Please welcome our honored guest, Kathy Lynn Emerson. Kathy (aka Kaitlyn Dunnett) is the author of over fifty books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award in 2008 for best mystery nonfiction for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2014 in the best mystery short story category for “The Blessing Witch.”
Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (The Scottie Barked at Midnight) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in the Merchant’s Hall) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” series and is set in Elizabethan England. Her websites are www.KathyLynnEmerson.com and www.KaitlynDunnett.com
When Ann told me this week’s theme was “Walking the Tightrope of Political Correctness,” my first thought was that political correctness is hardly a new notion. The difference is that in earlier times a wrong step off that tightrope would mean more than a nasty fall. You could end up in prison, where you might well be tortured to obtain the names of others who shared your wrongheaded beliefs. You might also end up on the scaffold, facing execution.
But, on a lighter note, the concept of political correctness in sixteenth-century England also included rules and regulations governing proper behavior. In Murder in the Merchant’s Hall, the second of my Mistress Jaffrey mysteries, Mistress Jaffrey’s husband, Rob, is a student at Christ’s College, Cambridge. Although only a small part of the novel takes place there, I wanted to make sure I got the details right. That led me to some interesting discoveries about the life of a typical scholar at Christ’s College in the 1580s.
First and foremost, Cambridge in general and Christ’s College in particular were hotbeds of Puritanism. Tolerance for other ideas was low. Standards of conduct were high. Of course that didn’t mean everyone adhered to them. In fact, the number and specificity of the rules suggests that they were flaunted with great regularity.
Here’s a sampling:
- Scholars had to wear hooded, academic gowns that were black, London brown, or some other “sad” color. Leaving off the gown resulted in a eight penny fine. In one case, eating in the Buttery wearing a cut taffeta doublet without the gown resulted in the scholar also being hauled before the provost and lectured
- Hair had to be polled, knotted, or rounded. Those who wore their hair long faced a four penny fine
- Scholars could speak only Latin in daily life, except in the privacy of their rooms or on holidays
- They had to attend morning prayers every day between five and six
- They had to attend at least three lectures a day, some in Latin and some in Greek
- Attending plays, other than those acted in Latin in the hall at Christmas and in the Lent term, was forbidden
- The only women permitted to enter the grounds were laundresses and, in time of sickness, nurses
- Dice, cards, and drinking parties were forbidden
- All meals were to be consumed in silence while one student read aloud from the Bible
- Each scholar had to take the Oath of Supremacy before he could receive his degree
On the bright side, scholars were permitted up to four weeks annual leave from their studies. Rob Jaffrey, my fictional creation, takes advantage of this time off to journey to London and help his wife solve a murder. A real Cambridge scholar in the 1580s, at Corpus Christi, was a bright young lad named Christopher Marlowe. He took several unauthorized holidays and the popular theory is that he, like my characters, became entangled in espionage during one of those absences from university, possibly because the Queen’s spy master, Sir Francis Walsingham, had proof of politically incorrect behavior to hold over his head.