Medieval History Resources Online

The following are some medieval history resources I have run across online. Please let me know of any interesting sites you may have found as well.

Writing and Historical Research

I was chatting on a forum the other day, and the conversation sparked the idea for this blog post. When writing your novel, what is the best way to incorporate research and historical details into your writing? I’m not sure there is a best practice for doing this; everyone most likely has a method that works best for him or her. Some like to do a lot of research and planning up front, while others choose to research as they are writing their novel. I can only share what my experience has been and what works best for me.

When I began the first draft of my novel, I had a basic knowledge of the medieval period, and I had an idea for a story, and so I just started writing. As I was writing, I went to the library and collected books and read as much as I could about the time and location in medieval history I wanted to cover. I focused on Medieval England and France, around the turn of the 13th century. By the time I finished the first draft, I had learned so much more, and I realized I had a lot of errors, and for the second draft, I spent time correcting these errors with the new knowledge I had gained. But I never stopped researching. Throughout the second draft, I was constantly reading new books, and even after I finished the second draft, there were still new things I had learned that I wanted to incorporate in the third draft.

I’m currently on the fourth draft of my novel, and there are still things about the Middle Ages I’m learning. Just yesterday, I was talking with a knowledgable historical fiction author, and she informed me that the term “chain mail” was actually a term created in the Victorian era and was not used by people in the Middle Ages. Simply the term “mail” would be more accurate. Now, I have to be more conscious of this in my writing, and for the fourth draft correct any misuses of this term. As many medieval historical sources I have read, I have never noticed the distinction between “chain mail” or “mail” before. Either the sources referred to it as both “chain mail” and “mail” interchangeably, or they failed to mention “chain mail” was a term conceived after the medieval period.

The important thing is to never stop learning; you can never know enough about a certain period of history, and there are many areas left open for interpretation and debate that the writer will have to make certain choices about in his or her novel.

What I’m Reading

The following is a list of blogs/sites I’m currently subscribed to:

Historical Fiction:

On Writing:

Fantasy/Sci-Fi:

  • George R.R. Martin – The official blog of author George R.R. Martin
  • David Anthony Durham – Official blog of the award winning author of Acacia, Pride of Carthage, Walk Through Darkness, and Gabriel’s Story.
  • Neil Gaiman – The official blog of author Neil Gaiman

 Literary News:

 Medieval:

Medieval Resources – Weaving History into Your Novel

The following is a list of medieval resources I have used while writing my novel. This list does not include all the medieval history books I’ve read, not even all the books I have in my library, it’s simply a small selection of the books I feel have been most beneficial throughout the process. Any other suggestions of medieval non-fiction books to read are much appreciated. I’ve included the name of the book and a brief summary describing it. I pulled the summaries from Google Book Search results or from the books’ back covers.

  • Daily Life in the Middle Ages by Paul B. Newman – Although life in the Middle Ages was not as comfortable and safe as it is for most people in industrialized countries today, the term “Dark Ages” is highly misleading. The era was not so primitive and crude as depictions in film and literature would suggest. Even during the worst years of the centuries immediately following the fall of Rome, the legacy of that civilization survived. This book covers diet, cooking, housing, building, clothing, hygiene, games and other pastimes, fighting and healing in medieval times. The reader will find numerous misperceptions corrected. The book also includes a comprehensive bibliography and a listing of collections of medieval art and artifacts and related sites across the United States and Canada so that readers in North America can see for themselves some of the matters discussed in the book.
  • The Medieval Fortress: Castles, Forts and Walled Cities of the Middle Ages By J. E. Kaufmann, H. W. Kaufmann -The great walled castles of the medieval world continue to fascinate the modern world. Today, the remains of medieval forts and walls throughout Europe are popular tourist sites. Unlike many other books on castles, The Medieval Fortress is unique in its comprehensive treatment of these architectural wonders from a military perspective. The Medieval Fortress includes an analysis of the origins and evolution of castles and other walled defenses, a detailed description of their major components, and the reasons for their eventual decline. The authors, acclaimed fortification experts J.E. and H.W. Kaufmann, explain how the military strategies and weapons used in the Middle Ages led to many modifications of these structures. All of the representative types of castles and fortifications are discussed, from the British Isles, Ireland, France, Germany, Moorish Spain, Italy, as far east as Poland and Russia, as well as Muslim and Crusader castles in the Middle East. Over 200 photographs and 300 extraordinarily detailed technical drawings, plans, and sketches by Robert M. Jurga accompany and enrich the main text.
  • Life in a Medieval City by Joseph and Francis Gies – Life in a Medieval City evokes every aspect of life in the Middle Ages by depicting in detail what it was like to live in a prosperous city of Northwest Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries.
  • Life in a Medieval Castle by Joseph and Francis Gies – “The authors allow medieval man and woman to speak for themselves through selections from past journals, songs, even account books.”– “Time”
  • Life in a Medieval Village by Joseph and Francis Gies – A lively, detailed picture of village life in the Middle Ages
  • Medieval Siege Warfare By Christopher Gravett – During the Middle Ages siege warfare played a vital role in military strategy. Sieges were far more numerous than pitched battles, ranging from small-scale affairs against palisaded earthworks to full-scale assaults on vast strongholds. Needless to say, the art of siege warfare assumed a unique importance to both invader and defender alike. In this title Christopher Gravett explores the different aspects of medieval siege warfare, from chivalrous formalities to ‘surprise and treachery’, in a text backed by numerous illustrations including 12 full page colour plates by Richard and Christa Hook.
  • Art of War in the Middle Ages A. D. 378-1515 by C. W. C. Oman – This book covers the entire period of medieval history and looks at the distinct fighting styles and tactics of various groups including the English, the Franks, and the Swiss.
  • The Story of the Middle Ages, 5 Volume Set: The Birth of the Middle Ages / The Crucible of the Middle Ages / The Making of the Middle Ages / The High Middle Ages / The Waning of the Middle Ages by H. St. L. B. Moss (Author), Geoffrey Barraclough (Author), R. W. Southern (Author), John Mundy (Author), Johan Huizinga (Author) – This collection provides a great overview of the entire medieval period, starting with the fall of Rome and ending with the decline of the castle.

I am constantly trying to learn about the Middle Ages. I read as much as I can, watch documentaries — I have my Tivo set up to record anything that airs with the terms “Middle Ages” or “Medieval” — I listen to podcasts, and I talk with other knowledgable people about the subject. It’s important to inundate yourself with your subject and keep it fresh on your mind.

Hollywood Loses Billions to Writer’s Strike – Possible End in Sight

According to an article from CBS News yesterday, there is some optimism surrounding the writer’s strike. The Writer’s Guild and studios have resumed talks, and many are hopeful the strike will end before the Oscars roll around. If not, the industry could be facing a possible “nightmare scenario,” according to entertainment attorney Jonathan Handel, as the actor’s contract is expiring soon, and no one wants to think about the additional billions of dollars that could be lost if they strike as well.

A compromise has been reached on some issues: the writers are no longer demanding jurisdiction over reality shows and animation, and the studios have agreed to double the fees when movies or television shows are bought online, a positive sign for the writers in settling the main issue over how much they should make when their work is downloaded from the Internet.

I’ll admit I haven’t really followed this story closely throughout its lengthy process, so I don’t have a strong opinion. I’m curious to know what others think about this issue. Are the studios undervaluing their writers? Are the writers demanding too much? What, in your opinion, would be a reasonable compromise? How do you think it will affect television in the long term?

A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire Book 3) by George R.R. Martin

Storm of Swords, George R.R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire, Fantasy, Novel, FictionI recently finished reading A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin. This is the third book in the series of A Song of Ice and Fire, and probably the best of the three. I haven’t had a chance to read the fourth novel, A Feast for Crows, but it’s on my bookshelf, and I should get around to it this year. The prevailing opinion, from what most people have told me, is A Feast for Crows didn’t live up to their expectations, considering how great A Storm of Swords was and how it ended. Regardless, I plan to go into it with a fresh perspective and reserve judgment until after I’ve read it.

A Storm of Swords is filled with all the intricacies that made the first two novels so compelling: a well-crafted plot, deep and realistically flawed characters, unexpected twists, fluid writing style, and great imagery. The thing I like most about Martin is how he develops his characters — you may start off liking one character and then at some point you may turn against him and then you may come back around to liking him again — and I also love how he is willing to kill off anyone at any moment; no one is ever safe, which makes the storyline unpredictable, and it is this kind of decision making with characters that sets the series apart.

My only complaint with A Storm of Swords is the fact that I felt Martin took too long to actually ramp the story up. There is a lot of build up in this novel, as in the second book A Clash of Kings, and it is my contention that Martin could have eliminated a lot of the description and even some of the chapters, and the storyline still would have remained intact. The ending of A Storm of Swords is fantastic, and it really propels you into book 4. By the last couple of hundred pages, the storyline really starts to accelerate, and everything becomes chaotic, and after you turn the last page, you are left breathless.

Well deserving of 4 1/2 to 5 stars, and by far the best fantasy novel I’ve ever read. Supposedly, Book 5, A Dance with Dragons, will be released this year, most likely in the fall.

Bernard Cornwell – Sword Song (The Saxon Chronicles, Book 4)

Bernard Cornwell, Sword Song, Saxon Chronicles, Novel, Historical Fiction, Medieval, England, Vikings, King AlfredBernard Cornwell’s latest novel in the Saxon Chronicles, Sword Song, was released Tuesday, January 22nd. I’m eager to pick this one up, though I’m still two novels behind in the series. I’m almost done with The Pale Horseman. It’s taking me a little longer to get through this one as my wife and I are actually reading through it together. I first read The Last Kingdom over two years ago when I was working at a bookstore. We weren’t actually supposed to read while on duty, but when you’re stuck up at the register all day, you need something to keep you entertained; and there’s just so much dusting and organizing a person can do for eight hours. I instantly loved The Last Kingdom, and I was already familiar with Bernard Cornwell from reading The Archer’s Tale. Cornwell, in my opinion, is one of the best writers of historical fiction today.

Below is a description of the novel, taking from Amazon. I plan to write my review after I’ve read it.

The year is 885, and England is at peace, divided between the Danish kingdom to the north and the Saxon kingdom of Wessex in the south. Uhtred, the dispossessed son of a Northumbrian lord—warrior by instinct, Viking by nature—has finally settled down. He has land, a wife, and two children, and a duty given to him by King Alfred to hold the frontier on the Thames. But then trouble stirs: a dead man has risen, and new Vikings have arrived to occupy the decayed Roman city of London. Their dream is to conquer Wessex, and to do it they need Uhtred’s help.

Alfred has other ideas. He wants Uhtred to expel the Viking raiders from London. Uhtred must weigh his oath to the king against the dangerous turning tide of shifting allegiances and deadly power struggles. And other storm clouds are gathering: Ætheleflæd—Alfred’s daughter—is newly married, but by a cruel twist of fate, her very existence now threatens Alfred’s kingdom. It is Uhtred—half Saxon, half Dane—whose uncertain loyalties must now decide England’s future.

A gripping story of love, deceit, and violence, Sword Song is set in an England of tremendous turmoil and strife—yet one galvanized by the hope that Alfred may prove an enduring force. Uhtred, his lord of war and greatest warrior, has become his sword—a man feared and respected the length and breadth of Britain.

Characterization: Religion and Fiction Characters

It seems today that in a lot of our literature, movies, and television shows, writers tend to ignore the spiritual aspects of human beings. I wonder why that is. To be religious and spiritual is a common human trait, one that is shared by over 90% of the world population. There are approximately 2 billion Christians, 1.5 billion Muslims, and 1 billion Hindus. In America, when we hear the word spiritual or religious, we tend to think of Christians. By making your characters spiritual, I’m not saying they have to be Christian or Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist or Jewish. They could be of Taoism or Confucianism or Shinto or even part of an African tribal religion.

Most of the novels I read are historical fiction set in the Middle Ages or fantasy, and those novels tend to have a fair amount of religious influence. But it seems in mainstream literature today and television, there is a departure from characters with religious beliefs. It’s refreshing to see shows like Lost that have spirtual characters (John Locke and Eco), but it seems these types of programs are becoming more and more rare. In writing, it’s important not to exclude the spiritual traits of various people; it’s these traits, after all, that will make your characters real and ultimately human.

Novel Update – Third Revision Complete

So I’m finally hoping to get back into updating my blog. The holiday season was a little crazy for me. One, I got married. Pretty big deal I guess. Preparations for that consumed most of my time over the month of December, as well as the birth of my first nephew (the day after my own birthday), along with all the other holiday family festivities. Now, I’m back. Work has also kept me extremely busy, and as I mentioned in my last post (sometime in November), I have been writing feverishly to finish the third draft of my novel. I wanted to finish it before the wedding. Well, that didn’t happen, but I did happen to finish it in the airport and on the plane coming back from

Colorado. We went to Steamboat Springs for our honeymoon. It’s been tough to get back in the usual routine of writing since I got back from Colorado. I’ve slowly worked my way into it. My novel desperately needed an overhaul in character name changes and place name changes. I spent the past week reviewing the names of my characters and places, as there were many I still didn’t care for, and I did a careful search of character naming sites and medieval source maps to come up with names that fit well with the time period of my novel. For the place names, I took the names of cities, provinces, or countries from 12th century maps of England and France and altered those names slightly so that at first glance when you read them they sound like actual places, but in reality, they’re not. My novel is a blend of fantasy and historical fiction — it’s historical fiction in the sense that it follows the social, political, economical, and military institutions of 12th century medieval England and France — but it’s not based on an actual historical event, person, or place — those are all fictionalized — therefore, I didn’t want to use actual places of medieval England and France in my novel. It just wouldn’t make sense, so I altered the names slightly, though not so much as to abandon continuity or a feeling of realism.For character names, I stayed mainly with names of English, Celtic, Gaelic, Irish, French, and Anglo-Saxon origin. There is one name I know that is Dutch (“Cobus”) and a name that is entirely invented (“Natas”), but for the most part, I wanted to adhere to names that originated in Northwest Europe or the British Isles, as this area is the basis of my novel’s setting. I tried to give a good mix, and I’m satisfied with where I stand with the characters’ names at this point. Some of the names were more difficult to find, as there are several characters that are spiritually symbolic, and I had to find a meaning that fit their character and stayed within the selected origins, which is why I spent the last several days (1-2 hours per night) determining the names. I was very methodical about it, as I didn’t want to get to the end of the fourth revision and realize I still hated my characters’ names. I also spent about thirty minutes of the last week hammering out and defining/editing/revising the timeline of my novel. I didn’t have to do much with it, as I had already spent a good bit of time previously figuring this out.

Next step: Before I can seriously begin the fourth revision, I have to go back and type out my entire novel with all of the edits and revisions from the third draft. It’s a 400+ page novel, so this could take me an estimated 3-6 months to complete, depending on how much time I have available at night to sit down and write. I’m also selling my house right now, so I constantly have to keep the house clean and organized, and if it sells, and we move, that could cause a delay in the writing process. 

Blogging

I’ve been on temporary hiatus with my blog lately. Work has kept me extremely busy, and I’m still trying to finish up the third draft of my novel in my spare time. I only have about 50 pages left to edit before it’s complete. The goal is to be finished within the next month. Then, I will hopefully have more time to dedicate to my blog. By the first of the year, I should be back to blogging regularly, but between now and then, I hope to at least post once or twice a week and keep the news section up to date. Sorry for the delay between posts. Fresh content is forthcoming.