Medieval Monday: The Rise of the English Empire

Henry VIII is a young man when he becomes King of England. His father had been a notorious miser and never felt secure on the throne due to his poor claim to it. He gave England peace, but nothing more. Vivacious, handsome, and well-educated, Henry VIII brought the light of the Renaissance to England.

Divorced, Beheaded, Died; Divorced, Beheaded, Survived

Catherine of Aragon – Henry marries his brother’s widow—despite the fact that she was 8 years his senior. Catherine had spent years caught in a power struggle between her father and Henry VII and had been neglected and impoverished. When Henry declares he will marry her as soon as he is king, he is seen as a romantic and valiant knight.

Catherine becomes pregnant numerous times, but miscarries often and her one live-born son dies shortly after his christening. Mary is the only child they have that survives infancy and Catherine gives her a new European education with the intention that she will rule in her own right, as her grandmother, Isabella of Spain, did.

Anne Boleyn – Henry and Catherine have a great marriage, although he takes the occasional mistress. When Henry falls for Anne and she refuses him, he loses his senses. When he can’t get Anne, he tries to get rid of Catherine, but she proves just as stubborn and refuses to retire to a nunnery so that he can marry Anne. Anne is a Protestant and she begins to influence Henry. Despite the fact that he once wrote a piece so eloquently in favor of papal supremacy that the Pope declared Henry a “Defender of the Faith,” Henry ultimately rejects the Pope’s authority and places himself at the head of the Church in England. And as such, he grants himself a divorce, marries Anne, and exiles Catherine to a cold, run-down castle.Anne Boleyn

The fiery Anne that so enthralled Henry when he couldn’t have her soon becomes tiresome when he actually has to live with her every day. Anne’s family rise fast with her, generating jealousy at court, and she was already thoroughly hated by the people. She gives Henry a daughter, Elizabeth, but she loses her second daughter and produces no sons. Soon, a combination of political factions and Anne’s own behavior begin to poison Henry against her. After a serious fall from a horse while jousting—which gives him a leg wound that never heals—Henry becomes more temperamental and tyrannical. Anne and her brother are set up and Henry allows them to be tried for incest and treason. Both are executed.

Jane Seymour – While Anne is falling out of favor, Jane’s star is rising. Quiet and unassuming, she is more like Catherine in temperament than Anne. As soon as Anne is out of the way, Henry marries Jane and in a short time she is pregnant. She gives him a son, Edward, and everything seems to be going well. But a short time later, she dies of a fever (probably from an infection contracted during childbirth).

Anne of CleavesAnne of Cleaves – Anne of Cleaves was an attempt by Henry’s advisors to make a political (rather than love) match for Henry. They, like him, wanted England to be a major European power. Anne, however, ended up coming with little in the way of political status. Furthermore, she inadvertently angered Henry when they first met and he took a set against her, nicknaming her the “Mare of Flanders” for her supposed ugly face and body odor. They were reluctantly married, but his anger with her only increased until he couldn’t stand her any longer. He offered her a divorce, which she (wisely) took. She was given a nice castle and a sufficient pension and was styled as “the king’s sister.” She appeared at court occasionally and kept up a friendly correspondence with both princesses.

Catherine Howard – Catherine Howard was a young teenager when she wed Henry, who was old enough to be her grandfather. Henry was as besotted with her as he had been with Anne (who was a cousin of Catherine’s) and he doted on the vivacious young woman. Unlike her predecessors, Catherine was too young (and perhaps too stupid) to be a decent queen. She certainly wasn’t smart enough to realize how perilous court could be. Like Anne before her, she was denounced as an adulteress by those who resented her family’s rise to power. Unlike Anne, though, the charges against her were probably true. She too was sent to the block.

Katherine Parr – Katherine, a widow, was selected to be Henry’s wife not out of love or a desire for male heirs or even political alliance; she was needed simply to care for the ailing king and perhaps act as a calming influence on a man who was now even more suspicious and distrustful than his father had been. That didn’t work too well, as Katherine found herself in serious trouble with Henry over some rather trivial disagreement. Some quick groveling spared her from what would have probably been her own trip to the block, but she lived in fear of upsetting him again. When he finally died, everyone at court breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The Children of Henry VIII

Edward VI was still a child when he became king after his father. He was as intelligent and well-educated as his father, but lacked all of his father’s size and vigor. He expanded his father’s Protestant reforms (which really didn’t go farther than making the king the head of the church and robbing all the monasteries in England; in all other respects, the Church of England looked like the Catholic Church), but other than that, he did little in his few years as king. He died while still a teenager—most likely from tuberculosis.

Just before his death, Edward bastardized both of his sisters and named a cousin, Jane Grey, as his successor. This was done to prevent Mary, a staunch Catholic, from taking the throne. It didn’t work, however; Lady Jane Grey reigned for only nine days before Mary’s forces took the throne by force. Jane Grey was later executed when her parents tried to raise another rebellion against Mary.

BurnHenry’s firstborn daughter, Mary, was fast approaching middle age by the time she took the throne. She married a Spanish cousin—much to everyone’s dismay—and hurriedly tried to conceive an heir. But Philip apparently didn’t care for the much-older Mary and could hardly be enticed to do his husbandly duty. Mary thought that she was pregnant twice, but each “pregnancy” failed to produce a child—or even a miscarriage. Likely both occurrences were a sign that something was wrong with Mary’s reproductive organs. She dies just five years after gaining the throne, most probably from a uterine tumor. But, before she dies, she restores England to the Catholic Church and burns so many Protestants that she is forever dubbed “Bloody Mary.”

Elizabeth is a young woman when she takes the throne and ends up being the most like her father. She is extremely intelligent and well-educated, with all the charm and wit that her mother possessed. She returns England to the Protestant faith and takes it further away from Catholicism in appearance. English Catholics become a source of ongoing danger to her, but she refuses to take any action against most of them, thus ending her sister’s bloody religious purges.

She gets England a toe-hold in North America and with the defeat of the Spanish Armada, England begins to become a recognized naval power. Her reign is long and politically stable. Unlike her father’s reign, when backers of the latest queen held the most power, Elizabeth rather adroitly plays one faction against the others, never allowing any one family to have too much power. Her weakness was Robert Dudley (and, later, Robert’s stepson, the Earl of Essex), but even though she showed both men great favor, she refused to marry them, thus denying them the greatest prize of all. In the end, England had but one mistress and no master and she refused, until the very last, to even name an heir. It was only after her death that James VI of Scotland—her closest male relative—was named James I of England and finally united the two countries.

Medieval Monday: Heretics, Protestants, and Inquisitions. Oh My!

Michaelangelo The Renaissance

The Renaissance begins in Italy in the 14th century. Technically, “the Renaissance” only concerns art. Classical works were rediscovered and studied and a new era of realism in art began. Social and political changes come later and more slowly than the art revolution.

Useless Trivia: In 1439, Johannes Gutenberg invents the printing press. The first book printed on it: the “Gutenberg” Bible. The printing press has the biggest impact on European society since the Plague because it allows the common person to become literate and allows ideas to flow freely. No longer will the Church alone be the guardian of knowledge in Europe.

Age of Discovery

In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella financed explorer Christopher Columbus who wanted to sail due west over the Atlantic Ocean to get to the spices and exotic goods of the Far East. Columbus would ultimately make four trips, discovering Cuba, Haiti, and other Caribbean Islands. A master sailor, one of his voyages was the fastest to ever cross the Atlantic until the advent of steam power. His navigation skills left a little to be desired, however, because he never realized he wasn’t in Asia. It would be Amerigo Vespucci who would finally figure out that everyone was exploring a New World.


Useless Trivia: No medieval person thought that the world was flat; like the Greeks and Romans and Egyptians before them, they were quite aware that the world was round. The myth that medieval people thought the world was flat appears to come from an 18th century biography of Columbus.


One Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Spain

Spain quickly planted its flag in North, Central, and South America, sucking out prodigious amounts of gold that would make Spain fantastically wealthy and a major power in Europe. At home, Isabella and Ferdinand were waging war on the remaining Moors, finally driving the last of them out of Spain, and Spain was united for a time under their joint rule. In 1478, they asked the Pope to begin an Inquisition in Spain to root out lapsed Jewish converts. In 1492, they expelled all the Jews. Many Jews would flee to Portugal, only to be expelled from there a few years later. In 1502, all remaining Muslims were expelled. The Inquisition would later turn on heretics—specifically Protestant heretics—and would keep an iron grip on the Catholic country for centuries to come.

Methinks He Doth Protest Too Much

In 1517, Martin Luther wrote his 95 Theses (which he sent to a superior by letter; his nailing them to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral is apocryphal). The letter condemned the Church and the Pope for excessive wealth, the selling of indulgences (“get out of hell free” cards), and general corruption. This was actually not the first time that someone made similar condemnations of the Church, and it was certainly not the first time that someone demanded reformation. However, a combination of the press and a favorable political situation in the German states allows Martin Luther’s demands to evolve into a movement. The protesters become known as “Protestants.”

Useless Trivia: Prior to the Reformation, the largest supporter of the sciences was . . . the Church. The study of genetic traits and even an early attempt at flight (hang-gliding, really) were done by clergymen. Science was seen as proof that the Universe had been made by a rational and orderly Creator. It was only when the Church came under attack and felt its power slipping that it circled the wagons and clamped down on anything that it perceived to be a threat to its authority—including any new sciences.

A-Viking We A-Went

I don’t think I ever put the results of my first Viking clothing experiment up. (One busy month faded into another, into three.)

Of course, it was finished at the last possible minute and my sewing machine (my really expensive one) died in the process. (That’ll be $100, minimum, to get adjusted.) But, even though it could still use a few tweaks, it looks great.

DSCN0406 These are the pants. Pleating the legs into the band was the hardest part (but, surprisingly, not that terrible).

I almost forgot to get pictures of the final product. I only thought about it when it got late and people started to leave. And, since we had forgotten our camera, we had a friend take a few pictures with his iPad.

Here’s Stuart, doing his best Viking impression: taking the Anglo-Saxon woman hostage.

John's Memorial 2John's MemorialHere we are, reconciled. (Or maybe I’m just pretending to be happy and really plan on killing him in his sleep. You never know.)

I made the colored bands to go across the chest of the coat, but he decided, at the last minute, that he didn’t want them (leaving them off saved time, so I really didn’t complain). Underneath the coat is a plain gold tunic (I didn’t have time to sew embroidery onto it because my machine broke). The collar on the coat came directly off the original fur coat. I cut it off in one piece, put it on the Viking coat, we agreed we liked it, so I just stitched it on. That was a lot faster and easier than cutting a collar out myself.

On the whole, I really like the way it looks. Early-period isn’t a time frame we’re terribly interested in playing in, but it’s nice to have something we can wear when there’s a themed event. Eventually, I’d like to have one outfit from every major clothing epoch, so I’m covered no matter what the theme.

And speaking of making clothes, I’m making myself a new dress. I went to Sir’s a couple of months ago and loaded up on some of their wool remnants ($7.99/yd, with 20% off!). I got enough for me two dresses and Stuart a cotehardie (plus some linen for Stuart another cotehardie). Coming back from Gulf Wars always makes me feel inspired and crafty, and we’re looking at doing some stuff with some other reenactors in the next year or two that’s a step up in historical authenticity. My ultimate goal is to get my clothing looking as authentic as what the reenactors in Europe are wearing. (My sources of inspiration: Katafalk, Medieval Silkwork, and Neulakko)

Medieval History in Books, Part II

This is a continuation from a previous post….

If You Were Cold… 

Too bad.  If you were in Northern Europe/England, we’re talking like, really cold.  There was a what’s known as the Little Ice Age smack in the middle of the Middle Ages, but even without that, castle and village life was pretty cold.

Of course, they had really warm blankets. Furs.  And rooms were small, to conserve heat.  Rugs or tapestries covered the walls and helped a little.  And, of course, there would be a lot of people there with you to help spread the heat.  But still, it’d be cold.  Really cold.  Yet we rarely see the heroine performing her morning toiletry by plunging her hands through the layer of ice that’s formed in the water bucket overnight.


This weeper on Thomas and Catherine Beauchamp’s tomb in Warwick, England is wearing a bulky (probably fur-lined) sleeveless coat.

Yep, it was cold. At one point, Jakub rides to Prague during the winter and there is a long list of clothes that he’s wearing: a linen undershirt and braies, two pairs of woolen hosen, leather boots up to the knees, a woolen doublet lined in linen, a woolen cotehardie lined in linen, a woolen coif lined in linen, a wool hood lined in linen, a woolen cloak with hood lined in fur, fur split-fingered mittens, and a fur cover thrown over the saddle to help keep his rear-end warm.

But I don’t think a lady of any means would have willingly put her hands into ice water. Common women might have had to suffer that (although, if they’re going to have a fire to cook breakfast on, they’re going to have heat to warm up water, too), but a lady would have been woken by her maidservant in the morning with a pitcher and/or bowl of warm water for washing up.

If You Were Sick…

Bring on the leeches. 

I have never, ever seen a hero in a romance get ‘hung with leeches.’ (That’s what what they called it.  Is that not bad enough?)  I’ve never seen a romance heroine hung with leeches.  It’s probably not going to happen much, at least not on-screen.

I have to admit, while Jakub is injured and Alzbeta has to take care of him, leeches are not applied. (Although her father, a doctor, does explain to her that when there is a bruise full of blood under the skin, it needs to be lanced or, preferably, drawn out using leeches.)

Interestingly, leeches are now being used in modern medicine. They have anti-inflammatory and numbing properties in their saliva, which can actually be used to ease joint pain. They also encourage circulation and have been used to save the feet and legs of diabetics, which notoriously suffer from poor circulation. And, most commonly, they are being used on digits that have been reattached. Their saliva also contains a blood thinner (which is why they work well on hematomas) and, as I mentioned, they help increase circulation as they suck blood. The number one cause of failure in digit reattachment is poor circulation (it’s impossible to reattach every tiny blood vessel; a doctor can only hope to attach enough that the digit will survive long enough to heal the ones he can’t reattach).  Personally, if I ever have to have a digit or limb reattached (God forbid), I won’t rest until they give me leeches. They have a great rate of success. I’ll suffer some leeches if it means keeping my fingers or hand.

Medieval amputees.

Medieval amputees.

Body Parts Strewn

Seriously.  People would have a lot of missing body parts.  Teeth, arms, ears.  Malnutrition, battle, tournaments (especially the early ones) and a multitude of bad accidents with various implements of destruction/farming/milling, populated the medieval town or castle with a motley-looking crew.  Still, we rarely see our heroes missing arms or eyes.  Unless they’re a pirate, of course, with the patch and all.

Jakub has led a fairly charmed life. While he has bad knees and some scars—including one running through his right eyebrow and just missing the outside corner of his eye—he is otherwise whole and healthy. As he spends some time thinking about proposing marriage, he goes through his list of good qualities, which include having good teeth, no bad breath, no pockmarks or warts or other disfigurements, and only the minor facial scar.

He is forty years old, though, which is pretty unusual for a romantic hero (but not terribly unusual for a first-time bridegroom in the middle ages).

I will note, however, although Jakub is more-or-less unmaimed, there is a good deal of maiming and general slaughter that happens during the course of the book. Jakub is witness to the attack on the Jews of Prague, and there are people burned alive, and hacked into pieces, and a few hundred lie dead of suicide. Even Jakub is not above hacking a few people up (all for a good cause, of course).

The moral of the story is: the middle ages could be quite violent, depending on where you lived and who you were.


A 16th century prosthesis–one of several still in existence.

But I have to admit I am now intrigued by the idea of a maimed hero. My husband and I were recently discussing prosthetic hands in the middle ages; I think I might need a future hero who is missing a hand.


The Frequent and Varied Uses of Urine

Urine was a very useful agent in the middle ages.  It was used for everything from working wool to building plaster.  They used it as a cleaning agent and to diagnose illnesses.  And it keeps the hands nice and soft!  Mmmm. 

Yep. Muslim doctors were the first to discover a link between sweet-tasting urine and health problems. While they didn’t understand diabetes, they did understand that it could be bettered through diet.

I can’t confirm that people used urine on the hands, but I do know that stale urine turns into ammonia, which was indeed used to clean and process wool, to bleach fabric, to whiten leather, and, if memory serves, it was an ingredient in whitewash (but don’t worry–the cob-walled houses were made with a mixture of mud, clay, and cow manure; what’s a little urine going to hurt?)

The ‘Facilities’

Not a pretty thing.  When privy chambers were inside a castle, there was simply a chute that ran to the outside, and straight down the wall.  Some of the refuse might make it into the moat or other defensive ditch surrounding the castle.  Some would stick along the way.  Even today, centuries later, many castle walls are still stained.

And then there’s the accoutrements.  We have toilet paper.  They had . . . straw.  Or moss.  Or soft leaves.  Sometimes in richer homes, there’s been a linen cloth.  Or . . . your hand.

In my antiquated collection of printed photographs, I actually have a picture of a privy in Chepstow Castle (Wales). You can see through the toilet hole down to the moat about thirty feet below. (It was a pretty blustery March day then; I can’t imagine trying to sit on that drafty hole and doing my business–much less in the dead of winter.)

The Museum of London digs found a lot of fabric scraps in the medieval latrines in London. It seems that the leftover scraps of fabric that were too small to use for clothes were turned into toilet paper and sanitary napkins.

I don’t discuss toilet paper in my book, but Jakub does use a chamberpot in one scene. (Yes, he is wealthy enough to have both a pot to piss in and a window to throw it out of.)

Food was highly colorful and wildly spiced…

Often to disguise the fact that the meat was rancid. Fortunately, if you were a peasant, you wouldn’t be getting much meat.

I disagree with this—although it’s often repeated.

The first thing it assumes is that medieval people were somehow immune to food poisoning. While people’s immune systems and digestive tracts can adjust to quite a bit (for example, native people in India do not usually suffer from horrible diarrhea when they drink their water, whereas Westerners are doomed if they just brush their teeth with it), I don’t think medieval people were able to eat rotting meat with impunity. And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out a cause and effect relationship between eating something stinky, getting an upset stomach, and grabbing the chamberpot.

Medieval food was spiced, but I think that’s because they liked it. I have eaten many medieval dishes and have never been put off by the spice level (not even some garlic spread which was so strong, it burned—but then, I like garlic). In fact, I won’t even eat a modern beef roast; they’re far too bland. Actually, most meat these days is far too bland. Once you go medieval and start using things like cardamom and star anise and coriander, you’ll never want to go back to just salt and pepper.

Medieval recipes almost never have any sort of measurements. We know what spices they used, but rarely do we know how heavily they spiced things. Of course, a lot of that depended on the cook; was she a heavy hand or not? Did the master like things strong or mild? Was the dish being cooked for a sick person (mild) or for a regular meal (stronger)? How expensive was the spice?

Jakub and Alzbeta get a spice box at one point in the book and it’s mentioned that the saffron and cinnamon in the box are worth nearly their weight in gold. One does not heap spices like that onto food willy-nilly.

So it’s impossible to say they put a lot of spice on food to cover up the bad taste, because we don’t know how much they actually used. A little bit of several spices is still relatively mild.

butcherAnd medieval people understood meat preservation. Large animals—i.e. those which will generate leftovers—were slaughtered in the winter. Once they were processed, the meat could be hung up in a cellar or outbuilding, where the cold temps (remember those?) would keep the meat frozen all winter. So, it was no different than us keeping meat in a deep freezer, only there was probably less chance of freezerburn.

Secondly, medieval people smoked meat, which also preserves it. Fireplaces in a lord’s kitchen were typically large—large enough for at least a good-sized child to get inside. Hooks would be set inside the chimney and, using a ladder or pole with a hook, meat would be suspended from the chimney hooks. Then the smoke from the cook fire would smoke the meat. (How’s that for multi-tasking?) Even in peasant houses (and earlier in the middle ages, before the invention of chimneys), meat could be suspended from rafters around the smoke hole to take advantage of the hearth fire..


You can easily hang meat up to smoke inside this type of chimney.

Finally, modern scientists are starting to understand something that our ancient ancestors probably figured out long ago: some spices help reduce spoilage. Two spices that help preserve meat are cloves (commonly used in Europe during the middle ages) and hot peppers/chiles (commonly used in India and South America). Was medieval food spiced not because it was spoiled, but to keep it from spoiling?

We can’t say for certain, but I recently cleaned out some Indian leftovers which had been in my fridge for at least three weeks (okay… maybe a month). But, despite the fact that it wasn’t hotly spiced, it was still almost good—there was only a tiny bit of mold on it in one spot and it didn’t stink at all. If I noticed that my chili-spiced lasted a lot longer than usual, don’t you think that medieval people would have noticed that too?

I will add this caveat: have you ever opened a package of sandwich meat or a container of leftovers and sniffed it and hesitated? There comes a point when something smells stronger than normal, but doesn’t actually smell “bad.” Modern people tend to play it safe and toss it, but medieval people would probably have eaten it; it was too expensive to waste.

Medieval Cookbooks and Free Recipes: Gode Cookery

The Good News:

Drinking ale was good for you.

The medieval person didn’t get a lot of vitamins, particularly A, C, and D, and in general, especially amid the lower classes, they didn’t get a whole lot of calories either.  No, this isn’t the good news.  The good news is that, as a result, drinking ale fortified you, especially with calories. 

Yep (although the body makes Vitamin D naturally when it’s exposed to sunlight; medieval people would have gotten plenty of that). Ale was the everyday drink of choice. Jakub serves it to his common folk when he hosts them for dinner, and Alzbeta’s father gives him some when he is visiting. Wine was the preferred drink of the nobility, although it was usually reserved for mealtimes (ale was still used to quench thirst). Jakub and Alzbeta’s parents both serve wine with meals.

Medieval wine and ale/beer was not as alcoholic as modern varieties. Whereas modern beers are allowed to ferment for a few weeks, then bottled and allowed to “rest” for at least another week or two, medieval ales were considered ready for drinking after a few days. (The longer the yeast sits, the more alcohol it produces.) Even wines were only left in barrels for a few weeks instead of the months to years that modern wines sit.

This is the reason why people could drink upwards of a gallon of ale a day without falling down drunk; it was just alcoholic enough to kill any bacteria living in the water, but no stronger.

But that’s not to say that every ale and wine was weak; they were certainly capable of making stouter stouts. And people were certainly capable of drinking enough to get drunk, if they wanted to. But the average daily consumption of wine/ale probably produced no more buzz in a medieval person that our coffee/cola habits do today.

Medieval History in Books

Well, so much for my resolution to be super-productive in the midst of a move.

I’ve come to the realization that if you work all weekend, you have to have some down time to chill, play games, watch TV, and generally goof off (some of us need more recharge time than others). Since I spend my weekends packing and moving stuff, this downtime has to come during the week. So most nights, after work, I go to my apartment and crash. I don’t write, I don’t proof, and I don’t blog (but I am up to level 117 on Candy Crush, which may or may not be saying something).

I’m also working a full 8 hour day. There’s no feast or famine where I might have stretches of time when I have little, if any, work to do. No, around here, every day is a feast day. I have enough special projects lined up to keep me busy every day for the next two to three years. It feels good to be indispensable (especially after being laid off twice), but all that work has definitely curtailed my blogging activities.

I would like to aim for one post a week, just to keep connected with everyone, but that’s still tentative at this point.

Speaking of blogging, I ran across an interesting article on the “Smart Bitches, Trashy Books” blog entitled Top Medieval History Facts You Won’t See in Romance. Of course that article piqued my interest, so I decided to compare their list to what happens in my upcoming romance, The Flames of Prague.

The Whole ‘Washing’ Issue, or; The Heroine Smells Like Lavender / Orange Blossom / You Pick The Scent

In the middle ages, they did not wash as much as we do.  It’s a lot of work to haul water and, in the winter, heat it up.  So the hero might have a hard time detecting the heroine’s pretty floral ‘perfume’ amid the general body aromas of the time.  A faint, lingering scene of lavender might not measure up to hard-working B.O. 

Then again, there were no processed foods, no pesticides/herbicides/antibiotics/etc being ingested by plant or beast, so I suspect the odors were much less . . . well, odoriferous.  And those hard-working field hands were not eating much meat which would also make them stink less. 

And the medieval person did wash, more than we might assume.  You can find pictures in illustrated manuscripts of people bathing, even with little canopies over them.  A man and a woman might bathe together, each in his/her own tub, toasting their good fortune in having servants to carry the heated water up the stairs.  There were also public baths, a left-over custom from the days when those communal-bathing Romans played with their weapons in the cold, dark north.

medieval-bath-1My hero, Jakub, takes two baths during the story (that the reader knows about; it’s implied he has decent hygiene). One bath is mostly off-screen, but the second one is shown from the beginning. We see multiple people lugging buckets of water up the stairs until they’re exhausted. Jakub gets a bath, then Alzbeta (the heroine) takes her bath in the same water. Yeah, when hot water is a precious commodity, you share it.

While it’s not shown in the book, Jakub mentions going to a feast which was served in bathtubs. He also recalls going to one of Prague’s “fabled bathhouses.”

Bath 1But no, my heroine is never mentioned as sweet-smelling, except immediately after she eats, when Jakub can smell spices on her breath (more on spiced food later).

It’s interesting that SB Sarah, author of the article, mentions that people might not have had the same body odor as we have, due to eating less meat and having all-organic food. Someone I knew who does 18th century reenacting told me that she had read an article by a scientist who said that the bacteria on our skin (specifically that in the arm pits)—which is what gives us that B.O. funk—has evolved over time, and it’s possible that people’s body odor smelled quite different in the past—and may have even been non-existent.

People’s noses become accustomed to common smells. (Anyone who has had a horse can tell you that they became largely immune to the smell of horse manure.) Only unusual or very strong odors will get someone’s attention. So medieval people—if they had body odor—likely didn’t notice it. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t smell at all. We know from accounts that they complained about the smell from tanneries and butcher shops; those businesses were usually relegated to the furthest corner of town, or outside the walls altogether.

Dig Your Privacy?

Too bad.  In a romance, the hero and heroine usually get a lot of alone time.  Their bedchamber is a place of privacy.  But that was not always the case.  Early on, privacy was considered rude, and even without the social strictures, these were usually cramped quarters, even in castles.  Rooms were small—easier to heat—and people got together for almost everything.  Often, even nobles had big old beds so that hero, heroine, their children could sleep together

Yes, very early in the middle ages, everyone from the king to the kitchen pages slept together in the main hall. (The king and queen typically had curtains around their bed to allow for some privacy, but everyone else had to get it on with no more than a blanket hiding them from everyone else.)


The spacious royal apartment in the Tower of London (you are seeing approximately 1/2 of the total room).

But by the 12th century, we start to see the development of the concept of privacy, with the lord and lady getting a room of their own. Eventually there were additional rooms for guests and a solar—the medieval living room reserved for the family (and, if it was a small household, for their staff).

The Flames of Prague is set in the late 14th century. Jakub has his own bedroom, complete with a small table (which he rarely uses; he prefers to dine with the rest of his household). There is also a small solar used by not only him, but by his steward, chatelaine, and his two squires.

I disagree that rooms were small. That was true early, but not by the high middle ages. The king’s bedroom in the Tower of London—which was used as far back as the 13th century, if memory serves, was very large. The later the middle ages, the larger private bedrooms/apartments became. By the Tudor period, the king and queen had so much room, they could dine with a small retinue or receive visitors in the living area of their apartments.


Many people lying together in the same bed in a hospital (no, that didn’t spread communicable diseases or anything).

But it is true that many people would have shared a bed. In the late 14th century, the Goodman of Paris tells his wife that she should keep her young maidservants in the bed with her. The Goodman traveled a lot, so it’s probable that the maidservants slept with the mistress while he was gone, but went to separate quarters when he was home. This was a way to ensure the virtue of all the women involved, which is why Queen Elizabeth was said to have shared her bed with some of her ladies.

In some households, the servants slept on the floor of the master’s bedroom; in other households, they might have had their own space. In Jakub’s household, his cook and her daughter share a small bedroom off the kitchen, while his squires sleep together on a mattress in the great hall (this despite the fact that he has a vacant guest room). When Alzbeta stays the night, and the guest room is unavailable, Jakub bunks with his squires and gives Alzbeta his bed.

Dig meat?

Unless you were rich, too bad.  Not much of that.  The good news is, that’s a good beginning to a heart-healthy diet, all those grains and vegetables.  But not raw.  Raw vegetables were thought to be bad for the digestive system. 

Correct on all fronts. Fish was the poor person’s meat, and it was usually saved for holidays (although, admittedly, there were a lot of those). Eggs would have been a common source of protein in the spring and summer, and, to a lesser degree, milk, butter, and cheese. Only animals too old to work would have been killed and eaten by the commoners. Male animals frequently ended up the table, too, (since you don’t need as many male animals as females) but they were more likely to have been sold to more well-to-do people than kept for the peasant’s table; it was old, gristled animals for their meals.

Dig your dog? 

Let him sleep with you?  Feed him off the table?  Sure, why not?  Well, then why make him go outside to relieve himself?

They didn’t back then.  Thus, those rushes on the floor (and in winter, straw), scattered through with herbs and flowers to alleviate the stench. 

And while we’re at it, bring in the horses, and your prized hawk too.  Because the lord of the castle was a bird-loving man.  (Stop.)  I mean a hawk-loving man. And he had a relationship with his hawk.  (Stop that.)  It was very common to have Hawk with him all the time.  On a perch behind his seat (or on his shoulder) at meals. In the bedroom. Wherever. And birds definitely do not get potty-trained.

I have to disagree with this in part. I don’t think people routinely let their dogs shit on the floor. I think that would be stinky even to a medieval person, and it’s certainly messy when you step in it—especially when you consider they all had leather-soled shoes.


This personal chapel was attached to the king’s bedroom in the Tower of London. I seem to recall that the tile floor was a later addition–14th or 15th century.

Yes, sometimes floors were covered with rushes or straw, but we see that more in the early part of the middle ages because most floors were dirt; the rushes/straw kept it from turning to mud as people tracked in water, the roof leaked, stuff was spilled, etc. It also serves as insulation in the winter (just as walking on carpet is preferable to walking on a cold tile floor), and it made clean-up easier. For instance, Jakub has his servants put down straw before holding a banquet for his tenants. Food and drink that are spilled are largely caught by the straw. It’s then swept out when everyone is gone and there is limited need to get down on one’s hands and knees and scrub up dried food or try to get ale stains out of the wood floor. During normal times, however, there is no straw on Jakub’s floors.

Straw under a leather-soled shoe is slick as snot. (Go ahead: ask me how I know.) And by the 15th century, illuminated manuscripts are showing us decorative tile floors in wealthier homes. Why would they have used expensive painted tile, only to cover it up with straw?

Incidentally, Jakub has hunting dogs, but they stay in the barn. Just as today, some people then were dog people and some were not. Jakub’s dogs are not kept as pets, hence why he doesn’t have them in the house. (He does, however, adopt a kitten, which he keeps as a pet inside the house.) A man who had a favorite hunting dog or two might have kept them in the house (the Goodman of Paris mentions such a situation), but the entire pack wasn’t likely let inside unless it was a very large castle. Later in the middle ages, though, we see women keeping lap dogs strictly as pets.


13th century manuscript showing what appears to be a parrot in a cage.

Some people might have kept their hunting birds indoors (and during the taming period, that’s a requirement), but I think that would have been the exception, not the rule. Lords and ladies who had hunting birds had special buildings where they were kept and attended by a trained handler at all times.

(Jakub is not rich enough/ of enough status to have a hunting bird; ownership of birds of prey was highly regulated throughout the middle ages.)

The Goodman of Paris instructs his wife that if she ends up keeping small birds as pets, she should make sure that the servants clean their cage daily—giving us evidence that medieval people, like modern people, most commonly kept their birds in cages.

To Be Continued…

In the meantime, check out this awesome, awesome site: They have videos of people demonstrating medieval crafts and basic modes of living. This is a great resource for medieval writers, as well as re-enactors. They’ve added a number of videos since I first found them last week, so even if you don’t see a tutorial for something you want to learn, check back often.

Goals for “The Flames of Prague”

Front-Cover-v3-For-WebI have only 7 more chapters to edit for The Flames of Prague, plus finish up my notes/bibliography. I’m on schedule to hit my goal of 80,000 words (which gives me wiggle room to cut some during future editing, leaving me with 70,000-75,000).

My goal is to finish my first round of edits on or before the end of January. Then I plan on taking the month of February to do some more research and do a second round of editing and formatting for print.

Then it’s off to the printer for a proof copy for my beta readers. They will need at least the month of March to read it and get back to me–maybe into April. If I notice any problems with the cover, I will make it while they’re reading the book. I will also try to finish up my book trailer during this down time.

April will be for making edits and corrections based on their suggestions. May will be for grammar editing and general proofreading.

I will probably order another proof copy in June because I like looking at multiple formats (computer, print, ebook) when I’m proofreading, because changing up the format helps keep your brain from becoming tired and glossing over the same errors again and again. So, June will be for reading the proof copy and then making any handwritten corrections to the computer copy.

In July, I will format the entire thing for ebook, put it on my Kindle, then proofread it again. (I save this part for last because it means every change I make will have to be made to both the ebook file and the print file.)

Which leaves me ready to publish in August, exactly one year after I published my first book. Mind you, I’m not making any promise that I’ll go to print in August. There’s a lot that could happen between now and then (hopefully a job and a move to Chattanooga). But I should definitely be in the clear to hit my outside goal of fall of 2013.

I’m relieved that I’m back on schedule with this book after feeling like I had been procrastinating with it too much. What’s more, I’m starting to think about making a third book, which would be set during the Hussite Wars.

The Hussite Wars are a very interesting time in Bohemia. People were calling for a reform of the church (this was 100 years before Martin Luther and the Protestant reformation). Jan Hus–who was the founder of the movement and who was executed fairly early into the two-decade civil war–was rumored to have a cordial relationship with Rabbi Avigdor Kara, and some have even said that some of Jan Hus’s ideas for reformation were based on theological conversations he had with the rabbi. (Apparently Rabbi Avigdor was quite the rabbi; he was also rumored to have had theological discussions with the king and other members of the clergy.) Of course this creates an opening for all sorts of political intrigue by my Crypto-Jewish family.

And, finally, you have the Hussite war wagons. I just don’t think I can go through life without describing, in action-packed, gory detail, the use of Hussite war wagons on the battlefield.

From what I have read so far, they effectively broke the back of the chivalry in Bohemia. (The English would do the same to the French knights at Agincourt in 1415 using longbows and light infantry.) The war wagons were defensive, but highly mobile. When a location was chosen for a battle, the wagons would be formed into a circle or square (or whatever shape the terrain demanded) and chained together. If time permitted, additional defensive measures, such as trenching and putting in stakes or caltrops, would be done.

As you can see from the recreation, there were “arrow” slots in the outside face of the wagon, but these were used for hand guns (a whopping 1.00 caliber proto-musket). The charging cavalry had no defense against the bullets and no way to break the line or outflank it. And even if the king’s army disengaged and tried to make a larger outflanking maneuver–to get between the Hussites and their supply line or base of operation or what have you–the entire wagon operation could be on the move within minutes (more like a couple of hours if they wanted to take their stakes and other camp equipment with them).

More Medieval Myths Busted

Continuing on my previous discussion of’s 6 Ridiculous Myths About the Middle Ages Everyone Believes:


Getting a bath in Bohemia at one of the public bathhouses. (Jakub in “The Flames of Prague” mentions that he has been to the legendary bathhouses.)

#5 Everyone Smelled Like Complete Shit

I’ve covered this topic before. I’m really big into letting everyone know that medieval people bathed and washed their clothes.

#4 Knights Were Honorable, Chivalrous Warriors

They’re right about this, too. The code of chivalry didn’t extend in actuality to peasants, Jews, Muslims, pagans, or heretics, and sometimes it didn’t even apply to your noble-born enemy. That’s not to say that there weren’t some knights who were fair and just to everyone, but that was the exception, not the rule.

The medieval code of chivalry was rather like the Constitution in 1800. The Constitution guaranteed freedom and equality, but blacks were slaves and women couldn’t vote. It took a while for society to meet its own standards. Likewise with the code of chivalry in the middle ages. It really wasn’t until a revival of interest in the middle ages during the Victorian period that you see a desire to hold to all the rules of chivalry, which is where we get our modern ideas about how knights (and gentlemen) are supposed to behave.

In the real middle ages, you were considered chivalrous, really, by how you acted in battle and at tournament. Acts of bravery (of the “forlorn hope” variety) were popular.

The Black Prince looking at the fallen King John of Bohemia after the Battle of Crecy.

King John the Blind of Bohemia was 50 years old and almost completely blind (what we today would call “legally blind”) when he went to fight with the French at the Battle of Crecy. He asked his company of knights to lead him into battle, and they tied their horses together and rode out to meet the enemy. According to a chronicler at the time, the King did strike down some men before he and his company were overcome. It is said that the Black Prince found his body on the field afterwards and adopted his crest and  motto (“I serve”) in tribute.

Standing your ground and holding a line were also ways to show your chivalry. Also at Crecy, the 16-year-old Black Prince went into battle leading his own detachment of men for the first time. When his section of the line came under attack, advisers to the king told him he needed to send in reinforcements to protect the prince, but the king said, “let him earn his spurs,” and did not send help. The Prince and his men beat back the French and he was knighted after the battle, triumphant.

Random Fact: Believe it or not, I have seen a few people on the internet who have tried to claim that the Black Prince was really black… as in African.

The Black Prince came by his nickname because he wore black armor and clothing (see above painting). Black is actually a very hard color to make from natural dyes, and it usually takes multiple dye baths of various colors to make it. And even once you have it, the sun and rain fade it quickly, so it requires re-dying. Blackened armor also required special steps to create (if you ask really nice, my husband might leave a comment telling how it was made). In short, black was expensive and no one but the occasional monk went around wearing nothing but black. So what better color for a wealthy prince to wear?

The prince’s mother, Philippa of Hainault, was referred to as “black” by some contemporary historians, and this has also been held up as proof that she was of African origin. However, we know her genealogy, and it ran through pretty much every king and prince and duke of importance in Europe; no Africans. Likely she was referred to as “black” because she had black hair and dark eyes. Several of her immediate ancestors were from Eastern Europe, where people tended to be darker than those born in England.

That may sound like a stretch, but actually the same term has been used to describe Irish people. The “black” Irish are not actually black of skin, but rather black-haired. My own name, Keri, is derived from the County Kerry, and the word means “dark.” That portion of Ireland was famous for its dark-haired and dark-eyed people–aka the black Irish.

William the Marshal is reckoned to be the most chivalrous knight of the middle ages (as judged by his contemporaries and later medieval historians). During one melee tournament, which ranged over a large section of the countryside, he and some friends stopped at an alehouse to refresh themselves. A knight on the opposing side came limping into town with a broken leg. William saw him, went outside, picked him up, carried him into the alehouse, and deposited him on the table, telling his companions that the meal and drink was on him (because of the money he would receive as ransom for the injured knight). They ate their fill, made the injured knight pay for it, then left him with the innkeeper and went back out to fight. He won great acclaim for this act. (Everyone likes a man who buys them food and beer.)

Further Information: There’s a nice little Q&A on medieval myths at Soc.History.Medieval.