through your work again looking for obvious mistakes or inconsistancies. You should also remember that the rejection may simply be because that particular person or company doesn’t deal in your genre so you’ll be prompted to do your homework before sending your manuscript off next time. Also remember that what one reader loves, another will find to be trash.

                          If on the other hand, you received your manuscript back with an explanation as to why, swallow your disappointment and use this valuable information to your advantage. Read the letter through over and over again to make sure you understand exactly what it is saying then turn to your manuscript. Rewrite it if you have to but make sure you improve it in every way possible.

                          You need two things in this industry, which are, perseverance and determination. Even though rejection is painful and hurtful, accept it as inevitable. It’s going to happen. When it does, turn to someone who “understands”. Confide in family and friends or join a writers’ group for support and encouragement, but never… never… give up.

                          The Funeral

                          Warning: This is not suitable for children or the faint hearted.

                          The entire civilization of Ancient Egypt was based on religion, and their beliefs were important to them. Their belief in the rebirth after death became their driving force behind their funeral practices.

                          Egyptian cemeteries were on the Nile River’s west bank, because the sun set, or died, in the west. Most people lived on the east bank, so funerals meant crossing the river. This symbolised the journey of Re’s (the sun god) boat across the sky and the journey to the dead person’s new life.

                          Priests would put the coffin on a bier covered with a canopy. The bier was on a sledge pulled by oxen and headed the funeral procession to the Nile. Professional mourners tore thier clothes and threw dust on their heads as signs of grief.

                          The tomb-owner would continue after death the occupations of this life and so everything required was packed into the tomb along with the body. Servants followed with furniture and clothes for use in the next world. Also, writing materials were often supplied along with clothing, wigs, hairdressing supplies and assorted tools, depending on the occupation of the deceased. Often model tools rather than full size ones would be placed in the tomb; models were cheaper and took up less space and in the after-life would be magically transformed into the real thing. Food was provided for the deceased and should the expected regular offerings of the descendants cease, food depicted on the walls of the tomb would be magically transformed to supply the needs of the dead.


                          At the tomb, a priest dressed as the jackal-headed God Anubis, protector of the dead, held the mummy upright for the ceremony of “opening the mouth”. This enabled the dead person to answer questions put to them by the gods in the Hall of Judgement, where his (or her) heart would be weighed against the Feather of Truth. If the heart of the deceased outweighs the feather, then it was believed that the deceased had a heart which has been made heavy with evil deeds. In that event, the God Ammit would devour the heart, condemning the deceased to oblivion for eternity. But if the feather outweighs the heart, then it was believed that the deceased had led a righteous life and was presented before Osiris (God of the Dead) to join the afterlife.

                          When the ceremonies were over, the priests swept away all traces of their footprints and sealed the tomb behind them.

                          The final part of a funeral was a funerary banquet, at which the relatives and friends of the deceased, sure that everything possible had been done for the safety of their loved one, could relax a little, and remember the good times.