Karen Bowman - What the Critics (and Others) Say

"It was perhaps inevitable that 'Essex Boys' would follow 'Essex Girls', it's been like that since time immemorial. The Normans liked to hunt in Essex and so did the Tudors, like Henry VII and Henry VIII, who also included a number of 'Essex Girls' in his 'sport'. Queen Victoria's lusty son Albert, who later became King Edward VII, pursued his Essex hunt at Easton Lodge for neigh on ten years.
This new book by Karen Bowman is a cornucopia of Essex talent, achievement, daring and criminality, including heroes like Byrhtnoth, high on courage but perhaps low on wisdom? Sir John Hawkwood, a Hedingham tanner's boy, who spent almost all his adult life abroad, selling his battle arm to whoever paid him, be that Pope or embattled town.
They're all here, revolting peasants, executed Royalists, innovative physicians, sea dog Haddocks and Salmons, arctic explorers, mutinous seamen neglected by their country as evident from the story of Richard Parker and his wife and the treatment of war veterans ending up in the workhouse in their dotage.
Desperate criminals were hung or deported, yet the odious, manipulative turncoat Richard Rich, who sold out anybody and often attended their inhuman demise while profiting to become the richest man in Essex, all while producing 16 legitimate children and 4 illegitimate ones – he died in his bed.
They're all here, martyrs who died gruesome deaths for not falling in line with the religion of the day; gentlemen of letters who still entertain and enlighten us like Dickens, Defoe and Morant; bell founders and clockmakers of Colchester; warlocks and wizards like Murrell and Pickingill; smugglers like Hardapple and their nemeses, the Revenue Men. (Essex men excelled at smuggling.)
They're all here, the husbands who kept a whip by the bed with the full right to chastise an unresponsive wife. Essex Boys even sold and bought their wives.
So, who is an Essex Boy? In this context anyone who lived, loved or died in Essex and did something famous or infamous in-between. There are notable omissions: Perhaps that famously uninvited long-distance visitor to Camulodunum, the Roman Emperor Claudius might have been honoured, or King Canute of Ashingdon or Thaxted's musician Gustav Holst, but then perhaps that will be another day and another edition? I can't wait.
'Essex Boys' is a worthy companion to the excellent and well-researched 'Essex Girls', also written by Karen Bowman. The pages are dripping detail, but in a very accessible and can't-put-downable way."
Robert Hallmann - Author

"Geography is not the only element linking the historical figures of Karen Bowman's recent two books. In Essex Girls and Essex Boys she selects a range of characters who are vibrant, defiant and brave, who have made their mark through the ages in all fields. Bowman explores strumpets and pioneers, scientists and authors, victims and villains, dividing them thematically in order to shape narratives that sweep across the centuries. She writes with a light touch but an eye for detail, making for a colourful, gossipy read that leaves the reader wanting to read on. In which case, there is a second book of treasures waiting to be discovered. These books are a complimentary pair; if you've enjoyed one, don't hesitate to get the other.

It is surprising just how many famous and infamous men and women have had associations with Essex over the centuries. I particularly enjoyed reading about the escapades of the eighteenth century highwaymen and gangs, including Dick Turpin. But Bowman is also a writer capable of empathy as well as entertainment, and looks beyond the felon to the reasons for his actions, in the decline of his livelihood as a butcher. The smuggling section was a particularly good choice too. Essex's generous coastline is riddled with little inlets and creeks, as well as extensive forest buffering up to London, making it the perfect location for the concealment of "brushwood" or contraband goods. Bowman says there is little romance in smuggling but her accounts of the lives of "Colchester Jack," "Daniel London" and others are compelling; she brings to life the very real sense that for many of them, it was the only available life. This section is well balanced by the tales of the Revenue men which follow, reminding us that this was a constant battle on both sides, an elaborate game of cat and mouse played out over the misty Essex Marshes. Perhaps it inspired a young reporter named Charles Dickens, who visited in 1835 to report on the Parliamentary elections. It was also good to see a section on the influential Essex family, the Lords Rich, even if it did confirm for me the received wisdom about Sir Richard being a complete villain.

It may be the because so much of mainstream history has been enacted and written by men, that Bowman's Essex boys felt more familiar than her selection of Essex girls. While many of the Queens and royal mistresses, such as Henry VIII's lovers Mary Boleyn and Bessie Blount, are well known, this book uncovers many of those women whose lives were not lived on the national stage and have therefore, escaped wider attention. The stories of convict women, sentenced to transportation amid terrible conditions for minor offenses were particularly poignant as were the experiences of Elizabeth Fry, working to reform the prison system. I also enjoyed the story of Mary Joscelyne, the midwife of Leigh-on-Sea, who reputedly delivered the love child of Nelson and Emma Hamilton. Mary was summoned in a closed carriage to attend a mystery woman who was undergoing a difficult labour, at twice her usual fee. Bowman has had access to the midwife's family records, where an old diary hints at the scandal which she tells enticingly. It was lovely to read the local points of connection. As an Essex girl myself, raised in Leigh-on-Sea, I enjoyed reading that Mary met her husband John in the 1770s, at the May Fair at St Clements, a fair which still runs, which I used to attend as a child. Likewise I can picture John as an old man, walking across Hadleigh fields in the noon day sun. It isn't essential to come from Essex in order to appreciate such details but locals will get an extra dimension from the links between their lives and the past.

Bowman's cast is huge, so she maintains a brisk anecdotal pace in both books, while providing enough detail to draw these mini-portraits. The use of sub headings within chapters invites the reader to dip in and out. Whichever page you open, there is something to draw you in and the embedding of quotations and images in the text make it feel accessible and varied. These are books of highly polished miniatures, each one rounded and interesting, build up to a fascinating collection of legend and historical fact. Readers should be under no illusion that these are aimed purely at a local market: Bowman uses the vibrant history of the county as a springboard to discuss universal questions such as the rights and roles of women in the past. While Essex Boys focuses more on general character traits of passion and ambition, Essex Girls has something particularly valuable to contribute to the history of those who have been marginalised by the regimes of the past."
Amy Licence - Author & Historian- Review in the Huffington Post

"'Essex Girls' is a must read for anyone with even the most superficial interest in either Essex history or that of the country at large. Karen Bowman has done a truly superb job in weaving together a complex tapestry of those ladies of Essex who is on fame, notoriety and even sanctity. At the same time she delves into the lives 'of the little people'; those poor women such as, Ann Carter, who had to face the full rigours of the English penal system. The stage is full of radical reformers like Elizabeth Fry as well as the wantons such as Henry the Eighth's Bessie Blount. Karen Bowman writes both lucidly and vividly and her effortless prose is complemented with eye-catching photographs and plates. The index at the back is a tremendous help and the bibliography a marvellous pointer to further reading. I would recommend this book for all lovers of history and Essex in particular. It truly is an outstanding work."
Paul Doherty, International award winning author.

"'Essex Girls' by Karen Bowman has had a great response with our customers and is flying off the shelves!"
Lara Matthews, The Book Inn

"What makes this book so much fun to dip into are all the unknown stories ranging from the poor women accused of witchcraft (Essex was known as 'Witch County'), to the county's longer-lasting women such as the now forgotten Mary Ellis whose gravestone tells 'she was a virgin of virtuous courage and very promising hope - impressive traits that were perhaps required for a woman who lived to be 119 in 1609. Enjoy."
Clare Mulley, award-winning author of The Woman Who Saved the Children: A Biography of Eglantyne Jeb

"Essex Girls have endured a bad press in recent times but, in the past, it seems there have been some quite remarkable women. Karen Bowman's book does the Essex Girls of the past proud…"
Tessa Hallmann, A- List photographer

"Karen has brought to life dozens of Essex women's lives from the past. Some of them are immortals, such as Queen Boudicea, whose statue stands outside the Houses of Parliament, the embodiment of the English fighting spirit. Others, such as the radical firebrand leader Anne Carter, executed for leading a Maldon riot in protest against poverty, were quite forgotten. Now, rediscovered by Karen, these extraordinary womenfolk finally get the credit they deserve."
Tom King, Echo Newspapers

"Corsets & Codpieces:A well-illustrated overview of changing fashions over the centuries."
Your Family Tree

"Corsets & Codpieces:A diverting and fascinating journey through the quirkier aspects of British sartorial history."
The Bookseller

"Corsets & Codpieces:Karen Bowman charts our sartorial history in this fascinating read for fashionistas and history fans alike."
Antiques Diary

"Corsets & Codpieces:Corsets and Codpieces offers intriguing insights into the peculiarities of English dress from the ordinary to the outlandish. Bowman's research, as well as mapping the path of fashion through history, explores the minutiae - recipes for dyes, costs of fabrics, the dangers of crinolines and the toxic effects of Elizabethan make-up - and also enlightens us on contemporary attitudes to the more eccentric styles. An absolutely fascinating read."
Author Liz Freemantle

"Corsets & Codpieces:A sartorial journey through British history focusing on the unusual items of clothing people wore."
Britain Magazine

"Corsets & Codpieces:A cornucopia of arcane information that will delight anyone interested in the history of fashion, this is splendidly illustrated takes us from Roman times to the 1940's, describing not only the fashions in clothing, but also explaining how dress influenced deportment and manners through the ages…

… Packed with all manners of delicious details, this is a thoroughly entertaining compendium - with a marvelous appendix made up of extraordinary items uncovered by the author in the course of her research, from the side-effects of cocaine toothpaste to the archaic form of measurement still used as the basis for British shoe sizing."
Jane Austen's Regency World, May/June 2016 - Joceline Bury

"Corsets & Codpieces:This is an exciting history of British fashion trends. From people using bum rolls and bombastic breeches to augment their figures, why Tudor men traded in their oversized codpieces for corsets, to crinolines causing a spate of shoplifting among Victorian ladies. A fun and incredible insight to how fashion shaped us and we shaped fashion."
Sylvia Kent's Reading & Writing Forum

"Corsets & Codpieces:For anyone interested in humanity, the growth and change of men and women over the centuries, women's rights or simply anyone interested in clothing and design will absolutely love this book by Bowman. I highly recommend 'Corsets and Codpieces' for any bookshelf!"
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