History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

25 October 2006

Stephen Biesty's Cross-Sections Castle

Well, today isn't shaping up to what I expected at all. School called. Kid home with a bad cough now.

Speaking of kids:

This is definitely not a highbrow post... but I've mentioned that I hate research. So, in an effort to make it palatable to myself, I discovered kid's picture books. Quick and easy and then I save the heavy research for things which really need heavy research.Here is one I like a lot: Stephen Biesty's Cross-Sections Castle.

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The cover says one can "see inside an amazing 14th-century castle." It's a fun book to browse and has lot of interesting details.

So... here's today's funky list of random tidbits:

Page 11: "Every castle had a 'sally port.' From this small, easily overlooked door half-way up a wall, troops could sally forth (go out) in secret."

Page 12: "The toilets were not nearly as primitive as you might imagine. They often had wooden seats, and some even had wash basins. There was no toilet paper, but a handful of hay did the job almost as well."

uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh... I'm not sure about that last part. But whatever.

Page 20: Some common spices and herbs: cloves, buckwheat, ginger, coriander, cinnamon, cumin, aniseed, licorice, pepper

Page 21: The reeve might fine the manor peasants if he caught them baking at home.

Page 25: "Oxen produced almost as much in dung as they ate in food, and removing the muck as a full-time job."

Page 26: Prisoners who refused to plead would be crushed to death by tying them down and pressing on them with weights. Many would beg visitors to jump on the boards so they would die more quickly.


Gotta run and nurse my kid.


Blogger Unknown said...

I love these kinds of books! They usually have great pictures/drawings and since they're designed for kids they're easy to understand and filled with cool (gross) details.

My all time favorite is Daily Life in Holland in the Year 1566 by Rien Poortvliet (ISBN 0810933098). Sadly it's gone out of print, and now it's quite expensive.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Whew! I'm glad I'm not the only one. Sometimes you just need to know what the name of some obvious object is and none of the big-girl books will tell you! Apparently because every idiot already knows this info? Well, thank God for books that spell it all out for you!

12:45 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Hi, Jessica. I love this castle book. My five year old has been checking it in and out of the library every week for the last six weeks. He's into the dirty, yucky part of castle life, and we can sit and stare at the same detail-packed illustrated page forever...

I love to read it with him, because it qualifies as research for me.

Next week, though, I'm going to insist he bring home a "What Life Was Like" book, or an "Eye Witness To History" book about medieval life. Great references, like this one, though clearly meant for kids.

I've learned a lot from the children's scholastic publishers!

1:25 PM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Wouldn't you have just been in heaven if they'd had all this great historical fiction for kids when WE were young? My God, all these series just seemed to spring up overnight! I feel quite lustful when I'm looking with my son. He's not quite old enough for most of them, but soon!

1:50 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Heh-heh. I know what you mean, Vicki. Wishing I had those books at hand when I was a kid...but I grew up in Heidelberg, Germany, on a military base not far from the Rhine River. Heidelberg Castle was visible outside our apartment window.

So until about the third grade, I thought most kids had a castle in thier backyard . . .

1:59 PM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Ha! Hey, I was made in Germany, but unfortunately I never got to spend any post-natal time there! I've never even SEEN a castle!

Jessica, I hope you won't mind if I post a random historical question on your blog. . . How to phrase this? I usually describe servants as "scratching" at the bedchamber door (assuming modesty demands it), but this suddenly sounds weird and feral to me. But English servants didn't "knock" on interior doors, did they? I don't even know where I got this or where I could possibly confirm/refute it. Can anyone help me? Do I have this right?

3:31 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Why couldn't the peasants bake at home, Jes?

Hope your kid is feeling better.

I'm incredibly ignorant of your period, but a book that gave me some small understanding was also a YA book -- Catherine, Called Birdy, by Karen Cushman, about a young girl doing her utmost to resist an arranged marriage. (ISBN: 0064405842). Funny, touching, detailed, and ultimately believable. Interesting now the middle ages seems like such a perfect period for kids -- castles, lots of animals, everything very specific, like the pictures from a book of the hours.

And then of course there's Monty Python, which my son's grad school buddy, whose specialty is medieval church history, says is the best popular represention of the period he knows of.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

No knocking. No scratching. From everything I've ever read they just came and went almost like ghosts.

4:12 PM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Right, but surely there were SOME instances where privacy was demanded. They were invisible and all, but surely the master wouldn't want them walking in to change the wash water while he's making love to his wife in the middle of the afternoon? *grin*

4:35 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Catherine Called Birdy! One of my all-time favorites, Pam. In my keeper pile.

A scene that sticks in my head is when she sees two other children in the gallows wagon, on their way to be hanged for stealing...

Made me cry. As the saying goes...life in the middle ages was dirty, hard and short...(or something like that).

4:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love that book, Jessica. Very detailed and easy to understand--seeing a picture often makes it easier for me to describe. I also have Biesty's Cross-Section Man-Of-War, ISBN: 1-56458-321-X. I have some other history books for kids that I don't see crammed in their usual nitch on the shelves, but I've found books for children often provide tidbits you don't find in regular history books.

9:30 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Then he'd better lock the door if he's doing something so undignified! Servants were mostly treated like furniture.

9:51 PM  
Blogger Jessica Trapp said...

Thanks, guys!

Pam: the castle ovens were used as a source of income because the peasants paid for bread. If the castlefolk baked at home it would be cutting in on the Lord's profit.

Victoria: I don't know about the door scratching or knocking by servants.

*thinks for a minute* I can tell who is walking into my house by the different sounds they make....

Mom gives a very distinctive knock then punches the key code. My son rushes in and there is a big "whomp" and "thump, thump, thump" as his backpack hits the tile and he races down the hall to his room. My husband's truck is loud and I can hear his boots on the entryway as he juggles the mail while opening the door.

Based on that, I imagine that every household/servant/Lord would have their own distinct way of moving and doing things.

That's just my take on it.

:) Jes

8:18 AM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

My word, that was a long time spent on Google. . . I did find this, from Madame Bovary (set in France, published in 1856.) She forbade her wearing cotton caps, taught her to address her in the third person, to bring a glass of water on a plate, to knock before coming into a room, to iron, starch, and to dress her--wanted to make a lady's-maid of her. The new servant obeyed without a murmur

So I suppose Jessica's right about differences. If the duke wants you to knock before entering a bedchamber, then there will be knocking! I guess I'll change it to knock or tap. Thanks everyone!

9:51 AM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

(I should point out, btw, that this is the Victorian era. Views of privacy and body were rapidly changing.)

9:52 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

It's totally true that your characters can train their servants to do whatever they want! Won't help if they're in someone else's house, but certainly all of your hero or heroine's servants could be trained to knock (though I personally wouln't want the tweeny to knock when she came in to light the fire, LOL!).

11:59 AM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Wouldn't that be nice, Kalen? Wake up and the room's warm, everything's laid out, just waiting for you. . . *sigh*

I do agree with you there. In this particular scene, his valet enters without knocking to lay out tea and open the curtains, but the footman comes up with a message and knocks before entering. I think this strikes the right tone for me.

Actually maybe his valet wouldn't be the one bringing his tea tray to the bedside? Damn it. Now I'm even more confused. Why do the one line details always require the most research?!

1:06 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

It should be his valet who brings his morning tray and opens the curtains. There's a guide to servants roles somewhere on the internet . . . I'll try and find it for you.

4:07 PM  

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