...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

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How’s the Weather Out There? Or Another Lesson in Serendipity

So, what was the weather like during the Middle Ages? If you think the weather in England in 1066 was an exact reflection of the weather in 2011, you would be mistaken. And since we are all seeking authenticity for our historical novels, we don’t want our characters shivering through an extraordinarily warm winter, or reaping a rich harvest during a summer of drought, now do we?

The  problem is, of course, that it’s very difficult to know exactly what the weather was like on any given day during the Middle Ages. And some sources contradict each other.

All the information I’ve come across for medieval weather has happened by serendipity. You know, by accident while I was researching completely different topics. But every time I find a clue, I underline or highlight it and make a note so I can find it again.

For example, I stumbled across this sentence while researching the Norman Conquest (referring to the year 1066):

“For a long time, England had been colder and wetter than it normally is, but it was entering a phase which lasted two centuries when the summers were unusually warm and sunny and the winters mild.” (From 1066: The Year of the Conquest, by David Howarth, p 11)

Aha! thought I to myself. I’ve got a WIP set in England during 1213. Two centuries from 1066 easily covers my time period. Therefore, the summer was “warm and sunny” and the winter was “mild”.

Wasn’t it?

Then, while reading a biography of Henry II, I came across this:

“In Henry’s days, the winters were harsher, the summers drier.” (From Henry Plantagenet: 1133-1189, by Richard Barber, p 1)

Okay, so drier summers might well be compatible with the “unusually warm” summers cited by Howarth. Whereas Howarth offered no source information for his weather pattern, Barber refers to medieval “annals’” frequent reference to droughts, although his claim for the harsh winters relied on the fact that in 1142, the Thames froze in early December and no one remarked upon it as being unusual.

If I were setting my story in England during the reign of Henry II, I’d feel safe inflicting exceptionally hot summers upon my characters. However, unless that story was set in 1142, it might be a bit of a coin toss whether you want to go with the “mild” or “harsher” winter.

However, if you decide to set your story in the winter of 1204-1205, here’s a bit of reliable weather-related information you can use, discovered (and notated) during my recent reading of a biography of King John. “The rivers froze after Christmas and the Thames could be crossed on foot.” The ground was so hard frozen that it was March before ploughs were able to break the surface. Vegetables shriveled from the extreme cold of that winter. When spring finally arrived, corn sold “at famine prices. Oats fetched ten times the normal price, and men were paying half a mark for a few pence worth of peas or beans.” (King John, W.L. Warren, p 105)

Warren discovered this information in something called the Roll Series, which if you Google, you will discover is a major collection of British and Irish historical materials based on medieval English chronicles, which is as authoritative a source as you can find.

Oh, and the source for the claim that for the two centuries following 1066 “summers were unusually warm and sunny and the winters mild”? I did some Googling about that, too, and the answer? Tree rings. J

My reading (and therefore, my serendipitous discoveries) have not extended much beyond the reigns of King Henry II to King John because that’s the time period that my novels are set in. But if you have come across any other authoritative evidence for other medieval years, I would love you to share your information in a comment. Please include your source: Title, author, and page number, along with your information. (In case you haven’t noticed, this blog isn’t just about medieval facts. It’s about how we know those facts. So always cite your sources. Thank you!)


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Winner! Midsummer's Eve Giveaway Hop

Congratulations to Shelly, who won the copy of Gilded Spurs, by Grace Ingram,  in the Midsummer's Eve Giveaway Hop!

Thank you to everyone who entered. If you didn't win and would like another chance at a prize, my sister-blog, JDP NEWS, will be giving away a copy of my sweet medieval romance, Loyalty's Web, in the Freedom Giveaway Hop that begins on July 1st. Remember, that will be taking place over at JDP NEWS. :-)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Midsummer's Eve Giveaway Hop

Welcome to my first Medieval Research with Joyce blog hop! My JDP NEWS blog has participated in several previous blog hops, but this is new for Medieval Research with Joyce.

Under the brave leadership of Inspired Kathy of I Am a Reader, Not a Writer, over 200 blogs have banded together to offer book or book-related prizes to celebrate the longest day of the year...Midsummer Eve! (Also known as the 1st day of summer.)

In medieval England, large bonfires were lit on Midsummer's Eve to ward off evil spirits. Sometimes people jumped through these fires for good luck! (I suppose they considered it good luck if they didn't get burned!) Midsummer's Eve was the second favorite night of medieval fairies in England. Their favorite night? Halloween, of course! You can read more interesting medieval Midsummer's Eve trivia at English Medieval Calendar.

Now back to the blog hop. What am I giving away here at Medieval Research with Joyce? A copy of one of my favorite medieval novels, which sadly like many of my favorite novels, has gone out of print. I managed to find a good used copy to give away here, though. The book is Gilded Spurs by Grace Ingram. If you'd like to read a description of the book, click here.

Don't pay any attention to the rather juvenile cover art on the dust jacket. This is NOT a children's book. It's a novel geared to adults (though perfectly clean) and has a lovely cover on my old paperback version. I'm quite at a loss to account for the art work for this hard cover version. But I promise, you'll be well rewarded to look past the cover to the story that lies within!

Now, how how can you enter to win? First off, you MUST be a follower of Medieval Research with Joyce and you must leave me a comment telling me that you are a follower. AND don't forget to include your email address so I can contact you if you win!

To earn extra entries, you may do any or all of the following:

+1 Leave a comment telling me your favorite summer treat (yes, this should be a food or drink item).
+1 Become a NetworkedBlog follower (below the Feedburner subscription box in the right hand sidebar), then leave me a comment letting me know.
+1 Include the word "Huzzah!" in any of the comments you leave. (You only need to "Huzzah!" once. Extra "Huzzahs" won't earn you extra points.)


Deadline for entries is 11:59 PM EST/7:59 PM PST on June 24.

(If for any reason you are unable to leave a comment on my blog, send it to jdipastena@yahoo.com with "Medieval Research: Midsummer's Eve Giveaway Hop" in the subject line and I'll count it.)

All entered? Great! Now hop along to the next link posted below.