History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

29 September 2006

Getting our heros on the right kind of horse.

Thanks, Sally and MissChievous! Glad you liked our blog...and Pam, I was in Kepler's tonight and I saw your book on the shelf...The cover of The Slighest Provocation is beautiful. A real standout. Showing my ignorance here, but what famous piece of artwork is on the front cover?

And Kalen, I agree, the Friesian in Lady Hawke is a good choice for the kind of horse a knight would have ridden in the Middle Ages. Probably the closest to what a knight's destrier might have really looked like (a little shaggy, but tough . . .).

And yes, I finally managed to upload my photo!


Handsome Steed or Just a Mount?

I love medieval historicals. Immersed in the genre, I read so many I catch myself saying things like "Twasn’t a good idea . . ." and "What say you?" I don’t consider myself a historian, but I love the period feel in a good book, rich with historical detail that gets me to the place and time without me really noticing. That said, I am a horse veterinarian, and as an author, I sat down one day and researched all the synonyms I see used (sometimes interchangeably) for the word horse in historical romance.

A steed, a charger, or a destrier---which would a knight ride to smite the villain? To hunt? Rescue a heroine? Or make a dangerous, but necessary, race across the countryside?

Well, that depends. To smite a villain, joust, or ride into battle in the 14th century, he would use a destrier---also called a warhorse, usually a stout, well built stallion. He could rescue his heroine on his destrier, but only if the beast was accustomed to carrying people riding "double." But a palfrey (any horse other than a warhorse) or a courser would be better for a smoother, faster ride over a long distance. A palfrey or a courser could be of any sex and most of these horses, used commonly for basic transportation, would not object to a second rider on their back.

Interestingly, one finds knights in romances which are set in the Middle Ages riding a type of warhorse called a charger. But according to the book English Through the Ages, this word was not in common use until 1770. It doesn’t mean that 1770 was the birth date of charger---just that the word was in use by that date, though it might have been around for dozens, or even hundreds of years before its first use on paper. The same thing applies to the word mount---the first time its use appears in print is around 1860. My take: Chargers and mounts are relatively modern words.

On the other hand, I was surprised to learn that the word steed is relatively old, in use by 900 AD. And the word horse, predates steed by several hundred years (in use by 700AD).

That said, I’ve used mount in my 13th century historical DARK RIDER, because I like the word, and I get tired of horse and destrier. Mount has a certain air of romance, and a bit of historical flare.

Steed on the other hand, makes me chuckle. I don’t know why. Mayhap (see, there I go) because it conjures up visions of Eddie Murphy and the donkey in Shrek.
Don’t get me wrong. If a DARK KNIGHT offers me a ride on his handsome steed---I’m there.

-Kathrynn Dennis

27 September 2006

Etymology: Lummox

1825, East Anglian slang, perhaps from dumb ox influenced by lumbering; or from E. Anglian dialectal form of lummock "move heavily or clumsily," of uncertain origin. (from the ONLINE ETYMOLGY DICTIONARY where I am the proud sponsor of “riffraff”)

Etymology. Something I never worried about back when I first starting writing, now it’s something I obsess about . . . ever since a kindly judge in a writing contest pointed out to me that one of my favorite words, lummox, wasn’t period for my Georgian setting.

Ack! Curse you. It’s such a perfect word! I could use clod (1690) or oaf (1610), but they don’t conjure up the same image for me. There’s just something about this word (which I first encountered in Robert A. Heinlein’s The Star Beast as a child) that attracts me.

Do you have words like that? Words you are frustrated at having to leave out of a story, or that you use anyway, knowing that somewhere, someone is gritting their teeth and muttering Not Period!?

26 September 2006

Scandalous Heroines: Too True for Fiction?

I am not an expert in anything historical. Oh, I know a lot of useless things, and I try to get the clothing details right, but nobody comes to me with their questions. They may want to reconsider though, at least on a few select topics. My research shelf includes Courtesans by Katie Hickman, A History of Orgies by Burgo Partridge, and The Floating Brothel by Sian Rees. You now have an idea of where my interests lie. Ahem.

I love writing scandalous women. I’ve written a ruined heroine who sets out to take a lover, and a heroine who masquerades as a ghost haunting – of course – the hero’s bedroom. My current heroine has a little gambling problem and that’s the least of her issues. But in doing research into, say, gambling, I keep coming across the most delicious stories about real nineteenth-century women. The situations they find themselves in. . . If I wrote a stories like these, I’d be laughed off the review blogs.

How often have you historical writers heard, "A woman in that time would NEVER have done that"? Or "Nobody would every have gotten away with this." The old adage is true: truth is stranger than fiction, and I just had to share a few of the tidbits I’ve turned up in my research. So here are some story ideas. Read them. Take them in. Then be sure to tone them down in your own books, or no one will ever take you seriously.

The 7th Earl of Stamford, George Harry Grey, inherited his title in 1845 at the impressionable age of eighteen. His first wife, Bessy, was the daughter of his servant at Cambridge. Yes, the countess was the daughter of a manservant. His second wife – oh, it gets better! – was Kitty Cocks. (I did not make that up. Again, it doesn’t have the ring of truth.) There are many stories about Kitty Cocks, but none paint her as anything but disreputable. Before marrying, this Countess of Stamford was either the daughter of his gamekeeper, a "performer" at Cremorne Gardens, or a bareback circus equestrienne. Take your pick, but I’d go for circus rider if I were you.

(Oh, speaking of riders, apparently London livery stables of the time would hire beautiful young women to ride their horses in Hyde Park as a form of advertisement. They were affectionately known as "pretty horsebreakers" and rode during the fashionable hours among the fashionable set. These girls must have caught many a nobleman’s eye. . .)

Back to the Earl of Stamford! Despite his enjoyment of the ladies, he died without an heir and the title went to a cousin in South Africa. My original source said he was a "missionary bishop", but a later source said he’d been sent to Africa because of his unruly behavior. The trip failed to magically turn him into an obedient son. He had three children with his African housekeeper and married her before inheriting the earldom and moving his family to England. THIS Countess of Stamford was the daughter of a slave! Oh, God, that would make a great book! (Btw, regarding research: English sources listed her as Martha Solomon, and I couldn’t find much else. Then I ran across a document written in Africaans that named her Martha Solomon(s) and BOOM!, tons more information.) And, needless to say, her son was declared illegitimate and did NOT inherit the title.

Then there’s Isabelle Eberhardt who explored North Africa at the turn of the century dressed as a Muslim man. And Harriet Mellon, a celebrated actress who married a duke and became Duchess of St. Albans. (Did I mention that she was twenty-five years his senior?!) And there are the many, many courtesans who eventually married one of their titled protectors. It DID happen! Too many good stories to choose from, and most of these are from the judgmental Victorian era. I can’t even imagine what went on in the Regency period. Actually, why aren’t I writing Regency? I may have to reexamine that.

Please share your own favorite scandalous, romantic women of history. Or ask me questions about mine. I’d love to have the excuse to blow off my writing and delve deeper into these stories that are too good to be used in fiction! Better yet, have any of you received letters saying "That just would not have happened"?

25 September 2006

Off & Running

History Hoydens . . . we’re Plethoras of Useless—but interesting!—facts (as my best friend likes to say). As writers of historical fiction we do a lot of research. Very little of this research actually ends up on the pages of our novels, though. Which seems a waste. Readers also frequently email us, questioning the accuracy of something, inquiring about a source, or just wanting to know more. This is the place for us to offer that “more”.

What goes into all those historical romances you see on the shelves? What kind of research do we do? How much research do we do? What kind of crazy adventures do we undertake in pursuit of? What crazy real events inspire our stories? What truths are too strange for fiction and must be abandoned?

We have a great bunch of Hoydens here who write romances in a wide variety of settings (they’ll introduce themselves with their first posts). Please join us as we explore the eras we love and discuss the research that obsesses us.


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