...in which I share some of my favorite medieval research resources and methods for the benefit of others interested in also writing about the Middle Ages

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Winner: "Who's Who in the Middle Ages"

Merry Christmas to Brandlwyne aka Brandy B, who won my gently-used-but-looks-so-shiny-brand-new-that-I'm-tempted-to-keep-it copy of Who's Who in the Middle Ages, by Dr. John Fines! But since a bargain's a bargain, plus it's Christmas after all, Brandy will indeed receive this copy while I keep my old, tattered, but much beloved paperback edition.

Thank you to everyone who entered the drawing. I loved reading all of your comments! Merry Christmas to you all!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Medieval Christmas at the Tower of London

A Merry Medieval Christmas to you all!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Giveaway: "Who's Who in the Middle Ages"

So I’ve been hosting several blog hop giveaways over on my JDP NEWS blog lately (next one is coming up on December 21-22, “Midwinter’s Eve Giveaway Hop”), and I feel kind of bad that I haven’t done any giveaways on this blog for awhile. I have a book I’ve been wanting to share with you for an awfully long time, but I’ve held back because it’s another one of those “out of print” titles, and I haven’t actually based a lot of my actual writing on the research in this book. It is, however, my ultimate “go to” browsing book on nights when I’m restless and have trouble sleeping. I literally keep it on my bedside table next to my bed and to date, I have never, never grown tired of reading the entries over and over again. I love this book and want to share it so much, that tonight, I went to Amazon and found an inexpensive used copy and ordered it, just so I can hold a drawing to give a copy to one of you!

The book is Who’s Who in the Middle Ages, by Dr. John Fines. Here’s the back cover blurb for it:

In trying to understand the complex and alien societies of the distant past the reader of history is often left without a key—without that intimate knowledge of personalities which can demonstrate this was a real situation, impinging on real people, who responded to pressures and reacted to other people in very much the same ways we do. The study of biography provides that key when our humanity is touched by that sudden mirror-glimpse of another human being in the toils and joys of life

The scope of this work is wide—the whole of Christendom is covered—saints and scholars, rulers and rebels, as well as the “infidels” whose influence on medieval affairs was significant. Among the personages this book helps to restore to full-size, fully fleshed human beings, are: Abelard, St. Thomas Aquinas, Attila, Roger Bacon, St. Thomas Becket, Charlemagne, Geoffrey Chaucer, Dante, Joan of Arc, Macbeth, Muhammed, St. Patrick, Marco Polo, Saladin, and nearly eighty more.

As noted above, Who’s Who in the Middle Ages is made up of 100 short biographies of people from the Middle Ages, many famous (such as those listed above) but also some lesser known names (such as Aefric, Abbot of Eynsham; Richard de Bury; and Nicholas of Cusa). Dr. Fines has a knack for including fascinating little tidbits in his biographies that leave you with a sense of a fully rounded, living, breathing person. And while he treats each of his subjects with respect, he often inserts a line or two of wry humor that leaves me grinning, if not laughing out loud. Just two examples:

After recounting a summary of the priest John Ball’s involvement in the Peasants Revolt of 1381, Dr. Fines devotes a paragraph to John Ball’s downfall and execution, ending with the line: “It had been, for him, an exciting month.” (Leaving the reader wondering whether John Ball thought the excitement was worth it!)

Under the entry for John Scotus Erigena, head of the palace school under Charles the Bald (9th Century France), Dr. Fines includes this famed exchange: “One night at dinner Charles, finding John’s table manners hard to bear, said, ‘How far is a Scot from a sot?’ John quickly replied, ‘The length of a table,’ a joke even a court jester would have feared to make.” And Dr. Fines ends this entry with: “In 877 Charles died, and John took advantage of an invitation from King Alfred to go to England to teach at Malmesbury. Some years later, or so the chronicler William of Malmesbury would have us believe, his pupils stabbed him to death with their iron pens, ‘because he tried to make them think.’” (And let that be a warning to school teachers everywhere!)

Although the entry for each personage is necessarily short, most entries include a bibliographical note or two that will lead you to deeper study, if you are so inclined. (I bought the biographical reference book he suggested for Christina of Markyate, a biography written by one of her contemporaries, and thoroughly enjoyed it.)

Remember, this will be a used copy, but the seller promises it's in good-to-excellent condition, and what's more, it's a hardback copy! Mine is only paperback. I thought about keeping the hardback version and giving you my old copy, but I find I'm highly attached to my slightly rumpled paperback copy, so you'll get the nice hardback version. :-)

How can you enter to win a copy of Who’s Who in the Middle Ages? Simply leave a comment telling me why you'd like to win this book! Be sure to include your email address. I can't let you know if you won if I don't have your email address, so don't forget that part!

Want extra chances to win? Do any or all of the following:

+1 Bonus: Become a follower of this blog, then leave a comment letting me know. If you're already a follower, leave me a comment letting me know!

+1 Bonus: Subscribe to Medieval Research with Joyce via the Feedburner box in the sidebar, then leave me a comment letting me know.

Facebook (+1 Bonus), Twitter (+1 Bonus) and/or Blog (+1 Bonus) about this giveaway

We'll run this contest until midnight PST December 24. I'll draw the winner's name (via Random.org) on December 25. How's that for a Christmas present?

USA entries only

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Norman Conquest Day 2010

Before the battle

The Norman cavalry attacks the Saxon foot soldiers across the field of battle
(You understand this cake is representative only?)

After the battle

Happy Norman Conquest Day 2010!

Visit my past Norman Conquest Day celebrations for 2008 and 2009.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Google Isn’t the Answer to Everything!

So last night I was doing some research for my latest work-in-progress. (Yes, believe it or not from my lengthy absence from this blog, I actually am still working on my work-in-progress!) I have this book called The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, by George Frederick Kunz. In it, I found the following statement:

“There is established a very pretty custom of assigning to the various masculine and female Christian names a particular gem, and such name-gems are often set together with natal and talismanic gems and with gems of one’s patron saint.” (pp 46-47)

Kunz includes sample lists of name-gems (example: Mary = Moonstone, James = Jade, Thomas = Topaz, etc). He also includes lists from various cultures and time periods of natal, or birthstones. But nowhere in the book could I find a list of gemstones for patron saints.

What to do, what to do? What else but hop on the internet! I thought I would track down such a list very quickly, print it out, and stick a copy in The Curious Lore of Precious Stones for future research reference. Instead, I spent nearly two hours typing in every combination of words I could think of in a vain effort to find any such list. The closest I could come was a list of gemstones assigned to the original twelve apostles from a website called Fifteen Promises Heritage Rosaries, which gave me a list of stones for the original twelve apostles in the New Testament and stones for twelve guardian angels. The source of this list was not cited.

I continued my fruitless search, until at last, I decided that perhaps Kunz’s reference to “patron saints” had not referred to Catholic saints in general, but had been intended to be limited to the original twelve apostles. (Though I would have appreciated it if he had simply said as much to begin with!) So, I stopped typing in “saints” and “Catholic saints” in front of words such as “gems”, “gemstones”, “precious stones”, “stones”, etc, and began adding the word, “apostles”. Not only did information finally start popping up, but nearly every site, after explaining the arguments for and against assigning gems to the apostles, referred me back to their prime source for their information: The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, by George Frederick Kunz! One site called it “the definitive book on fascinating, traditional gem lore.”  (Jewelry Mall)

So back I went to where I had started in the first place: The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, sitting right beside my laptop with my WIP. The drawback to this book is that, while it does have an index, it’s not a terribly exhaustive one, so it took some hunting to see if I could find any information about the “apostle stones”. Eventually I did, although it was not in list form, as the name-stones and natal-stones had been. (Which is why it was more difficult to find.) Instead, the information was embedded in a long treatise by Andreas, Bishop of Caesarea, who lived in the tenth century. The information matched exactly with the internet list from Fifteen Promises Heritage Rosaries, though I had to “pull it out” of Andreas’ text. (The origins of this information are important for me, since once again, my WIP is medieval and my characters need access to information that would actually have been available during their lifetimes.)

So now, at last, after having gone in a very wide circle, I end up where I began with the information I was looking for in same book I started out with in the first place.

So, if you are looking for “definitive” information “on fascinating, traditional gem lore”, I’d suggest you skip right over Google and go straight for George Frederick Kunz’s book, The Curious Lore of Precious Stones. Just be prepared to read carefully, because the index can sometimes be less than helpful in quickly locating specific information.

(By the way, if anyone out there knows a list assigning gemstones to Catholic saints beyond the twelve apostles, I would love to know about it!)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Living the History

Although this blog focuses mostly on book learnin' for conducting medieval research, there are, of course, other ways to "experience" the Middle Ages, after a sort. If you're a cook, then try making and sampling a medieval dish. Some books that contain medieval recipes include Fabulous Feasts: Medieval Cookery and Ceremony, by Madeleine Pelner Cosman; Pleyn Delit: Medieval Cookery for Modern Cooks, by Constance B. Hieatt and Sharon Butler; and The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy, by Odile Redon, Francoise Sabban & Silvano Serventi.

Alas, I hate to cook, but don't let that discourage you from doing so! Until I overcome my personal reluctance (I suppose "laziness" is closer to the truth!), I'll have to continue to rely on my overly active imagination and trust in my characters' palates. (Don't worry. As one of my favorite plaques says: "I live in my own little world, but it's okay. They know Me here!")

Music is another way to sample what life might have been like in the Middle Ages. Now music is something I can do! Or at least, I can happily listen to it. (I suppose I could happily eat medieval food that someone else cooked for me, too, if I could find someone else to do the cooking.) You have only to visit Amazon.com and type in the words "medieval music" into the Music category to come up with a plethora (I love that word...plethora!) of CDs that feature music from the Middle Ages. One of my favorite albums from clear back when it was an old fashioned LP (thankfully converted to CD and MP3 versions) is Music of the Crusades. And my very favorite musical selection on that album...actually, my all time favorite medieval selection of all!...is called Ja nus hons pris. This song is credited to Richard the Lionheart, supposedly composed by King Richard while imprisoned on his way home from the 3rd Crusade and held for ransom. You can listen to a snippet of Ja nus hons pris on Amazon (though I downloaded my copy from iTunes) and read an English translation of the words at These Vintage Years!

If you follow my JDP NEWS blog, you'll know that one of the highlights of my year is attending the Arizona Renaissance Festival. Renaissance and Medieval Festivals are, admittedly, fantasy versions of those time periods, but still, they're great places to "pretend" and soak in at least a little bit of historical atmosphere. And there are other "living history" experiences you can take part in, such as the Society for Creative Anachronism.

Whether researching in the comfort of your own home or at a public historical re-enactment, let's not underestimate the power of wearing an authentic medieval outfit to really get one in the spirit of the times!  Here are a few Medieval/Renaissance clothing websites that I've come across. They all carry Medieval, as well as Renaissance (and occasionally Tudor) costumes:

The Renaissance Store
Pearson's Renaissance Shoppe

You can also find these links in the right hand sidebar of this blog under (appropriately enough) "Medieval, Renaissance, and Tudor Clothing"

To be totally upfront, The Renaissance Store is the only "store" I have personal experience with, and that was only to buy medieval jewelry, not clothes. But they're all very enjoyable websites to browse, and Pearson's Renaissance Shoppe has the added benefit of maintaining a companion blog.

Do you  have any favorite medieval recipes, medieval songs, medieval re-enactments, or medieval shopping places? If so, I'd love to have you share it in the comment section!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Women Riders: Jot That Down!

Recently while asking for feedback from some other authors on a scene I had written for my current work-in-progress (a new medieval novel), one author who sets her stories in a later historical time period, questioned the fact that my heroine was riding her horse astride rather than sidesaddle. To be truthful, I found myself startled that I had written the scene that way. I had done no immediate research to put my heroine astride in her saddle, yet somewhere in the back of my mind, I had known that for the Middle Ages, this was the correct way for a lady to ride a horse. Somewhere, very long ago, I knew I had read that kernel of information in a research book. But where?

Fortunately for me, I have my research books loosely filed according to subject matter on my bookshelves. To date, I own only one book specifically on medieval horses, and that one deals with the medieval war horse, not exactly the subject I was looking for. So I went to my section on “medieval women” to see whether I had written my riding scene correctly or not. Sadly, every one of my indexes let me down in finding a quick answer. So I browsed the tables of content until I found a chapter labeled: “Lifestyle and Travel” in English Noblewomen in the Later Middle Ages, by Jennifer C. Ward. Flipping to, then through this chapter, I found the following sentences: “There were several ways in which the noblewoman could travel. One way to travel was to ride, usually astride…” This last phrase was followed by a footnote. Following the footnote to the bottom of the page, I found the reference: J.J. Jusserand, English Wayfaring Life in the Middle Ages, London, 1891, 100-105.

“I know that book!” I said. Even more excited, I exclaimed, “In fact, I own that book!”

English Wayfaring Life in the Middle Ages was one of the first additions to my medieval research library, owing to the fact that I had a particular interest in medieval “travelers” while writing my very first medieval novel. And thanks to my loose filing system, I knew immediately where to find it.

The bad news was, the page numbers listed in the footnote citation in English Noblewomen in the Later Middle Ages did not match up with the pages in my edition of English Wayfaring Life. Instead of women riders, I found myself reading about English minstrels. (They were walkers, not riders.) Once again, the index failed me, too. However, curiously enough, for 7 pages out of 315 page book, something had inspired me to jot notes in the margins of Chapter II, “The Ordinary Traveller and the Casual Passer-By.” And one of these jottings turned out to be “women and riding.” Bingo! Here I found the affirmation that I was looking for that women did, indeed, ride astride during most of the Middle Ages, that the side saddle was not invented until late in the 14th Century, and even then rarely used, and even a description of the saddles that were used at the time.

Here, once more, is evidence that, however irksome and time consuming it may feel at the time, you will never, ever (EVER) regret jotting notes in the margins of your research books to help you quickly reference specific topics discussed in each chapter. (Now I just need to re-read the whole book and fill in the rest of my “jottings”.)

English Noblewomen in the Later Middle Ages (The Medieval World)