Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Pedantry of Smart-Alecs - How to combat the myth of obscure collective nouns

The next time someone says "did you know the collective noun for ducks is 'a paddling'" tell them they're perpetuating old twaddle.

Obscure collective nouns come from medieval 'terms of venery' - mostly never used, and often just courtly in-jokes.

Six-hundred years later, they're fodder for trivia quizzes everywhere, but they're really not 'true' in any real sense, even though a few have actually caught on because of the frequency with which the myth that they were the 'proper' terms has been perpetuated.

The most common source for the many bogus collective nouns is the 'Book of St Albans', a 15th century book of advice on tedious aristocratic interests like hunting and heraldry. But in amongst the 'murder of crows', 'charm of goldfinches' and (best known of all) 'pride of lions' are a 'herd of harlots', a 'blush of boys' and a 'disworship of Scots'.

Perhaps most telling is the collective noun for a pardoner ... something that will make perfect sense to anybody familiar with Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale: "a lying of pardoners". Clearly many of these terms were never meant to be taken remotely seriously.

The absolute clincher, if it's needed, that nobody was every expected to use these terms in anger, comes from the collective noun for monks, according to the Book of St Albans:

"A bominable sight of monks". By the groan-inducing standards of medieval humour, that's actually not bad.

The pages from the Book of St Albans concerned are below:

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Pox on Both their Houses: How a Dose of Syphilis May Have Played a Role in the The Union of the Crowns

Don't stand so close to me - Darnley and Mary
Reported on 13 February 1567 in Paris how, following Prince James' (the future James VI and I) baptism, Mary Queen of Scots 'repaired to Glasgow to visit the King her husband [aka Lord Darnley] whereby it is pretty evident that there is still estrangement and no little distrust between him and the Queen'.
Darnley 'was sick of the petite vérole which we call measles.' Although at Stirling at the time of James' baptism, he wasn't at the ceremony, and kept to his chamber.
The unfortunate Darnley didn't have the option of an MMR vaccine of course, and in any case it is generally thought he was suffering from smallpox, or quite possibly syphilis, rather than measles. Certainly, if it was measles it was the second time he had been claimed to have the disease within two years (which is physically impossible). On both occasions the bout of 'measles' lasted far longer than either it or smallpox should. Likewise syphilis would be entirely consistent with what is know of Darnley's extra-marital activities, and the two outbreaks of rash that can typify the disease's progression in its secondary stage.
A dose of the pox, however, was the least of Darnley's worries, as he was murdered at Kirk o' Fields in Edinburgh on 9 February, but the news had yet to reach France.
All in all, a bad start to the year for him, then.
More on Darnley's conjectured bouts of syphilis can be read here:…/how-spirochete-secured-…, and while modern diagnoses of historical diseases is often a highly speculative business, it seems one thing we can be fairly sure of is that Darnley didn't have measles.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Publish your historical records online - free access or for profit.

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Contact us about becoming a beta tester on our new software which will allow users to publish historical sources free of charge or for profit in a custom-designed interface designed by historians for historians.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Keep it Classy Henry Killegrew

19 March 1668: "The pleasant story of [Captain] H[enry] Killigrew is that he opiated the mother and the daughter, and then ravished the daughter for which he was condemned to the gallows, but by the great mediation of the Queen Mother & Madame he is only banished."

It seems Captain Henry Killigrew was always getting into trouble, or close by when trouble happened.

8 February 1667: "Mr Henry Killigrew's servant was t'other night stabb'd in the next room to his Majesty, 'tis said he killed himself, but others suspect the master who was in the room with him drunk, some say alone, some say there was a third person however, Mr Killigrew is confined to his chamber".

25 October 1666: "H[enry] Killigrew is banished the Court for raw words spoken against a lady of pleasure, but it's thought will return again."

1667: Killegrew gets into trouble with the Duke of Buckingham at the theatre:

"H Killigrew being in the next box to the Duke of Buckingham at a play drolled with him and made fun at him and spake scurvy language to him insomuch that the Duke told him he might govern his tongue and his face better."

Killigrew left and tried to get "Vaughan" to challenge the Duke. Vaughan refused and Killigrew returned and "stroke the Duke times on the head with his sword in the scabbard and then ran away most noble over the boxes and the Duke after him and cut him well favouredly, he crying, 'Good, your Grace, spare my life' and fell down, some say to beg for his life but certainly the Duke kicked him. The Duke lost his wig in the pursuit for a while".

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hallowe'en Post: The Spanish Lady of Liskeard

To celebrate Hallowe'en, we thought we’d post a spooky account of a paranormal encounter in 1672.

It’s a pretty detailed account and really not much else for us to say, so enjoy! Oh, and BOO!

For a daily dose of historical ephemera, don't forget to visit our Twitter feed at

What a 17th century apparition of a Spanish lady
in a Cornish pub might possibly have maybe looked like
“A description of a vision seen at Liskeard [Cornwall], 13 July 1672, by me, Philip Mayou, and Mr. William Rolle.

Having travelled above 30 miles after one, we came late to Liskeard. We called at the Three Cranes for a room and a pint of sack, of which each of us drank only a glass. We had resolved not to tarry above an hour or two, but Mr. Rolle, being weary and sleepy, lay on the bed with his clothes on. I continued discoursing with the drawer, but about twelve, finding Mr. Rolle asleep, I lay down by him with my clothes on, and in about a quarter of an hour fell asleep. I knew it was no more, by the candle that was burnt.

Then he violently caught at me and screeched.

I asked him what was the matter, and whether he rose in his sleep, thinking he had dreamed; but he continued in a wonderful and strange fright, unable to speak.

I then looked about to see whether there was any cause of his fear, and saw a gentlewoman with a black veil over her head, hanging down each side of her face and down her shoulders, standing by the bedside, bending her body towards him and looking and beckoning to him, and stretching out her arm to him.

I then cheered him up and told him it was a handsome woman, and that we would be merry with her, laughing at this being afraid of a woman, being not in the least afraid, supposing her to be some friend of ours that had come to see us; but he still screeched, struggled, and held me fast.

I then looked again on the lady, but she then had altered her habit, and was in a white shroud, and her face was as white and pale as one dead. She had a great roll of linen about her head, sitting out with corners on each temple, standing upright by the bedside, so near that her head was within the vallance, looking upon him.

Then I began to fear and rose up towards her, and went out over him, and rising my face as high as hers, being within a foot of her, looked on her, and saw she was a spirit, there being a shadiness and motion within the superficies of the skin.

Then I was much afraid, and after I had recollected myself, both of us looking on her, I said with a very loud voice, “In the name of God, what wilt thou have?”

Then she shook her head at me, and looked more discontented, which made us fear more. I thought she would ne’er have left us. Then, desiring God’s help, my fist being bent, I said again to her, “In the name of Jesus Christ, tell me what thou wilt have,” and I had a resolution to strike it, which I offered and had done in her face, but that Mr. Rolle caught my arm as the blow came near her face.

She then shook her head again at me, and after a little while she went steady backward, without the motion or noise of one that steps back, for her head kept a direct line. She then, being about a yard from the bed, stood still, upon whom we both looked, I stretching myself out over the bed towards her. She then vanished in the middle, and in a wonderful strange manner all the body went, and, as it were, melted in a black, shady cloud, of the same bigness and height that the body was. We saw the head after the body was vanished, standing on the shade or cloud, which also vanished. Then the shade went steady out of the room.

All this we both saw, it being, during the whole time, as light as at noonday. But Mr. Rolle, as he then acquainted me, felt something light, as cold as ice, upon his face, then she rose up from him and beckoned to him, but he, knowing the face to be Donna Maria, his landlord’s eldest daughter in Spain, first wondered how it was possible she could come there, and began to be somewhat afraid. He took very great notice of her, and observed her Spanish laces. She still offered, as it were, to speak to him. Then he, looking more on her, saw a Spanish dagger in her right hand, with which she offered to stab him. Then he, being wonderfully afraid, caught at me, after which we both saw all the passages formerly related, but I did not see the dagger, for she had it only when in the garb of a Spanish lady alive, and not when she was in her shroud, and I took little notice but of her face, and never looked what was in her hand, it being satisfaction enough to me that it was a woman that had frightened him, and nothing else, till I saw the altering of shapes, &c. All the time the candle burnt, but there was a greater light than that of the candle.

We were both much frightened, and lay a little while in great fear. Then he leapt out of bed and went to the candle, and held it between his arms. I also got out, and we both drank of the sack, being ready to swoon. I said I would knock, but he would not have me do it, being afraid she would come again; but I did so, and the drawer came up, and we went into the landlord’s chamber, and continued in great fear all night, and for three or four days, and though several people watched by us, as soon it began to be night we were still frightened with the apprehensions of what we had seen.

I am since advertised by Mr. Rolle that his landlord’s daughter, Donna Maria, was at that time killed by a person that had formerly attempted the same.”

(Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the reign of Charles II (1672), pp. 338-340.)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Introducing Featured Series

TannerRitchie is pleased to announce the launch of our new 'Featured Series' promotion.

Each month we'll announce a featured series that will be available for purchase in its entirety at an incredibly discounted price. Available as downloads or on a DVD-R, this will suit the budget of libraries, archives and individual researchers alike.

We'll let you know by email what the series is, so you'll never miss out on the latest offer.

February 2013: Rymer's Foedera, 20 volumes, $200.

To kick off our Featured Series in style, we're offering the complete set of Thomas Rymer's Foedera, Conventiones, Litteræ, et cujuscunque generis Acta Publica inter Reges Angliæ et alios etc. for as little as $200.

Published between 1704 and 1713 in 20 volumes, Foedera is a rare and comprehensive collection of diplomatic treaties, agreements and letters made between the monarchs of England and other European kingdoms during the medieval and early modern period between 1066 and 1625.
While Foedera is an important series in itself due to its content and the fact that its documents are full transcriptions rather than calendared abridgements, TannerRitchie's searchable edition is unique in that it also includes Thomas Duffus Hardy's English Syllabus and our specialised bookmarks for easy navigation.

As one client recently wrote to tell us: "Your books are a pleasure to use: the indexing is very helpful indeed."

Download the entire series of Foedera for only $200 (save $400) or buy a set on DVD-R for just $350 (save $650)

To take advantage of this incredible offer, visit:

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

TannerRitchie’s Annual Holiday and Year End Sale is back!

It’s that time of year again, and what a year it has been for TannerRitchie! We have a new look and a new Mobile Web Browser for MEMSO. And to celebrate, we’re having a sale! TannerRitchie’s entire ebook catalogue is on sale, and so is Quick Access to MEMSO – ideal for personal use. So stock up on downloads or try out MEMSO for as little as $10!!

It’s Not About the Books. It’s How You Use Them.

Because TannerRitchie Publishing was founded by two historians, we know how the books in our catalogue are used. We take great care to ensure our ebooks are as researcher-friendly as possible, with bookmarks that are actually relevant and usable (years, dates, reigns, entry numbers, etc.) The same goes for our extremely powerful, sophisticated and popular database MEMSO (Medieval and Early Modern Sources Online). We designed MEMSO to be a virtual desktop. Conduct unlimited searches, and work with as many books and manuscripts as you want … at the same time. There are also tools to aid you in your research, and the ability to print pages, copy and paste to bibliographic software like Zotero, and save material on your own bookshelf. And don’t forget, if we don’t have a book or a series that you need, let us know. Our incredibly popular Suggest a Book feature means you can tailor MEMSO to fit your teaching and research needs.

MEMSO: It’s fast, it’s powerful and clients who use it LOVE it.

QUICK ACCESS to MEMSO is available for individuals…. and 50% off!

Use MEMSO for an hour or for a month. Whatever time option you choose, you will have complete and unlimited access to our entire database and catalogue of books and manuscripts … and with ebooks to keep*. So go on – give MEMSO a go. At 50% off it’s an incredibly cost-efficient way to experience the power of MEMSO. (*excludes the one hour option)

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We use MEMSO to come up with interesting historical tidbits. Some are factual, some are funny and some are just plain gross. But we love doing it, and our followers love reading them. So like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. Procrastination has never been so easy.
Finally, from all of us at TannerRitchie Publishing, may we wish you and yours a wonderful Holiday Season, and a happy, healthy and successful 2013.

2012 Catalogue (with new books still to come in December and January!)