Today, I am delighted to welcome author and historian Toni Mount to my blog as part of her book tour for her latest book, “The Colours of Lies”, the seventh book in her Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mystery Series.
In my latest Seb Foxley medieval murder mystery, The Colour of Lies, set in London in the 1470s, the adventure plays out against the background of St Bartholomew’s Fair – England’s great annual trade fair held every August – and the trouble begins with the theft of three exceptionally valuable items from a merchant’s stall: unicorn horns. The fair was also an excuse for entertainment of all kinds: acrobats, musicians, dancers, fire-eaters, and stilt-walkers among others.
Puppet shows were always a popular sideshow at the fair and Seb strikes up a brief friendship with Gerrit, a Dutch puppet-master. Although not listed at St Bartholomew’s specifically until 1600, Geoffrey Chaucer mentions ‘puppets’ and a wonderful Flemish manuscript, known as The Romance of Alexander with parts dated to both the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, has a marginal illustration of a glove-puppet show in a booth not unlike that for a Punch-and-Judy show. It has been suggested by Omar Khalaf (Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow, English Department, University of Leicester) that the later parts of the manuscript – Bodley ms 264 – may have been decorated by English artists and owned by Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, who used it for educational purposes in instructing his nephew Edward, Prince of Wales, son of Edward IV.
Bodley ms 264 showing a puppet show
The word ‘puppet’ comes from the Latin for doll – pupa – and they were also referred to as ‘poppets’ or ‘poopets’. Being light and easily portable, glove puppets were popular in medieval times, used by travelling minstrels and other entertainers to tell stories from the Bible or ancient myths and legends. It is thought that they began as ordinary gloves which had the tips of the thumb and little finger cut off to show the puppeteer’s flesh for hands and a wooden or earthenware ball, painted with features for a head, was inserted over the middle finger of the glove. The very first shows may have been performed by monks and priests who used puppets to tell Bible stories in church so it is not surprising that the Devil was often a leading antagonist in the plays. By the fifteenth century, glove puppets had become a little more sophisticated, being purposefully crafted and more detailed in character.
A reconstruction of a Devil puppet
In 1561, the Duchess of Suffolk recorded in her accounts that she had paid two men who played upon the puppets. Shakespeare also referred to puppets and Italian puppeteers introduced marionettes or string puppets to this country in the seventeenth century, playing at fairs and markets much as before. According to a poem of the period by Samuel Butler, fireworks were used with puppet plays involving the Devil to show the perils of hellfire – not to mention the danger to the audience at the time:
Nor devil in the puppet-play be allowed
To roar and spit fire, but to fright the crowd.
Other puppet shows were versions of popular stage plays, historical stories and contemporary events, including Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot after the incident in 1605. When Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan regime closed the theatres in the 1650s and stage plays were forbidden, puppet plays were not included in the ban and continued as a popular entertainment – one of very few permitted at the time – as did St Bartholomew’s Fair, its commercial value being of far greater importance to Parliament than its Roman Catholic religious heritage.
In my novel, The Colour of Lies, the Dutch puppet-master takes centre stage, briefly, in the action and readers can enjoy all the fun and trouble at medieval London’s St Bartholomew’s Fair.
‘The Romance of Alexander, the Great Lord Rivers and Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms Bodley 264: A Speculum for the Prince of Wales?’ by Omar Khalaf in The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History, Annual 2011.
Walter Wilkinson. Museum no. S.261-1998 at the V&A Museum, London.
About the Author:
Toni is a history teacher, a writer, and an experienced public speaker – and describes herself as an enthusiastic life-long-learner; she is a member of the Richard III Society Research Committee and a library volunteer, where she leads the creative writing group.
Toni attended Gravesend Grammar School and originally studied chemistry at college. She worked as a scientist in the pharmaceutical industry before stopping work to have her family. Inspired by Sharon Kay Penman’s Sunne in Splendour Toni decided she too wanted to write a Richard III novel, which she did, but back in the 1980s was told there was no market for more historic novels and it remains unpublished.
Having enjoyed history as a child she joined an adult history class and ultimately started teaching classes herself. Her BA (with First-class Honours), her Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing and Diploma in European Humanities are from the Open University. Toni’s Certificate in Education (in Post-Compulsory Education and Training) is from the University of Greenwich. She earned her Masters degree from the University of Kent in 2009 by the study of a medieval medical manuscript at the Wellcome Library.
After submitting an idea for her first book, about the lives of ordinary people in the middle-ages, Everyday Life in Medieval London was published in 2014 by Amberley Publishing – the first print run sold out quickly and it was voted ‘Best history book of the year’ at Christmas 2014 on Goodreads.com. The Medieval Housewife was published in November 2014 and Dragon’s Blood & Willow Bark, the mysteries of medieval medicine (later renamed in paperback as Medieval Medicine it mysteries and science) was first released in May 2015. A Year in The life of Medieval England, a diary of everyday incidents through an entire year, was published in 2016.
Having taught history to adults madeglobal.com recruited her to create a range of online history courses for medievalcourses.com, but she still wanted to write a medieval novel: The Colour of Poison the first Sebastian Foxley murder mystery was the result, published by madeglobal in 2016. Shortly before publication Tim at madeglobal asked if this was going to be a series – although nothing else was planned, Toni said “yes” and now The Colour of Lies (published in April 2019) is the seventh book in that series.
Toni is married with two grown-up children and lives with her husband in Kent, England. When she is not writing, teaching or speaking to history groups – or volunteering – she reads endlessly, with several books on the go at any one time. She is currently working on The Colour of Shadows the next Sebastian Foxley murder mystery and The World of Isaac Newton, her next non-fiction.
Her websites include:
You can follow Toni on social media at:
If you would like to purchase “The Colour of Lies”, you can buy it here: http://getbook.at/colour_of_lies/
Toni also has a free ebook for her followers, that you can download here: https://madeglobal.com/authors/toni-mount/download/