Questions and Answers

About "The First Vial" and Medieval Times

April 25, 2010

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September 14, 2009

Welcome Students - Fall 2009

Welcome to another year of reading. I hope you will enjoy THE FIRST VIAL. As always, if you have any questions with regard to the novel or the medieval period, please feel free to ask.

For additional reading see my related articles for online magazine Suite 101.

Medieval Knights and Tournaments Jousting in the Middle Ages Mimicked Medieval Warfare
Knights in combat embody our modern view of Medieval life

Food in Medieval Times What People Ate in the Middle Ages
The staple diet of medieval man was bread, meat and fish. What was eaten and how it was served varied considerably depending on social station.

Fashion and Dress in the Middle Ages What People Wore in Medieval England
Sumptuary laws established in the middle ages restricted clothing expenditures to maintain class structure.

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April 30, 2009


Anonymous asked: How can I relate this book to the real world?

Simply put, people in every age face the challenges of daily living. How we respond to those challenges and make choices defines our character.

When Katherine was faced with the plague, what did she do?

Katherine endeavored to bring her entire household to safety, knowing that a large caravan of people and goods was sure to attract the attention of highway robbers. She put her own life in danger to protect others and continued to do so when they were attacked on the road.

What did the priest do?

The priest sent men to steal from those who lay helpless and dying in their beds and confiscated Katherine's castle.

In a crisis, what will you do?

For many people the horrors of New Orleans have not faded. Some saved themselves and attacked and stole from their friends and neighbors. Some helped others despite personal peril.

Now as then, choice defines character.

April 5, 2009

Answers to Student Questions

Who is the meat turner of the castle?

Old Henry is the meat turner. He's introduced when Katherine goes to the kitchen before the feast on the night their room is set on fire.

What is the river that surrounds Katherine's castle?

Its name is the Wyvern.

March 12, 2009


How did the 'Order of the Garter' come about?
Medieval knighhood is today associated with horsemanship and jousting tournaments but its beginnings boasted a code of honor that idealized such things as courage, strength, mercy and courtly love.

When Edward III returned to England from his triumph at Crecy and Calais, the enthusiastic welcome of the people encouraged him to establish a great and mysterious new order to succeed Arthur's Round Table.

Bound in black velvet, the official register of the Order was called the Black Book. The register was completed near the end of the reign of Henry VII although much of the facts of the order are vague and rely for the most part on heresay.

Members of the Order
Edward III announced his intention of establishing the Order at a feast held shortly after his victory in France. He planned to call the Order the Knights of the Blue Garter. It was once thought that the original members were some forty guests at the feast where the statement was made and all of the king's sons were included. However, it is now accepted that the original enrolment was twenty-five and included only one of the king's sons, the Black Prince.

Selecting a Name for the Order
Many explanations for the selection of the name of the Order have arisen but in THE FIRST VIAL I have used the legend that gained the most favor - the story of the Countess of Salisbury and the king.

A handsome man, Edward III had a roving eye and when he chanced to spend the night in Wark Castle, he succumbed to the charms of its lovely chatelaine, Countess of Salisbury. The countess was alone, her husband a prisoner in France at the time, and the king was inclined to take advantage of his absence. Gently but firmly, the countess refused him and begged him to consider her honor. The king respected her decision and left early the next morning.
On the night of the great ball held at Windsor Castle to inaugurate the order, the countess lost a garter during the dancing. The king retrieved the jewel-encrusted silken piece and put it on his own sleeve, saying loudly enough for all to hear, "Evil to him who evil thinks." This phrase became the motto of the Order.

The Order of the Garter remains a British tradition. The Garter is a dark blue velvet ribband buckled and edged with gold with the motto of the Order in gold letters, decorated with gold embroidered roses and gold chains.

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October 27, 2008


Photo taken in 1877 before reconstruction of the stones.

Stonehenge is the stuff of legends. Presumed to have been built in three phases beginning around 3000 BC with completion in about 1400 BC, the megalithic site was used for several hundred years and then abandoned.
But how and why was it constructed? Those questions have given rise to some pretty bizarre speculations. As poor Ciscilla ran amok among the giant rocks of Stonehenge in THE FIRST VIAL, I thought it might be fun to have a look at some of them.

How did the stones get there?

One theory had it that the stones were erected during the days of Adam, the antediluvians being much taller and stronger, and were knocked down by the Flood.
According to folklore, the Devil bought the stones from a woman in Ireland, wrapped them up and brought them to Salisbury Plain.
Another theory is that the Druids erected the structure by means of magic when they arrived in Britain in the 6th century BC.
The theory most prevalent in the medieval period of THE FIRST VIAL was this.
The rocks of Stonehenge were brought from Africa to Ireland by giants. Wishing to erect a memorial to 3,000 nobles who died in battle with the Saxons, the king sent Merlin and 15,000 knights to Ireland to retrieve the rocks. When the knights found it impossible to move them, Merlin 'sent' the stones to Britain where they were dedicated as The Giants' Ring.
Although such speculation is fun, the most likely 'how' is that they were put on rafts, transported by water, then dragged on rollers. If men moved the stones it is estimated that five hundred men working with ropes, would be needed to pull just one of the enormous stones.

And why?

The Devil did it so men would forever ask, "How did those stones get there?"
The Druids dedicated Stonehenge as a place for human sacrifices and other horrific rituals presided over by white-robbed, bloody-handed priests.
A less grisly use proposed was that of an observatory to predict the sun and moon's position to the earth to determine the seasons.
Merlin's Stonehenge was a place of memorial, also used as a healing centre owing to the idea that the stones had healing properties.
Another medieval theory is that what they called 'the hanging stones' was not a reference to the stones themselves, which appeared to hang in midair, but to criminals who may have hung from them.

In the end, Stonehenge remains a mystery but in August of this year, one hundred fifty archaeologists worked on excavations at the site. Perhaps their findings will lead to less fanciful theories!

October 8, 2008


How did Edward II meet his end?
What was the ghastly murder?

Edward II had a weak character and always needed someone to lean on. He was a disorganized man, a poor ruler.

When his son (who became Edward III) was fifteen years old, Edward II was deposed with these scathing words from Parliament's proctor - 'I do make this protestation in the name of all those that will not, for the future, be in your fealty or allegiance; nor claim to hold anything of you as king but account you as a private person, without any manner of royal dignity.'

A deposed monarch is considered a menace and a rallying point for all discontent and a violent solution is often found for a defeated ruler. Poor Edward II fared no better.

Eventually confined to a little cell in Berkeley Castle, a night came when the other inmates of the castle were awakened from sleep by shrieks emenating from the king's cell. The horror and agony in his cries were so loud that they reached the ears of the village nearby. Knowing full well what it meant, the people hid their heads under the bedclothes.

In the morning it was told that Edward had expired in the night from natural causes and the guards and domestic staff were permitted to view his body. It was laid out on a disordered bed in his cell and all saw that the features of the dead man were still contorted with violence and pain. And for good reason. The assassins waited until their victim was sound asleep then flung a table on top of him. While two men held down the table, a third proceeded to burn out his inside organs with a red-hot bar of iron. Inserted through a horn, no marks were made on the surface of the body.

So ended the life of this unfortunate king.

September 9, 2008


A sentence from THE FIRST VIAL reads -

"He was a popular king for he had hung, drawn and quartered the hated and vicious cuckold Mortimer, who had seduced his mother, Isabella, and contrived the ghastly murder of his father, Edward II."

How did Edward II meet his end?
What was "the ghastly murder"?

I will send a FIRST VIAL bookmark to the first five readers to submit the right answer. You answer should include the source of your information.

Post you answer in 'Comments'.

Good luck to all!

April 9, 2008


Posted in comments, Anonymous asked what, in my opinion, were the themes in The First Vial.

The principal theme in The First Vial is one of resilience - the resilience of the human spirit - accompanied at several junctures by a motif of fire.
Katherine's resilience is tested in connection with fire at three points - the burning bed, the burning field and the burning stake. At any one of those points Katherine's spirit could have been crushed, but each time although discouraged, she regained inner strength and did not give in to hopelessness or fear.
It also seemed fitting to me that the one attempting to use fire as a tool against her should himself be overcome by fire.

March 1, 2008

How did villagers live?

What were their houses like?

Most villagers, regardless of status, lived in poorly built houses that had to be completely renewed nearly every generation. That means if your father built the family home then you'd likely have to rebuild it to house your own family.
The commonest type of home was called a three-bay house with a single high-ceiling hall and three, fifteen foot square framed sections or bays. Dwellings lodged animals as well as human beings but the byre was usually partitioned off from the rest of the house. Thank goodness!
Light came in from a few small shuttered windows, although the poorest had no shutters, simply old sacking. Doors were left open during the day and children and animals wandered in and out.
Floors were of dirt, covered with straw or rushes. The home was heated and meals cooked on a central fire raised slightly on a stone hearth. Venting for the fire was through a hole in the roof and lacking a hole, the only escape for smoke was through windows and doors. The hall was usually black with smoke and the cat sitting by the fire frequently singed her fur!
The family ate their meals seated on benches or stools drawn up to a trestle table. They seldom had chairs.
When they bathed, which wasn't often, they used a barrel with the top removed. Carrying and heating water for the barrel was such a huge task that the family took turns bathing in the same water.
At night they slept on straw pallets. We've certainly come a long way from those days!

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