The Chatelaine

silver chatelaine

I spy a whistle, a tiny purse, a thimble, and…?

In my previous post, I discussed the role that clocks play in The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle. In this post, we’ll talk about jewelry.

The original title of the novel was Chatelaine. You may be reacting to that title the way that the Viking Children’s marketing department reacted: What in the world is a chatelaine? Because they feared that young readers would have no clue, we changed the title.

I love the word, and it forms a crucial part of the story (although I do love the new title, too, and those wise marketing folks were right.)

Here’s what my main character Kat knows:

The chatelaine had been a gift to Margaret from her mother upon Margaret’s marriage, and Kat knew it to be a precious family heirloom. Wrought of silver and marked with the smith’s stamp, the chatelaine contained three useful items that hung from slender silver chains joined on a silver hoop.woman wearing chatelaine

In Kat’s case, and in the case of the other chatelaine in the story, these are objects endowed with magic – a magic that can be used for good or for ill. I was inspired to write the novel because a friend of mine posted an image of a chatelaine that was so evocative – and creepy – that it brought to my mind a story. (You’ll have to read the novel to find out more – no spoilers here!)

Originally the chatelaine (the word is linked to the French word “chateau” or castle) was the actual person who held the keys to the castle. The word evolved to mean the keys themselves worn in a cluster, and then to mean something like a charm bracelet worn at the waist.


Mrs. Hughes and her chatelaine.

The Oxford English Dictionary says a chatelaine is “an ornamental appendage worn by ladies at the waist, supposed to represent the bunch of keys, etc., of a medieval chatelaine; it consists of a number of short chains…bearing articles of household use and ornament.”

If you’ve watched Downtown Abbey, you’ve seen the chatelaine worn by Mrs. Hughes, which is a set of keys and other items.

During the eighteenth century some chatelaines became so elaborate they were almost clownish. The fad faded away in the early twentieth century as fashion changed and became simpler (check out my post on fashion in the early twentieth century for more).



Some chatelaines were much like a Swiss Army knife of practical objects. Some were strictly ornamental. Many are quite beautiful. You can think of them as physical “apps”.

What do you think – is it time to revive this fashion statement?

In my next post, the magic of Scotland.

6 Responses to “The Chatelaine”

  1. Linda W

    Wow. I learned something. I was familiar with the chatelaine who was in charge of a household. I didn’t know the word had another meaning! Cool!

    • Janet

      It is cool! Actually, I think so many of these are beautiful. And it turns out that some pieces of jewelry I inherited were clearly from chatelaines, which makes it even more fun. Maybe I’ll have to wear them…!

  2. Meredith Hillenbrand

    Very interesting! I had no idea that the “keys” were so intricate or beautiful. I see from your response to Linda W. that you have some of these pieces. That’s awesome! I really appreciate when authors are willing to share some of their research with us readers. So much history has been forgotten by today’s generations. Merry Christmas!

  3. Debbi MIchiko Florence

    Your book gave me chills! 🙂 And I was sooo curious about this object! Made me want one! 😉 And I never even noticed that Mrs. Hughes wore one! I’ll have to keep a sharp eye out when the next season starts! Thanks for this! Fascinating!

    • Janet

      Oh, thank you so much, Debbi!! Yeah, I love all the little tidbits. They make it so much fun to write. 🙂