Tuesday 7 December 2021

The December Story Song: Today's Guest Writer is...Judith Arnopp

we are a little different this year:
some contributions are exclusive stories, others are excerpts
 from the authors' novels,
but all have our traditional format of...

Read the Story - Guess the Song

Here's a clue to the song title

The Winchester Goose is narrated by Joanie Toogood who, along with her sisters, Sybil and Betsy, are prostitutes living and working in the stews of Southwark in Tudor London. Life is hard but they make the best of it. During an encounter with a lady of the court, Evelyn Bourn, the lady falls down the stairs outside Joanie’s chambers and suffers a brain injury. Not knowing where she comes from and afraid of retribution for her part in the accident, Joanie keeps her with them, offering her rough but well-meaning care. In this excerpt they are celebrating a meagre but hearty Christmas. Please excuse Joanie’s grammar, she hasn’t benefitted from any sort of education.


It will be a meagre Christmas this year and that’s for sure. It’s hard for me to work now, what with Sybil afraid of her own shadow and M’lady tied to the foot of my bed. I turn a few tricks about town but earn barely enough to fill our bellies. And to top it all, my little sister Betsy is set on wedding a farmer’s boy from way up river, some far flung place I’ve never been to. Good luck to her, I say, but since Betsy is our best earner, it means we are deeper in the mire than anyone’d wish to be. It don’t seem to worry her none, she flounces about as gaily as you please, as if I haven’t had the care of her since she learned to walk.
Since early November the rain has fallen without easement, the wind blowing it in beneath the shingle, the damp chill filling the air and settling in my bones. Now that December is here, the cold increases, casting a layer of hoar frost upon the heads of the Queen’s lovers that the King has pinned to the bridge by way of warning. We’ve heard no word of the faithless little Queen herself, but I imagine her fate will not be one to envy. I’d sooner be me, hungry as I am.
But I’ve no time to worry for her overmuch for I’ve mouths to feed and a gently born lady to keep warm. I’ve pinned my Ma’s thick shawl across her narrow shoulders, it’s a plain home spun thing against the tattered silk of her gown but it warms her a little. I still don’t know what to do with her and she shows no sign of improving or remembering who she is or ought that happened.
Sometimes now, she shouts. Loud sometimes, crude words that I’d never have thought to hear from the likes of her. Other times she hollers words that we can’t understand and when these times are upon her she fidgets and strains at her bonds and nothing will soothe her but a cuddle from me. But most of the time she is quiet, as if placidly waiting for something to change.
But nothing does.
Every day I wash her face and hands, make sure her petticoats are clean before I set out to make a penny or two along the Bankside. I do not tarry if I can help it for my absence makes her fractious.

The smell of roasting meat from the cook-houses sets my mouth alive; I can all but feel how the juice would run down my chin if I could only bite into it. At home, all that awaits me is a week-old pot of pease-pudding, but at least I’ve earned enough this morning to buy some bread to sop it up with. 
When my customer has had enough I drop my skirts, and he lets a couple of pennies fall into my hand. “I’m grateful, Ned,” I say and leave him to go his own ways. I see a baker’s boy with a tray of wares and relieve him of a couple of loaves, reluctantly hand over the pennies before scurrying off homeward.
The steps to my chamber are slick with ice so I climb them with care before throwing open the door and unravelling my shawl. “I’m back,” I call, although in the one room we share they won’t have missed the blast of colder air that heralds my arrival.
M’lady is straining at her leash, wanting to give me welcome, so I dump the loaves on the table and go and take her hand. The strange, animal sounds she makes when she’s happy scare Sybil silly, but I just smooth back her hair and stroke her cheek and she calms down, retreating into silence.
Before I fill my belly I clean myself, using the bowl of rainwater that has filtered through the shingles. It is cold enough to shrivel my nethers and a curious shade of yellow, but it cleans me well enough. Meanwhile Sybil doles out pease-pudding into three bowls and rips the bread into chunks, saving one loaf for supper. Then, tucking a cloth beneath her chin, I begin to spoon the food into M’lady’s mouth. When it has near all gone, I soak the bread in the remaining gravy and put it into her hand.
“Stoke up the fire a bit, Sybil,” I say, putting my feet up and folding my hands across my belly. Outside the wind still howls and night is falling early, making me wish for thick curtains to draw against the cold. Such is the delight of December, short days and long nights. I think of the frigid days still to come, the relentless cruelty of January and February. I long for the springtime when the very air makes it good to be alive.
“Tell us a story, Joanie,” says Sybil, settling herself close to the hearth and poking at the glowing embers. M’lady, hearing her words, sits up on the bed, crosses her legs and appears to listen too. As I launch into a tale of brave King Arthur and his lusty knights, her eyes do not leave my face but seem to drink the story up. It is just as I am reaching the part where the boy hauls the great sword of England from its stone that we hear heavy footsteps on the stair and the door is thrown wide. We all turn in surprise.
“Peter! By all that’s holy. Where have you been, boy?”
He blushes, pleased that I’ve missed him, and holds a jug of ale aloft. “I had to go to Kennington. My uncle was ailing and I helped out for a while. I am back now and hope to stay.”

The glance he casts in my direction leaves me in no doubt as to which way his mind is wandering. But I can hardly throw Sybil out in the cold and M’lady is taking up the only bed. He passes the jug to me and I tip it to my lips to let the rich, cool liquid flow down my throat. Then I pass it to Sybil and after she has had her fill, she hands it back to Peter. When my turn comes round again, I see M’lady watching and I go to her and hold the jug to her lips. A trickle of ale runs down her chin and along her throat, disappearing beneath her bodice, making her laugh.
The jug is soon empty and when Peter gets up to fetch another from the Cock’s Inn on the corner, I follow him outside and wait on the balcony for his return. When he reaches the top stair, he puts down the jug and I slide my arms about his neck, wanting to feel the touch of a friend. I turn my face from his kisses but welcome his fondling hands, and before we go back in we couple quickly and efficiently, my bottom slapping against the roughness of the wall. The moon looks down unabashed while Peter smiles sheepishly, as red as a cock’s comb to the roots of his hair as he refastens his piece. I pull down my skirts and open the door to stumble inside. 
It is not long before we are all as drunk as lords. While Sybil sings a bawdy song about a priest and a gander, Peter begins to dance an unsteady jig and I scramble up to join him. I lift my skirts to my knees and circle the room, my boots making a din on the wooden floorboards, my dugs doing a separate jig all of their own.
When Peter and me fall laughing and panting to the floor, M’lady kneels up on the bed, clapping her hands, her mouth gaping in delight.
“She wants to dance too,” cries Sybil, with the spirit of Christmas upon her. I go merrily toward M’lady to untie the ribbon that holds her fast. She is still giggling when she grabs my hands and begins to dance, forcing my feet to move in steps I do not know. 
After a while, I pull away and she dances alone, her movements more graceful than anything any of us have ever seen before. We watch her in silence, the coarseness of the celebration suddenly seeming out of place.
Her arms are arched like a pair of swans’ necks and she tilts her head, a dainty foot appearin’ and disappearin’ beneath her skirts in time to music only she can hear. She is a ragged Queen in the company of whores. A winsome smile plays upon her face and there are tears upon her cheeks, as if she is remembering another dance in some other place.

 Song: Goosey, Goosey Gander

The most popular interpretation of this nursery rhyme is that it's a reference to religious persecution. Specifically, anti-Catholic sentiment in England forced Catholic families to hide their priests (the “old man” of the rhyme) in their houses in special rooms called priest holes.

About the book

Tudor London: 1540.
Each night, after dark, men flock to Bankside seeking girls of easy virtue; prostitutes known as The Winchester Geese.
Joanie Toogood has worked the streets of Southwark since childhood but her path is changed forever by an encounter with Francis Wareham, a spy for the King’s secretary, Thomas Cromwell. 

Meanwhile, across the River, at the glittering court of Henry VIII, Wareham also sets his cap at Evelyn and Isabella Bourne, members of the Queen’s household and the girls, along with Joanie, are drawn into intrigue and the shadow of the executioner’s blade.

Set against the turmoil of Henry VIII’s middle years, The Winchester Goose provides a brand new perspective of the happenings at the royal court, offering a frank and often uncomfortable observation of life at both ends of the social spectrum.

About Judith

A lifelong history enthusiast and avid reader, Judith holds a BA in English/Creative writing and an MA in Medieval Studies.
She lives on the coast of West Wales where she writes both fiction and non-fiction based in the Medieval and Tudor period. Her main focus is on the perspective of historical women but more recently is writing from the perspective of Henry VIII himself.
Her novels include:
A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII: the Aragon Years 
The Heretic Wind: the life of Mary Tudor, Queen of England
Sisters of Arden: on the Pilgrimage of Grace
The Beaufort Bride: Book one of The Beaufort Chronicle
The Beaufort Woman: Book two of The Beaufort Chronicle
The King’s Mother: Book three of The Beaufort Chronicle
The Winchester Goose: at the Court of Henry VIII
A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York
Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr
The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn
The Song of Heledd
The Forest Dwellers

Judith is also a founder member of a re-enactment group called The Fyne Companye of Cambria and makes historical garments both for the group and others. She is not professionally trained but through trial, error and determination has learned how to make authentic looking, if not strictly HA, clothing. You can find her group Tudor Handmaid on Facebook. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

images via: Pixabay unless otherwise stated
Note: it is illegal to copy lyrics but there is no © for ideas!

our stories or excerpts to enjoy

1st Deborah Swift  an excerpt from Pleasing Mr Pepys
2nd Graham BrackThe Clock Struck One
3rd Cindy VallarRumble the Dragon
4th Barbara Gaskell DenvilThe Great Forest
5th Nicky GalliersTwo Stories
6th Annie Whiteheadexcerpt from To Be A Queen
7th Judith Arnopp - an excerpt from The Winchester Goose
8th Paul Marriner - First Love
9th Loretta LivingstoneLabour of Love
10th Marian L. Thorpeexcerpt from Empire’s Heir
11th J G Harlond - excerpt from A Turning Wind
12th Amy Maroney - excerpt from Island of Gold
13th Richard Tearle - excerpt from the North Finchley Writer's Group
14th Inge H BorgExcerpt from After the Cataclysm
15th Juhi Ray the movie Jodha Akbar
16th Clare FlynnExcerpt from The Green Ribbons 
17th Anna BelfrageA Light So Bright
18th Elizabeth St Johnexcerpt from Written in Their Stars
19th Nicky GalliersDuty
20th Erica LainĂ© La Belle Russe
21st Anna Belfrage  - Excerpt from A Rip In The Veil
22nd Kathryn Gauci - Excerpt from The Poseidon Network
23rd Cryssa Bazos - Excerpt from Rebel's Knot
24th Debbie YoungThe Secret Ministry Of Frost

* * * 
you might also enjoy books by Helen Hollick
or direct to an Amazon near you

* King Arthur Trilogy
* the events that led to the Battle Of Hastings 1066
(includes US The Forever Queen USA Today Bestseller)
* the Sea Witch Nautical adventure series
* Cosy Mysteries

* Pirates
* Smugglers


  1. I didn't guess the song - but I think I was too caught up in the story to remember to try to figure it out. I loved this; it had such lovely detail and was so atmospheric.

  2. Thank you Annie! I am rubbish at guessing the songs, I guessed this one though :D

  3. Like Annie, I was too caught up in the story to guess the song. Beautifully written - I must shuffle over to Amazon and take a look at your books, Judith.

    1. ooh please do, Loretta. There are lots to choose from, some on special Christmas prices too x

  4. When setting this story I enjoyed it so much I went to Amazon and got the book! By the way, the geese in the top picture are our geese here on our Devon Farm (that's Colin and his wife Boo!)


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