More Notes

Selections from the Afterword of

The Rose in the Wheel

Of St. Catherine :

    Although there were several churches dedicated to St. Catherine in Regency London, Curate Wood's church, located in Soho roughly on the sight of old St. Anne's, is completely fictional.

    I found few specific references to St. Catherine's Day celebrations during this era.  However, up until the introduction of the new poor law in 1834, workhouse girls at Peterborough and lace makers in other parts of Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire reputedly observed the holiday.

    Because angels bore the saint's corpse to Mount Sinai (where would be established a famous monastery in her honor), Catherine is often associated with hills; tiny, hilltop chapels dedicated to her exist all over England.  Actually, the bit of lore about dropping pins in a niche and reciting a prayer for a husband comes from a tale of the St. Catherine chapel high on a hill in Abbotsbury on the Dorset coast.  In spite of no path and lots of sheep, I managed to clamber up to this fifteenth-century chapel above the swannery.  The Catholic church removed Catherine of Alexandria from the calendar of saints in 1969.

I invented many of the pubs and coffee houses with the notable exceptions of the Grecian, today called the Devereux; the Russian Coffee House or Brown Bear in Bow Street; and the Cider Cellars tavern.

    The female operating theatre in the garret of St. Thomas's church did not open until 1821.  At the time of this novel in 1811, women underwent surgery in the adjacent Dorcas ward, a practice which must have been disturbing for the other patients.  I found it more effective to locate a scene in the garret theatre, especially since I was able to see it first hand.  Marvelously restored, the theatre is now a museum.

Of the Great Comet:

    The Great Comet of 1811 was a prominent feature of the night sky.  Napoleon reputedly took its appearance as a heavenly sign in favor of his Russian campaign (wrong move).  The giant "fireball" was also thought to contribute to prevailing maladies referred to as Comet Fevers and was credited with producing an unusually fine vintage of port wine.

Of British Criminal Law:

The Old Bailey

    It was not until 1836 that a person accused of felony was allowed to make his full defense by counsel.  Nonetheless, prior to that date a practice had developed whereby a barrister could cross-examine witnesses and argue points of law, yet could not address the jury.  It seems this privilege was granted––or refused––somewhat capriciously.  In one 1760 trial, for instance, the prisoner was forced to question the witness called to prove his own defense of insanity!


Possible spoilers ahead!

Read the book first.

Writing historical fiction requires a sort of teetering between the pure, elusive ideal of accuracy and the messier demands of a particular story.  Accordingly, while taking this opportunity to tie up some loose bits, I would also like to "fess up" to several instances of poetic license.  No doubt you have found more I should have mentioned.

Of St. Thomas's Hospital:

Of Coffee Houses, Taverns, and Public Houses:

S.K. Rizzolo

Author of the John Chase/Penelope Wolfe Regency Mysteries