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Banners in the Mist:
a quarterly newsletter
delving deep into the past

Hi! I'm Joyce Holt, writer of historical fantasy.

Eventually I'll use this venue to offer sneak peaks of my forthcoming novels. For now, while my career is in the limbo-land of waiting to hear back from agents, I'll devote this quarterly newsletter to glimpses into the past, not necessarily related to my body of work.

In January 2015, in the lead article about Mayan chocol'ha, I began a series tracing the path of chocolate as it launched its journey through the ages and around the world.

This fifth issue of Banners In The Mist follows the trickle of chocolate from the New World to the Old.

World News

Dateline October 1, AD 1660

reprinted October 1, 2015     - - -     Volume 2 Number 4

The Bishop’s Downfall
Underestimating the power of chocolate

NORTH AMERICA: San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico--

A new house of chocolate opened yesterday on a lane with a good view of the cathedral of San Cristobal de las Casas.

cathedral of San Cristobal de las Casas

Throughout the day, San Cristobal's old-timers sipped their favorite brew and regaled out-of-town visitors with the 34-year-old tale of the cathedral and the bishop's downfall by chocolate...

Although Bishop Bernardino de Salazar y Frias enjoyed a good steaming cup of chocolate as well as the next person, he frowned upon the local custom of imbibing the thick and spicy drink at every hour of the day.

In particular, during the middle of Mass. Ladies' maids would troop down the aisle with silver trays of the foaming hot beverage, disrupting the services. The bishop pled with his congregation to wait until after Mass. He urged and chided and warned. At last he outright banned the drinking of chocolate during services.


The high-born ladies of San Cristobal protested. They needed the stimulating drink, they claimed, to sustain them through his long-winded rites. How did he expect them to worship when faint with hunger and fatigue?

The bishop stood his ground.

The ladies grew angry. Many of them left his flock and worshipped instead with the local friars.

The bishop threatened excommunication.

The strife grew so heated that one day a riot broke out in the cathedral as sword-wielding husbands defended their wives' inviolate right to a midday cup of hot chocolate.

Not long after the riot, the standoff came to an end when Doña Magdalena de Morales sent the bishop a gift--a peace offering that so perfectly fit the situation. A cup of spiced hot chocolate, which he accepted with grace and drank to the last drop.

Spiced hot chocolate, the way they drink it in the state of Chiapas. This serving, however, included a poison among the spices. Before he died, the bishop cried: "Beware the Chocolate of Chiapas!"

  At San Cristobal’s new chocolate house, an old-timer holds out his cup and tells the visitors, "The jicara gourd, see? Traditional cup for serving chocolate. Want to poison someone? Do it like Doña Magdalena--in a nice spicy cup of hot chocolate, and they won’t notice the taste. We call that, Giving him a jicarazo".
The shopkeeper nods and arches a wry brow. "Around here, when you think someone has gotten what he deserves, you say, They gave him his own chocolate."

Fact: Throughout the years and decades and centuries afterward, the Spanish phrase su propio chocolate (his own chocolate) will ever after translate to "his own medicine"!

    and Cacao

Treasures of the tropics


SOUTH AMERICA: Cayenne Island, French Guiana--

No one in the Locono tribe of Cayenne Island can understand the reasoning of Dutch governor Jan Classen Langedijk. He is refusing to honor a charter by the West India Company granted to a group of Jewish refugees, providing for a settlement on the island. These refugees fled from Brazil, where the intolerant Portuguese are taking over. Now that the fully-authorized immigrants have arrived, Langedijk is refusing to let them disembark.

The Loconos have heard nothing but good of these hard-working Europeans who keep apart from the Christians. The Jews have a reputation of honor and integrity in dealing with the native population, in stark contrast to the behavior of the hard-handed Spaniards, French, Portuguese, and now even the management of the West India Company.

Three times already the Locono chieftain has protested the governor's restrictions, and every other day has been sending the tribe's canoas out to the great ship anchored offshore, the dugouts loaded with buckets of fresh water and sacks of beans to provide for the stranded Jews.

Two-score Dutch inhabitants of the island also urge the governor to let the immigrants land and take up their labors. Some have declared they will abandon the colony if the governor continues to turn away the Jews, experienced sugarcane farmers, who are sure to bring prosperity to the island.

Cayenne Island has ideal conditions for growing many valuable crops. A few decades ago, the French thought to colonize Cayenne, but couldn't adapt to the tropics. They didn't have the skills needed, couldn't bear the climate, and lacked perseverance.



This morning Governor Langedijk finally relented. The Brazilian Jews have come ashore on the western side of the island--the most "smiling and fertile" tracts, according to one Dutchman--and are already marking out the walls of their planned community, the plot for a sugar factory, and sites for their various plantations.

The Loconos have been tromping the area all day alongside the newcomers, pointing out the best plots for growing indigo and annatto for dyeing, as well as cacao, vanilla and sugarcane for the booming market, at home and abroad, in hot chocolate.

Battle Tactics
Wait for the storm

AFRICA: //Hui !Gaeb (Cape Town), South Africa--

Yesterday a band of Khoikhoi fought another successful battle against the despicable, land-grabbing Dutch. The True People who live in the shadow of Hoerikwaggo Mountain are far more clever than their foes suspect: They timed the raid for a stormy day. Pouring rain soaked the powder of the Europeans' muskets--and damp powder won't fire.

The Dutch could do little but watch as the Khoikhoi drove off their plow oxen, gaining two steps with one stride. Not only did the warriors rise in status with this new wealth of cattle, but they put a stop to the loss of prime grazing land, plowed by the foreigners into farm plots.

The Khoikhoi are growing increasingly disgusted with the Dutchmen's tactics.

The first seven years of relations ran so smoothly, with the local herds supplying much of the meat needed to supply European ships rounding the Cape. The Khoikhoi would trade away all their cattle for copper and iron items, journey north to tribes far from the coast and barter the metal away for new cattle, reaping a healthy profit.

Khoikhoi woman
milking her cow

But with more and more ships passing the Dutchmen's "refreshment station"--which they call Kapstadt (Cape Town)--more cattle are needed than any amount of inland trade can provide. The Dutch have launched into large-scale ranching operations, encroaching on traditional Khoikhoi pasture land and forcing out the rightful owners.

This year-long war with the Europeans comes only after civilized negotiations failed. Three years ago, Goringhaikona chief Autsumao (called Herry by the Dutch) pointed out to headman Jan van Riebeeck that the newest wave of Dutch homesteaders were laying claim to the very land upon which the Khoikhoi dwelt. "Where," Herry asked in wry understatement, "are we Khoikhoi supposed to live, if you Dutch go on building houses wherever you wish?"

Van Riebeeck shrugged him off. In essence he said, "This pasturage ain't big enough for the two of us."

Speaking for a delegation of tribal elders, Herry said, "In that case, we have the prior right to the land and can forbid you Dutch to keep cattle. Who then is obliged to leave, the true owner or the foreign invader?”

Clearly losing the debate, Van Riebeeck still thought to grab the upper hand. "Think of it as the spoils of war. We win. You lose."

So war it is. The Dutch will not find it so easy a victory as they expect. Their tactic of banishing Herry to Penguin Island delayed matters by a year and a half, but then Herry and a fellow prisoner stole a leaky rowboat and survived the crossing back to the mainland where the war had already begun.

North-westerly gales storm across the bay, lashing the beach with rain, drenching the pasturelands, quenching musketfire. The interloping Dutch hole up in their forts, quailing before the might of the True People of //Hui !Gaeb.

Khoikhoi hunter


In the speech of the Khoikhoi
you will hear many clicks and snaps.

Hints for the click-impaired:
    // - clucking to a horse
    !  - popping a cork out of a bottle
    /  - tongue kissing the front teeth

Thundering Ghosts
Tall tales from distant kin

AUSTRALIA: Rekohu/Chatham Island (home of the Morioris),
800 kilometers from Aotearoa/New Zealand (home of the Maoris)--

Two Moriori canoes returned yesterday from a marathon expedition to Aotearoa. Exhausted from ten days of paddling, the crews sprawled by the bonfire on the beach while their kin unloaded the cargo of kumara (sweet potato) and hue (bottle gourd) containers.

The adventurers told of their open-sea voyage, and of their tentative contacts along the coast of Aotearoa before finding Maori willing to trade rather than tangle. The fierce folk of Aotearoa are well-known for eating any uninvited guests.

During the evening feast beside the bonfire, the Moriori traders told a ghost story they'd picked up along with the cargo. Two huge canoes with wings of cloth had sailed up the coast of Aotearoa a few years ago. They moved without paddles, yet men could be seen aboard the great vessels. Men with skin pale as ghosts.
After dark, the local Maori sent warriors out in two canoes for a closer look. They challenged the intruders with howls and chants and blasts upon their shell trumpets.

To their chagrin, the ghost-men yelled back and blew their own trumpets. Then came a blaze of light from the side of one ship, and a boom of thunder, and a splash in the waves as if a whale had smacked its tail. The Maoris responded as terrified warriors should. They shouted and raged and blew all their horns at once, then paddled back to shore.

The next day the Maoris saw a small craft rowing between the two great vessels. They launched seven war canoes of their own, swiftly overtook the sluggish boat, and attacked the creatures on board--which turned out not to be spirits after all, for three of the pale-skinned men died under Maori clubs. The Maori warriors snatched one corpse and paddled out of range of the thundering ships and the rain of boulders.

The two huge canoes spread their wings and sailed toward open ocean with eleven canoes giving chase. At last the triumphant Maori returned to shore to feast on their fallen foe. One warrior is said to have commented that ghost-man flesh tastes a lot like moa.

Maori war canoes

At the bonfire on the beach of Rekohu, the Moriori listeners shook their heads, appalled at the barbaric behavior of their distant kin, the Maoris. For more than a hundred years, the Moriori have been living by Nunuku's Law which bans murder and feasting on human flesh.

The consequence of breaking this tabu? Calling down Nunuku's curse: "May your bowels rot the day you disobey."

The King's Newest Acquisition
Peculiar Englishmen on display
ASIA: Kanda Uda Rata,
island of Sri Lanka/Ceylon--

A strike force from the army of King Raja Sinha II has made another successful raid deep into the coastal territory held by foreign traitors.

Their target: our ancestral port of Trincomalee, long lost to the Portuguese and now held by our former allies, the deceitful Dutch.

A squad of our freedom fighters breached the sloppy perimeter guard of the Dutch, slunk through town to the docks, and located the newly arrived English sailing ship. Spies had reported seeing it limp into the harbor without a mainmast after the last monsoon.

Raja Sinha II,
king of Kanda Uda Rata

Undetected by the arrogant Dutch, our spies snatched the ship's commander as well as fifteen of his crew, and made their escape back to the mountains at the heart of the island.

King Raja Sinha was most pleased to gain a new troop -- or shall we say troupe -- of foreigners to adorn his court. The Englishmen will soon find themselves in company with other European ambassadors being detained for his royal pleasure. The king delights in ordering courtiers, willing or not, to dress in rich Sinhalese garb and populate his throne room. The more delegates attending his every word, the merrier.

The humbled captives have no hope of rescue, for the secret routes into the mountainous heart of Raja Sinha's realm climb through heavily forested passes, and are easily defended by well-laid ambushes. The kingdom of Kanda may have lost its lowlands to the Portuguese and Dutch, but will forever hold the highlands safe from invasion.

After all, as everyone knows, while King Raja Sinha II remains the guardian of the sacred tooth of Buddha, his kingdom cannot fail!


Buddha founded his faith in the kingdom of Varanasi in India.
After he died, his body was cremated. His disciples sifted from the ashes Buddha's left upper canine, and gave it to the king of Varanasi for safe-keeping.

Before long, Buddhists came to believe that whoever possessed the Sacred Tooth Relic had the divine right to rule the land. Wars were fought over the tooth.

When yet another invading army threatened, Princess Hemamali smuggled the tooth to Sri Lanka, hidden in her hair -- for Lord Buddha had foretold that Buddhism would be safe in that island realm for 2500 years.

Just a few decades ago, King Vimaladharmasuriya I built a new two-storey shrine for the relic near to the royal palace.

Wall painting at Kelaniya Temple
of Princess Hemamali
and her husband, Prince Dantha

Queen of Hearts
    The lovely bride of Louis XIV,
        the Sun King

EUROPE: Paris, France, August 26, 1660--

This morning the air rang with cries of "Vive le roi!" and "Vive la belle reine!" as our glorious young king, Louis the Fourteenth, escorted his bride on the traditional "Joyous Entry" of a new monarch.

Parisians lucky enough to live on the processional route decked their houses with banners and hangings, and cast flower petals to rain on the parade. Fountains flowed with wine. Musicians played on stages along the royal path.

Just five days younger than her 22-year-old husband, the petite Maria Theresa looked radiant as she graciously accepted the crowd's welcome. She wore a lovely silk gown trimmed with "gold, pearls, and precious stones, and was adorned with the most splendid of the crown jewels," according to one observer. Layers of lace adorned the puffed sleeves. Beneath the deep V-shaped waist of her bodice, the split overgown was pulled back and draped, revealing an ornate undergown. In the highest French fashion, the queen's dress trailed a long train embroidered with fleur-de-lis.

This marriage seals more than a year’s worth of diplomatic bargaining between the realms of France and Spain, though the betrothal itself happened a mere three months ago.

Louis XIV got his first glimpse of his bride-to-be only days before the June wedding. It is said Louis was appalled by the absurd styling of her Spanish dress, skirts hooped so widely to the sides as to make ledges for leaning her elbows, if she so wished. According to court gossip Madame de Motteville, "Her dress was horrible--white, but of a very ugly material, with jewels set in heavy gold ornaments, and her beautiful hair hidden by a kind of white cap."

But of the princess herself, de Motteville said, "A little additional height and good teeth would have made her one of the most beautiful persons in Europe."

Treaty of the Pyrenees

After recovering from the shock of the ugly Spanish gown, Louis is reported to have said that Maria Theresa had a great deal of beauty and it would be easy to love her. Now after their first two months of marriage -- and an improvement in fashion sense -- that glimmer of interest has grown to a glow of passion, so say all the court gossips.
Rumor also says, however, that Maria Theresa does not participate in the politics of court but prefers to spend her leisure hours gambling and playing card games like Piquet, Triomphe and Quinze.

(See the Entertainment Section below.)

Some say, as the new queen, Maria Theresa should be taking more interest in France's affairs. After all, as daughter of the King of Spain she ought to be well-versed in doings at court.

But Louis XIV, our glorious Sun King, seems not to mind his wife's silence on those grand matters. Ever since he came of age, he has been relying more and more on his own judgment, and leaning less on advisors and ministers, so perhaps he merely shrugs at the lack of a queenly opinion.

One thing the royal couple does share is a love of chocolate, that recent Spanish import from the New World. Maria Theresa herself is the one who introduced the delectable beverage to the king of France. At the time of their betrothal, she sent him an elegantly ornate chest filled with chocolate tablets ready to be grated to make drinking chocolate.

Since then, King Louis has found the sweetened drink so much to his liking that among his most recent appointments was that of a royal chocolate maker.

Hot chocolate has become all the rage, sweetened in Spanish style rather than spiced and bitter as they prefer in the land of its origin. And what's popular at court soon spreads throughout Paris. Chocolate shops are already springing up throughout the realm, at home and abroad--even among our countrymen sojourning in that uncouth land of England to the north.

17th century chocolate house in London

(from a 1656 issue of the Public Advertiser in England)

In Bishopsgate Street in Queen’s Head Alley, at a Frenchman’s house, is an excellent West Indian drink called chocolate to be sold, where you may have it ready at any time, and also unmade, at reasonable rates.


A recipe for hot chocolate, by Don Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma:

"Take one hundred cocoa beans, two chilies, a handful of anise seed and two of vanilla (two pulverized Alexandria roses can be substituted), two drams of cinnamon, one dozen almonds and the same amount of hazelnuts, half a pound of white sugar and enough annatto to give some color. And there you have the king of chocolates."

(newly translated, at Queen Maria Theresa's orders, from Don Antonio's 1631 book, Curioso tratado de la naturaleza y calidad del chocolate: A Curious Treatise of the Nature and Quality of Chocolate.)

Of all the card games played at the court of Louis XIV, quinze is the simplest. In spite of its simplicity, quinze holds such appeal that it is sure to last for generations and spread to all the civilized nations in the world.


Two players first take turns shuffling a full pack of 52 cards. Each player cuts the deck and draws a card. Whoever draws the lowest card will deal the first round--with Ace low and King high.

The dealer shuffles the deck again. The other player cuts the deck, and the game is ready to begin.

The dealer gives one card to his opponent and one to himself.

The opponent may then ask for more cards, one at a time, adding the face value of the cards in his hand, trying to get close to fifteen (quinze) points without going over.

If the opponent goes over fifteen, he loses--unless the dealer does the same. When both go over, it results in a drawn game. If the players are betting on the game, they would then double their stakes and continue playing.

At the end of each game, the players again shuffle and cut to determine the dealer for the next round.

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