Saint George?s charm against the Night-mare

Mary Sharratt, author of Daughters of the Witching Hill?a wonderful new novel about the Pendle witches?has kindly written a guest post on Saint George and his charm against the night-mare.

Mary has written a number of novels set in the 17th century, and her understanding of the period is profound.

Saint George?s charm against the Night-mare
by Mary Sharratt, author of Daughters of the Witching Hill
George is the patron saint of England and his feast day is still celebrated on April 23 with the displaying of the English flag, which bears George?s red cross.

In medieval tradition, Saint George was the Virgin Mary?s champion knight; England itself was regarded as the Virgin?s dowry.

Saint George?s cult had both elitist and earthy aspects. On the one hand, he was the saint of nobility and monarchs. To join the Guild of Saint George, one had to own a horse, which made it exclusive indeed, because in the Middle Ages, as now, horses were expensive and only the wealthy could afford them. Poorer folk relied on oxen to pull their carts and ploughs.

On the other hand, the name George means farmer. In his more populist aspect, George was the patron of horses and the low born people who looked after them for their wealthy masters.

The following is a late medieval charm against the night-mare, which was believed to be a hag that entered the stable by night in spirit form and rode the horses until they were exhausted. This superstition was very long lived. Margaret Pearson, one of the Pendle Witches of 1612, was accused of bewitching to death a mare in the village of Padiham.

Saint Jorge, our Lady Knight,
He walked day, he walked night,
Till that he founde that foule wight; (foul spirit)
And when that he her founde,
He her bete (beat) and he her bounde,
Till trewly ther her trowth she plight (till she finally made her vow)
That she sholde not come by night
Within seven rod of lande space
Theras Saint Jeorge y-named was.
St. Jeorge, St. Jeorge, St. Jeorge.

This rhyme was written on a piece of paper or parchment, then tied into the horse?s mane. To ensure full power, an amulet or piece of flint with a natural hole was also hung over the stable door. Earliest reference to this charm dates back to 1425-50, but it appeared in a book on witchcraft as late as 1584.

From C. and K. Sisan (eds.), The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse, Oxford, 1973.


For an amusing image of Saint George, click here (

For more about Mary and her novels, go to her website:


Was Descartes murdered by a priest?


Was Descartes, founder of modern philosophy, murdered?

Yes, according to academic Theodor Ebert ? poisoned by an arsenic-laced communion wafer given to him by a Catholic priest.

The more common theory was that Descartes died from the winter cold and early morning hours imposed upon him by Queen Christina of Sweden, his student.

However, Descartes’s doctor described having found “something wrong” in Descartes urine ? blood, Edbert concludes: “That is not a symptom of pneumonia; it is a symptom of poisoning, chiefly of arsenic.” Also, Descartes asked his doctor to prescribe an emetic to make him throw up, which Ebert believes shows that Descartes may have believed he had been poisoned.

Ebert researched this for a long time, and I have to assume he did his homework. I’m unable to find the title of his new book, but I hope it helps to answer some of the questions that come to mind: How much arsnic can one get on a communion wafer? for example, and couldn’t it be tasted? 

For more on this, see this article in the U.K. Guardian:

Also, this blog post adds to the discussion:


The Age of Comfort goes to bed


I’ve been sick-a-bed this week, and pleasantly returned to reading The Age of Comfort, by Joan DeJean. Appropriately, Chapter Ten: The Bedroom.

Not surprisingly, the history of beds is even more interesting than the history of sofas. I’m rather shocked by how much I didn’t know.

Before the 1670s, the sleeping area was a public space, open to everyone in the household. Over the next four decades, the private bedroom was born.

Beds, before, were movable, and simply curtained off. They tended to be single rather than double in size. Until late in the 17th century, most beds were moved around in the home rather than left in one room. The bed was made mostly of fabric, and, since fabric was expensive, it was the most expensive piece of furniture in the house.

A horsehair mattress provided springiness. A feather mattress on top make it plush. The less fortunate made do with straw mattresses.

Remember: there wasn’t much to sit on in the home in those days (other than the storage trunks, which served for storage until closets and armoirs were created). The bed, thus, was the social center of the room, a rather large sofa by day, and a bed by night:

” . . . it’s surface was used for all types of social interaction” (page 166).

Once again, it was the King’s mistress Athénaïs, Madame de Montespan, who lead the revolution. The first grand bed-frames ? the first beadstead, that is, a “bois de lit” ? were created for her Porcelain Trianon at Versailles. No doubt she had a great deal to do with the over-the-top design: the garlands of tassels, fabric swags topped with bouquets of plumes, the curtains replaced by a grand canopy. Mirrors set into the headboard called attention to the frame (and, one might add, to the lovers, as well).


Press release

Press release


In Canada, contact: Lindsey Love

In the United States, contact: Marcia Burch

Mistress of the Sun



“A fascinating portrait”. OK! magazine
“An engrossing novel about piety, passion and poison”. More magazine

Eight years after her bestselling Josephine B. trilogy, Sandra Gulland introduces us to the enchanting Petite, a maid in the turbulent and intrigue-filled court of Louis XIV, the Sun King.

French history is more than a backdrop in [Gulland’s] capable hands; it is the very air her character’s breathe. Books in Canada


An extraordinary horsewoman, Louise de La Valliere, is a brave and spirited child of minor nobility who, against all odds, grows up to become one of the most mysterious consorts of France’s King Louis XIV, the charismatic Sun King.

Set against the magnificent decadence of the court of the Sun King, Mistress of the Sun begins when an eccentric young Louise falls in love with a wild white stallion and uses ancient bone magic to tame him. This one desperate action of her youth shadows her throughout her life, changing it in ways she could never imagine.

Unable to marry and too poor to join a convent, she enters the court of the Sun King as a maid-of-honour, where she captures and then tragically loses the King’s heart.

A riveting love story with a captivating mystery at its heart, Mistress of the Sun resurrects a fascinating female figure from the shadows of history, and illuminates both the power of true and perfect love and the rash actions we take to capture and tame it.

Praise for Mistress of the Sun:

“Here’s a warning: Mistress of the Sun is dangerously seductive. It’s one of those books that will grab you and hold you captive till the last page is turned — and even then, chances are you’ll find yourself, eyes burning, online at midnight, ordering Sandra Gulland’s other books. Yes, it’s that good.”
Geeta Nadkarni for the Canwest News Service (published in the Montreal Gazette and Calgary Herald)


Praise for The Josephine B. Trilogy:

“It is that rare thing: a smart book you read as compulsively as a beach-blanket thriller.”
Edmonton Journal on The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B.


“[It] is that rare phenomenon: a second novel even better than the first. Gulland casts a strong spell, weaving reality and myth.”
Toronto Star on Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe

“Enlightening and emotionally immediate. A convincing, tender portrait of Josephine B., the woman who was a match for one of history’s most titanic figures.”
The Globe and Mail on The Last Great Dance on Earth

Sandra Gulland was raised and educated in Berkeley, California, and immigrated to Canada in 1970. She is the author of the Josephine B. Trilogy, which has sold over a million copies worldwide to great success. Gulland spent many years researching Mistress of the Sun, and in the interest of perfecting the book’s rich details, she acquired a library of over 200 books on the Louis XIV period, rode horseback for a week in France’s Loire Valley (45 km a day) and spent a silent week in a convent. Sandra Gulland and her husband live half the year near Killaloe, Ontario, and half in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Visit Sandra Gulland online at
For details of her tour schedule, go to the Events page.
See also: Notes on the Writing Life, her author blog.





In Canada:
HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN 0-00-200775-4
ISBN 13 978-0-00-200775-7
Hardcover, $29.95
Publication February, 2008

In the U.S.:
Simon & Schuster Publishers
A Touchstone Book
ISBN 13: 978-0-7432-9887-2
ISBN 10: 0-7432-9887-X
Hardcover, $26.00
Publication June 3, 2008