...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

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)