Guest Post by Gillian Bagwell, author of The September Queen

Dear readers, I am so pleased to bring you a guest post by author Gillian Bagwell in honor of her latest release, The September Queen, which hit stores today!  I read and reviewed The September Queen recently and thought it was just fabulous.  You can read my review HERE.

Happy Release Day, Gillian!  The floor is yours...

Riding Pillion

I was thrilled that when my agent sold my first novel, The Darling Strumpet, she also sold my second book, as yet unwritten, and I was very excited to have the opportunity to write the first fictional account of Jane Lane, an ordinary Staffordshire girl who risked her life to help the young Charles II escape after the Battle of Worcester on September 3, 1651. 

When I first read about Jane’s part in Charles’s adventures, I was intrigued by the references to her “riding pillion” with Charles. What did that mean? Even more confusing, some sources mentioned them riding on “a double horse” or “a double gelding.” What?! Can’t a horse only be gelded once? It was obvious that somehow Jane was riding behind Charles on a horse, but I had no idea how that would actually work, and since their long days riding together were a very important part of the story, I had to find out as much as I could. 

Jane and Charles, painted by Isaac Fuller
 I Googled “pillion” and “riding pillion,” hoping to find some useful images. What came up was pictures of motorcycles, with or without riders! Obviously the terminology that had once been applied to riding horses had been transferred to more modern forms of getting around. 

Pillion Saddle
As soon as I knew I was going to be writing the book, I embarked on a research trip to England, as some of the places associated with my story would be shortly closing for the winter, and traveling around England wouldn’t get any easier as it got colder, wetter, and darker. While my friend Alice Northgreaves and I were zooming around the countryside trying to follow the route that Jane Lane and Charles II had taken, we were making inquiries by email about pillions – and especially whether I might be able to get the chance to experience in person how Jane had ridden. 

My quest for information lit up email lists and organizations all over England and the U.S., as one helpful person referred us to someone else. We talked to museums, libraries, riding stables, sidesaddle associations, historical re-enactors, and equine experts and enthusiasts of every kind, and soon, we had quite a lot of very useful information, and some wonderful pictures. 

Pillion Saddle
 The word “pillion” comes from the Irish Gaelic word “pillin,” the diminutive of “pell,” meaning couch, pallet, or cushion. This is logical, as the earliest form of a pillion was a simple pad placed behind the saddle, so that two people could ride one horse. Eventually the structure became more elaborate, with the pillion strapped to the back of the saddle and secured under the horse’s tail by a crupper. The person riding pillion had to hold onto the rider in front (and sometimes such a rider work a special belt for that purpose) and/or the crupper strap. Some pillions had a specially built handhold. At some point – and definitely by the time Jane Lane was riding with Charles – pillions acquired a little shelf called a planchette which hung down on one side of the horse, for the feet of the person riding in back. It is thought that this whole arrangement was the basis for the design of the earliest sidesaddles. 

Riding pillion was a standard form of transportation for centuries, most frequently allowing a woman to ride behind a man. But Jim Myers, AKA Duke Eringlin of the Society for Creative Anachronism, also sent me some 13th century images of Knights Templar riding two on a horse, which they apparently did for reasons connected to vows of poverty, and a 14th century image of St. George and “a coffee bearer,” as he jocosely referred to the smaller male companion.
It would not have been very comfortable to ride pillion for a very long time and it would not have been practical to go at much more than a walk. 

According to Lynda Fjelman pillions are still used during festivals in Spain and Mexico today, but are just a pad without a footrest, on which the ladies sit sideways in their frilly dresses. The use of the pillion came to the Americas from Spain, and pillions were used in Spanish colonies in North and South America. 

Several equestrian people told me that they had occasionally ridden or observed other people doing what is now called “riding double,” i.e., having a second person perched on a horse behind the rider in the saddle. Though another way of having two people on one horse is to have the second person in front of the person in the saddle, none of the 16th and 17th century pictures I saw showed that arrangement. This is interesting, as Natalie Wooldrige told me “Most riding horses will have no issue with someone riding in front of the rider but I've seen them really come unglued when the person is sitting on their butt!” 

I never did get the chance to ride pillion myself. But from what I learned, it’s clear that Jane’s travels with Charles, when they were riding 30 miles or more a day, were probably quite uncomfortable, although perhaps the discomfort was tempered by the excitement of cozying up to the handsome young exiled king. 

Sources: Many people in the equestrian and historical reenactment communities, including the Society for Creative Anachronism, the Sidesaddle Association, and the American Sidesaddle Association, gallantly came to my aid. Natalie Wooldridge, known in the SCA as Lady Ariadne De Glevo, gave me lots of information about horse breeds, their gaits and speeds, how much ground a horse could travel in a day, etc., as well as riding pillion, and sent me a wonderful photo of Steve and Jean Emmit in beautiful period garb on a caparisoned horse, he astride and she riding pillion. Mike Glasson of the Walsall Leather Museum sent me some photos of pillions. Margie Beeson sent me information about and photos of pillions provided by Rhonda of the ASA. Others who helped along the way were archivist Sue Hurley of the Worshipful Company of Saddlers, Jeremy Smith at the Guildhall Library, Karol Kafka of California Aside, Stephanie Hutcherson at Georgia Ladies Aside, Melodee Spevak, VP Marti Friddle of the ASA, Jim Myers, Lynda Fjellman, Jane Pryor and Shirley Oultram of the SA, Jo Strange of Hazlemere in Surrey, Frances Dorrian, and King’s Saddlery in Walsall. Gillian Bagwell’s novel The September Queen, the first fictional account of Jane Lane, will be released on November 1. 

Please visit her website,, to read more about her books and read her blog Jane Lane and the Royal Miracle, which recounts her research adventures and the daily episodes in Charles’s flight to freedom.

About The September Queen...

SYNOPSIS: Charles II is running for his life-and into the arms of a woman who will risk all for king and country.

Jane Lane is of marrying age, but she longs for adventure. She has pushed every potential suitor away-even those who could provide everything for her. Then one day, adventure makes its way to her doorstep, and with it comes mortal danger...

Royalists fighting to restore the crown to King Charles II implore Jane to help. Jane must transport him to safety, disguised as a manservant. As she places herself in harm's way, she finds herself falling in love with the gallant young Charles. And despite his reputation as a breaker of hearts, Jane finds herself surrendering to a passion that will change her life forever.

About Gillian Bagwell...

Photo Credit: Brendan Elms
Gillian Bagwell grew up in Berkeley, California, and began her professional life as an actress, studying at the University of California Berkeley and the Drama Studio London at Berkeley before relocating to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film and television. She moved into directing and producing theatre, founding The Pasadena Shakespeare Company, where she served as artistic director for nine years, producing thirty-seven critically acclaimed productions.

She united her life-long love of books, British history, and theatre in writing her first novel, The Darling Strumpet, based on the life of Nell Gwynn. Her second novel, The September Queen, is the first fictional account of the perilous and romantic odyssey of Jane Lane, an ordinary English girl who risked her life to help the young Charles II escape after the disastrous Battle of Worcester in 1651 by disguising him as her servant. Gillian recently returned to Berkeley and is at work on her third novel, about the formidable four-times widowed Tudor dynast Bess of Hardwick.

For more information on Gillian and her novels, please visit her WEBSITE.  For more information on The September Queen, please visit the Jane Lane and the Royal Miracle Blog.



  1. I am thinking it would be most uncomfortable....

  2. Beautiful your blog name too.

    Stopping by to take a look around.



  3. Great post. I can't imagine riding 30 miles a day behind someone on a horse. This sounds like such a great story, especially given Charles's reputation with women. Can't wait to read it!

  4. Thanks for the interesting lesson on riding 'pillion'. I especially appreciated the graphics of the saddles and examples of doubled riders.

  5. Fantastic guest post -- this kind of trivia fascinates me! It's wonderful to see that this historical detail hasn't been lost to us -- one reason I love SCA so much! It sounds very uncomfortable!

  6. The double-gelding reference was first spied by myself in the Georgette Heyer novel Royal Escape which fictionaly relates the escape of Charles II and much of this revolves around the riding with the beautiful Jane Lane - first published and very well researched by Heyer in 1936. Does this predate the current work? Methinks so!


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