EelKat Wendy C Allen - Dark Fantasy Author

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Writing Medieval Servants
in Historical Fiction

Additional thoughts...

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Writing Medieval Servants: Their jobs and their place in historical fiction.

Part 3

It is now October 25, 2017.

The original article "Medieval Servants" was written October 14, 2013

The original draft was 10,000 words long, but many parts of it were removed and the published article you know is only 7,000 words long.

In August 2017 the additional 3,000 words that had been removed... were published.

Now the back story of how I came to write it...

Part 3 of My Answer:
To this question
On the topic of writing Medieval Servants:
Their jobs and their place in historical fiction.

How historically accurate is your work? Do you think it's important?

Anyone writing Historical Fiction - How historically accurate is your work? Do you think it's important? from writing

>>I am preparing to embark on a new writing project and want to base it in the time of the Anglo Saxon kings of England. I have a good layman's knowledge of this era, but not at any kind of scholary level. I know that in HF some people get very pedantic if certain things aren't quite right, not just the larger picture, but things like food, or materials, tools etc. How much do you consider this when you write? I suppose it's something you can address in editing and rewrites more than the conception of the work.

How much do I consider when I write? A lot. Oh waaay too much. I obsess over it obsessively.

I play a lot of D&D and as such write a lot of novels based off many of our game sessions. This means I write a lot of quasi-medieval-type settings. And read a lot of quasi-medieval-type fiction. In my teen years I didn't think of it much.... historical accuracy was a thing for historical fiction.

Then one summer my boyfriend gets it into his head he wants to be a deep sea fisherman so we head out boat shopping. Big boats, small boats, yachts, dinghies, trullers.... spent the whole summer looking at boast. (He never bought one.)

At one point we ended up in a boat graveyard for giant old wooden boats, and fell in love with a 3 story-deck, 41 foot cabin cruiser (a motor yacht). Sadly she had a big hole in her hule and her wood was mostly rotted and needed lots of repairs.

She had a very old pirate ship type of feel to her. Turns out she was some famous boat from the 1950s, built by some famous boat builder who built one of a kind custom boats for millionaires and celebrities.

Suddenly, I found myself researching the history of this boat, next thing I knew I was researching the history of boats in general... one thing lead to thing you know, I'm enrolled in a local community college taking tons of nautical history, Maine coast history, and Maritime region history, classes. (I live in Maine, btw.) One of the professors lives in a sailboat and sails from Portland to Bath each week, between the two colleges he teaches at. He mentions he's a curator of the Maritime History Museum - home of the world's only surviving clipper ship...

(I'll point out that I started college at age 37. As a kid and teen and young adult, historical accuracy never mattered to me... it wasn't until my 40s that the bug hit me.)

So, it's off to the museum for me and my boyfriend (a long 4 hour drive) to see the remains of the Snow Squall...

A clipper ship... a boat used by pirates... supposedly the "classic pirate ship" of movies. Nope. Not even close.

You remember the 41 foot boat that started all of this? This clipper ship, built in the 1700s, one of the LARGEST boats ever built, at the time... was 28 feet long. The entire ship was only the size of a house bedroom. A pickup truck parked beside it was bigger. You could fit it twice, inside that boat we had seen in the boat graveyard.

And that's when it hit me... the boats you see being used as pirate ships in movies... they were far from historically accurate... and it got me to wondering... what else in movies is not historically accurate? So I started looking into history of various eras.

One thing leads to another and before I know it, I'm asking myself: "How historically accurate is the stuff we do in D&D?" I mean I knew D&D is not meant to be historically accurate, but we are supposed to be in the 1300s and here we are about to buy a 50 foot boat, and I was like --- wait... Columbus's boat was hailed the largest boat ever built the time it was built and it was only 21 feet long in 1492, and the steering wheel was not invented until the 1730s, boats before then had a pole that controlled the rudder....

the group is looking at me like I was crazy...

It got worse, when it came time to set up camp and they are cooking beef stew over a fire and eating bread....and I blurt out: "You know it takes 5 days of nonstop steady boiling to make a stew? I tried it. Plus they didn't have beef in medieval europe. Only the mega wealthy could afford it. Peasants like us would be eating robins, squirrels, and caterpillars in our stew. And it's be turnip stew, with lots of cabbage and not much else. If we could find one, we'd have a beef bone to flavor it with, but no actual beef...."

Followed by... "Did you know that fried earthworms and fresh beetles were a staple in the 1300s and was the primary ingredient of bread? And that children had a game they played that involved counting how many worms were in a hunk of bread, and whoever won the game, that determined who got to get the most worm filled piece of bread, which was the most sought after. Did you know earthworms are not native to America, and that they were brought here in the 1500s by the pilgrims because they were a primary food source for the average person in that time period?"

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Everybody was like: "We're playing Dungeons and Dragons here, not taking history classes in college, what is with you?"

From that point on, we couldn't do ANYTHING in a game, without me rushing off to look it up after, to find out: "Could this really happen back then or not?"

But then it affected me as both a reader and a writer as well. I started nitpicking everything I read. Soon I was writing articles about how pissed off I got after reading a novel, set in the 1600s in which a woman bathed every day... a time period where people bathed only once every 6 months and then had to do it in public baths under the watchful eye of a priest in order to make sure none of them floated and were revealed witches.


Now I'm not able to write a thing in any time period, without researching the hell out of it to find out if it were possible in that time period.

Things that annoy me as a reader:

  • white bread in stories set before it's invention in 1957
  • daily bathing before it's invention in 1987
  • weekly Sunday night baths before it's invention in 1978
  • women washing their hair more then once per month, before doctors okayed multiple bathes per month in 1978
  • having clean water to drink any time before the 1950s
  • having juice to drink any time before the 1930s and the invention of the ice box (juice takes only 4 hours to turn to wine if left unrefrigerated)
  • meat in medieval meals (with the exception of songbirds, squirrels, beetles, and worms, the average person was nearly vegan, simply because meat was scarce before the 1800s)
  • loaves of bread in medieval times that are made without adding handfuls of beetles and maggots to it
  • people eating chicken before the 1700s (in the 1300s chicken cost 130 silver pieces - the price of a new car today - yet the average family made 10 pence a year income)
  • castles in medieval fiction, because castles were not built before the 1500s - 200 years after medieval period ended
  • medieval characters (800 to 1300) doing, wearing, eating, and living in Renaissance things (1600s)
  • pirate ships (galoons, merchantmen, and dutchmen) were an invention of the 1730s - yet they exist in most medieval fiction
  • Chris Columbus sailed the ocean in 1492 in the largest boat ever built - and it was 21 feet long; my sedan is 22 feet long; yet 50 foot ships are seen in medieval fiction all the time
  • spunky female characters with rights, in medieval fiction - in a time period when women were bought and sold along side cattle and were only allowed outside on a leash
  • on that same note - female tavern/inn keepers in any time period before the 1800s
  • also on the same note - princesses who have servants, when the real life job of a princess was to have sex with king daddy as many times as possible before turning 12, because of the belief that the only way to have a son was if you got your own daughter pregnant before her 12th year
  • and on that note - kings who had power before the 1600s - the pope ruled the world from 800 to the Renaissance (1600s), kings were nothing but yes men puppets for the church
  • and also - kings with castles sitting on thrones - cardinals, bishops, and priests had castles - kings lived in manor houses off to the side of the castle; and any one not a church leader, who sat on the throne was beheaded by the pope's templar knights
  • floorboards in houses - most floors were dirt
  • rich women with little pet dogs did not exist before the 1920s; how many people know that those little "toy dogs" in paintings were actually purses. Rich women did not keep lap dogs as pets, they collected stuffed taxidermy dogs to keep their snuff in. It was more fashionable to have a dead dog on your lap at the table, then to be sitting there with a snuff box.

And you see me weaving all these random facts into my stories now. All this because of a boat I saw in a boat graveyard. Just think how different my life, my reading, my gaming, and my writing would be, had we never gone to look at boats that summer?

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Much of the information you just read here was used in writing the Quaraun series.

The Quaraun series is neither Medieval or Historically accurate. It is time travel Fantasy largely set in the 1400s, but frequently tosses characters into the 1970s, and once in a while into dates of 2,000B.C. to 2525. So, you definitely wouldn't read the Quaraun series looking for any sort of "Medieval History", however, vast amounts of research does in fact go into the creation of every element of the series, thus how I came to be researching Medieval, Middle Ages, and Renaissance.

In 1996, I graduated with a 2 year degree in Theatrical Fashion Design, Dressmaking, and History, and had focused my time period of choice on the study of the 1300s to the 1600s, thus much of my books end up set in this era, with people dressing and acting typical of that period.

I simply love history, love cloths, and am utterly fascinated by the overall fashion history of pretty much every place, time, and culture.

I grew up in the 1970s, thus why you see many of my books set in the 1970s, rather then current era.

In any case, I love finding all sorts of weird little known facts about history, like the ones I've listed on this page here and I hope you've enjoyed reading this as much as I've enjoyed writing it for you.

Thank you for sending me this absolutely wonderful question. It has been by far one of my favorites of all time to sit down and write the answer too. Hopefully I have been able to answer your question. Good luck with you story and have a wonderful day!

More articles like this one, and more then 300 video interviews on writing, can be found in the following links to other articles in this series: