Political Intrigue during the Medieval Age
By Terry Spear
The medieval period was from about 500 AD to 1500 AD, so quite a bit of time and change.
When we talk about one period of time, it can be very different from another in terms of lifestyle, clothes, and what was available to the populace. Also, the change in the political arena made for a lot of difference in medieval times.
So when we say we’re writing about a medieval romance in a particular time, it can be way different from one much later. And it depended on the location. Some areas were still more in the Dark Ages, when others had moved ahead.
I chose to write about King Henry I’s time period, 1100 AD, because I found him a fascinating king and the emerging scenario with his taking a wife who was the daughter of the Scottish king and the Saxon princess, who had been the niece of the Saxon king killed and replaced by Henry’s father, William the Conqueror of Normandy. She was an interesting person as well, again educated, and her mother had placed her in her aunt’s convent, to ensure unscrupulous men would not have their way with her.
Now, Henry was the first of the kings who was really educated as he was meant to be a bishop, not king, since he was the third son of William. But the older brother, William Rufus, who was serving as king after their father died, met his own death in a hunting accident under rather suspicious circumstances while Henry was in attendance. The next oldest brother was away fighting the Crusades, so what could Henry do? But take over the treasury and become king.
It’s important to learn as much about the clothing, food that was served during this period of time, as well as the accommodations. Although because I write romance, I don’t get into some of the smellier details.
But what I found the most fun while creating the story was including some of the political intrigue.
When William conquered Saxon England, the ruling king died and the Saxon princess and prince fled to Scotland where they were given protection. But the Scottish king fell in love with the Saxon princess. Now doesn’t that sound like a fairy-tale romance? It was. When he died years later, she did also, of grief.
The thing of it is, the Saxon princess’s father had been king, but his brother murdered him and took over the kingdom, and then he took in his brother’s son and daughter, since he had no children of his own. Like I said, lots and lots of intrigue.
The Saxon prince united with Henry’s older brother, who vows to take over England and rule as he should have. I did include some of that in the story as well. One of the knights who they meet on the road is actually a knight that Henry used to lead his men to fight his brother.
In one case, Lady Anice and Malcolm MacNeill stay at a real castle that was still owned by a Saxon. He had pledged his loyalty to William the Conqueror, figuring probably that he would be the winner and didn’t want to lose his lands.
William had offered his relation to him, after he had her husband (a Norman baron) executed because he had plotted against William. So then he offers her as the wife to the Saxon lord in payment for his loyalty. She refuses and he sends her to one of the islands to live in poverty. But her daughter doesn’t want this kind of life and offers herself to marry the Saxon lord.
So that was included in the story as well. Don’t you just love all this real life intrigue?
It’s so much fun to use real history that is just as fascinating as making it up!
One of the things I found also interesting was that although women wore wimples and covered their hair (because it was too enticing for men not to be covered), but during the time that Henry’s wife ruled by his side, women didn’t have to wear the covering. And they often braided their hair with extensions to make it even longer!
While she was at the convent, she’d been beaten by her aunt for throwing down her hair cover and when she left there to marry Henry, she vowed not to wear it again. It became fashionable then for many of the ladies to wear their hair uncovered.
Another thing I found fascinating was that the food wasn’t bland or dreary to eat, not in a royal household, but was decorated to a fairly well. And fruits and vegetables were considered bad for you if it wasn’t cooked first.
Castles were defenses, foremost. They didn’t have huge windows, but merely arrow slots where they could shoot an approaching enemy. I visited several castles in Scotland and in one of the tower rooms, they had not only the arrow slot windows, but they’d created round ones for updated weapons--guns. Men who would be holed up in the tower for a long time, watching the grounds, would use another hole nearer the base of the floor to relieve themselves.
Yep, no toilet! Where would it go? Down the wall of the tower to the ground below. :)
Also while I visited the Scottish castles, the stairs were narrow, to prevent more than one attacker access and they always curved to the right so that the defender would have the advantage where he could swing his sword and unless the attacker was left-handed, he could not as well.
You’ve heard that knights were supposed to be chivalrous, right? At first, they weren’t. Some would steal from those who couldn’t fight back just because the knights were so well armored. Then the rule of chivalry came into effect, and though it didn’t mean everyone would abide by the rules, things got better. But one of the funny happenings I uncovered with regard to knights—was that their armored feet—the sabaton--were armored plates riveted on the boots. For a period, the fashion was to make them longer and longer, kind of like women’s pointy dress shoes. The knights would wiggle their long shiny armor plated toes at the ladies in a sexual way, making them blush and giggle.
The church, wet blanket that it could be, declared that the shoes were indecent and could not be that long. Not sure what they said about the cod pieces as the men’s tunics rose ever higher and the men’s cod pieces grew ever bigger.
So that’s a glimpse of medieval history undressed—a little bit of political intrigue can go a long way!
Would you have been offended if a knight had wiggled the toe of his armored boot at you?
“Giving new meaning to the term alpha male where fantasy IS reality.”
Author bio: Award-winning author Terry Spear is the author of urban fantasy romances and medieval Highland romances. She received Publishers Weekly's Best Book of the Year in 2008 for Heart of the Wolf. A retired officer of the U.S. Army Reserves, Terry is a librarian by day. She lives in Crawford, Texas.
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