Tag Archives: Dutch

Piers Alexander’s The Bitter Trade Steams and Wafts through 17th Century London

02_The Bitter Trade

Did someone say coffee and book in the same sentence? Yes, that’s nothing new to me, I know. Pretty much sums up part of every day for me. However, hearing about  a historical book that features the coffee trade, that’s newer and even better! I couldn’t wait to read Piers Alexander’s The Bitter Trade, especially since it was set in the 1600s during a time of much political and religious upheaval in England. As well, it’s set during the time when the Dutch threaten  to overthrow the English Monarchy of James II.

Calumny Spinks is a unique, street urchin type of character that takes to the late 17th Century London streets and sets his sights on becoming a coffee racketeer, as during this time, coffee was very popular. Since times were tough and unstable, commodities were fought over like life’s blood. Piers’s novel reminded me a bit of reading some of my favorite Charles Dickens novels, mostly in terms of setting, feel, period details, and original, yet lovable, characters! His writing style was even similar to 17th Century London authors, as he wrote set into the time of course, but as well there was still an ease to the writing and reading and would be understandable to all readers.

I could tell that Piers had completed an enormous amount of research before and/or during his writing of The Bitter Trade and is quite knowledgeable about this time period of British history. Parts of this time period, and the Glorious Revolution, seem to not have a large amount written and published in regards to it. Such is the case of  William of Orange and his plans for his Dutch overthrow of the England’s crown, too–I enjoy reading books of this time period, but we need more books! The time period’s great amount of mayhem on land and on sea seem a second thought or are even referred to as calm, though so many pivotal moves in regards to position of power, trade, and international relations were made. As well, the end of the 1600’s in London was seeped in paranoia, trade restraint, guild/labor issues, and class dissension, which created Piers’ backdrop within the new coffee trade of which Calumny became involved. This created the suspenseful, romping, conspiratorial plot within the book that made the reading so exciting and propelled me through the pages.

How does the coffee fit in? In 17th Century London, coffee houses were springing up all over (yes, they’ve been around since then. The British didn’t only drink tea!!) and the craft guilds were organizing. People’s way of life was changing. Commoners wanted more rights, and trade was very important; titles and family wealth of Britain’s elite that created such a boundary among classes began to be dissolved or disregarded, causing more upheaval.

Piers crafts attention to women’s issues of the time (wife auctions to divorce your wife, rape, etc.) in the book and this should also be noted. He doesn’t leave women characters of the book in the background, but brings them to the forefront, showcasing some that even dressed up like men, or acted like men, in order to get around the limitations placed on females. I adored the strong female characters he created to give women a voice.

Speaking of characters, he has fully-defined, quirky, and interesting characters overall that are the layers to his story. I enjoyed reading the nuances of each one, but especially Calumny. I would be thrilled if he continued Calumny’s story. It’s purely historical fiction based on a factual time period, but he admits he takes some liberties to create his protagonist’s story, and in his novel, it works.

I highly recommend The Bitter Trade for an entertaining, suspenseful novel that brings some sides of the Glorious Revolution to fuller light. You’ll enjoy a steaming mug of hot coffee with sugar while reading this and be transported back to London through the amazing details and descriptions that Piers accomplishes within his writing.

02_The Bitter Trade

The Bitter Trade Information, Synopsis~

The Bitter Trade won the PEN Factor at The Literary Consultancy’s Writing In A Digital Age Conference. Jury Chair Rebecca Swift (Author, Poetic Lives: Dickinson) said: “The Pen Factor jury selected The Bitter Trade based on the quality of writing, the engaging plot, and the rich and unusual historical context. Dazzling and playful!”

Publication Date: April 7, 2014
Formats: eBook, Paperback; 448p

Genre: Historical Adventure/Thriller

GoodReads Link

Read an Excerpt. Listen to an Excerpt.

In 1688, torn by rebellions, England lives under the threat of a Dutch invasion. Redheaded Calumny Spinks is the lowliest man in an Essex backwater: half-French and still unapprenticed at seventeen, yet he dreams of wealth and title.

When his father’s violent past resurfaces, Calumny’s desperation leads him to flee to London and become a coffee racketeer. He has just three months to pay off a blackmailer and save his father’s life – but his ambition and talent for mimicry pull him into a conspiracy against the King himself. Cal’s journey takes him from the tough life of Huguenot silk weavers to the vicious intrigues at Court. As the illicit trader Benjamin de Corvis and his controlling daughter Emilia pull him into their plots, and his lover Violet Fintry is threatened by impending war, Cal is forced to choose between his conscience and his dream of becoming Mister Calumny Spinks.

Praise for The Bitter Trade~

“A fantastic debut novel” – Robert Elms, BBC Radio London

“The ambitious, cheeky Calumny Spinks is a great guide through the sensory overload of 17th century London, in an adventure that combines unexpected insights with just the right amount of rollicking ribaldry. I hope it’s the opener to a series.” – Christopher Fowler, author of the Bryant and May novels

“This debut novel is a gripping evocation of late seventeenth century London, rich in persuasive dialect and period detail and with a bold protagonist. An unusual thriller that just keeps you wanting to know more about the many facets of this story. You’ll never view your coffee in quite the same way again.” – Daniel Pembrey, bestselling author of The Candidate

“A very exciting and superbly researched novel” – Mel Ulm, The Reading Life

Buy the Book~

Amazon UK (Paperback)
Amazon US (Kindle)
Barnes & Noble (Nook)

Author Piers Alexander, Biography~

03_Piers AlexanderPiers Alexander is an author and serial entrepreneur. After a successful career as CEO of media and events companies, he became a Co-Founder and Chairman of three start-up businesses. In 2013 he was awarded the PEN Factor Prize for The Bitter Trade. He is currently working on the sequel, Scatterwood, set in Jamaica in 1692.

For more information visit Piers Alexander’s website. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/thebittertradeblogtour

Hashtags: #TheBitterTradeBlogTour #HistoricalThriller

Click to see more stops and use Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @BitterTrade

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Celebrating Women Series: Nassem Al-Mehairi Talks about Margaret Hardenbroeck Philipse-“The She-Merchant Of New York”

Welcome to the sixth article in the “Celebrating Women” for Women’s History Month! It’s my first series (author guest article series) to celebrate women in history or women making history! Thank you to Nassem Al-Mehairi for offering the sixth article in this series. If you’d like to continue on with the tour, which runs March 19-31, 2014, follow along each day on the main blog or head to this blog page, Women in History, which will be updated daily with the scheduled link.


Margaret Hardenbroeck Philipse, otherwise called The She-Merchant of New York:
How She Became the Richest Woman in New York Circa Mid-1650s New Amsterdam (Present Day New York)

by Nassem Al-Mehairi, writer and currently authoring an historical novel on Baron Resolved Waldron

Margaret Hardenbroeck Philipse. That’s a name you may not have heard of before, but she was one of the most successful businesswomen to ever live in the Americas!

Margaret Hardenbroeck Philipse was born in 1630. Little is known of her early life, but Margaret is thought to have received some education, as the Dutch were the only ones who provided primary education for females in Europe during the 1600’s.Margaret, brought up in a time when the Reformed Church advocated for equality for women and more liberal views were held by Dutch society toward women’s rights, brought these to the New World.

At the age of 22, in 1659, a determined Margaret came to New Amsterdam, the Dutch colony on Manhattan Island. Her job as a factor for her wealthy cousin allowed her to handle his New World affairs. She did not find working for others to her liking, so she began her own trading company.


The Philipse Manor in New York

Margaret, needing to build her alliances with others to expand her business, married a successful merchant named Peter de Vries. In Dutch law, there were 2 kinds of marriages: a manus, in where the woman became a legal minor under the “guardianship” of her husband, and a usus, where the wife retained all the rights a Dutch man would have. Margaret chose usus, which allowed her to continue to build her wealth.


Castello Plan Of New Amsterdam

 When Peter died in 1661, Margaret inherited his estate. This added his ships to hers and his power. By this time she was sending furs and other goods to the Netherlands and was acting as a middleman for valuable trade in New Amsterdam. The guilders were rolling in, and it was possible because of the Dutch culture which treated women much more fairly.

 In 1663, Margaret married a man by the name of Frederick Philipse. A self-made man, Frederick owned 52000 acres of land along the Hudson River and a huge mansion, Philipse Manor. This marriage grew Margaret’s power even further, to a point where it seemed she could not be stopped.

In August of 1664, the British seized New Amsterdam, and renamed it New York. The British were not nearly as liberal as the Dutch, especially on women’s rights. The British successfully kept down more and more ambitious women in the colony, but, as Margaret had built a vast trade empire already, they could not displace her.

As she kept her transatlantic trade empire flourishing, she had to “officially” start doing business in her husband’s name. The British stripped her of many of her rights, and she could no longer act as a legal agent or purchase goods herself. She worked the system to be able to continue her merchant business despite this, with the help of Frederick.


Map Of New Netherland.

Margaret retired from business in 1680, and her sons took over the trade empire. Her business continued to thrive, and kept her descendents at the top of New York society for 300 more years. Not until the American Revolution would women have the rights that Margaret had during the Dutch rule of Manhattan. She lived for 11 more years after this, until her death in 1691. At her death, she was the richest woman in New York.

Nassem Al-Mehairi, Biography~

20140104-183355Nassem Al-Mehairi was born in 1999. Possessing unique viewpoints due to his heritage and the times, he is well-suited to understand the solutions to modern issues, such as domestic poverty, international relations, and women’s rights.

He aspires to higher education, law, and politics, as well as to continue writing.

Mr. Al-Mehairi is an author and currently runs the personal online column Seize The Moment. He is in progress of writing a novel about his maternal line ancestor Baron Resolved Waldron, who resided in New Amsterdam (now New York) in 1610-1690.

He resides in Ashland, Ohio.

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