Friday with Friends
I traipsed all over Missouri when I lived in Kansas. I met many people from St. Charles, Cape Girardeau, Springfield to Kearny, but in the twelve years I spent there, I never met Barbara Bettis. However, in May when I returned to Kansas City for the Romantic Times Convention, we connected. She’s a delightfully, elegant woman and I can’t wait to read her book.
Barbara is my guest today, and she’s sharing tidbits of information that bring us insights to history.
Keep reading and you’ll find out.
Please meet Barbara Bettis…
Researching the medieval era for my debut romance was such fun, I often had to force myself to stop looking up ‘just one more point’ so I could get back to writing. But I turned up some fascinating information, and I’d like to share a little of it with you.
With temperatures turning cooler now, I thought it might be fun to look at a few points surrounding living conditions of the lords and ladies that we often gloss over.
Disclaimer: The Medieval period or Middle Ages, comprises several hundred years and what might be true, say, just before the Norman Conquest in 1066, would be sadly out of date by the time of my story, set just 130 years later. So what I’ll share with you is a generalization and applies mostly to the earlier part of the period. There will be exceptions, of course.
DID YOU KNOW: In the early Middle Ages:
**What we call the ‘keep’ or the central part of the castle where the lord and his family usually lived was called the ‘donjon.’ The term ‘keep’ was applied later; one source says that name came into use in the 16th Century. Most historical romance writers refer to the living area of the castle as the keep, I suspect because that’s what readers have come to accept. (I once had a contest judge take me to task for referring to the ‘donjon’ when “everyone knows it’s called a keep.”)
**The main room was the Great Hall, one big room that served as living room, dining room and, for servants and occasionally knights, the bedroom. Pallets, thin mattress stuffed with straw or other such material, were rolled out on the floor when bedtime came. Sometimes they were placed on a kind of low wooden support, but more likely just put directly on the floor. During the day, they were rolled up and stored along one of the walls of the hall. At night the tables used for dining were shoved against the walls.
**The floor of the great hall could be stone or rough wood planks or dirt, depending on the location of the structure and its design. The floor was often covered with rushes (wide leaves of plants.) A good housekeeper made sure the rushes were replaced periodically (and sweetened with good-smelling herbs), because diners often threw the bones and other food detritus onto the floor. Sources have talked about dogs roaming the room, looking for food dropped or tossed on the floor. (Kind of like these days). Yes, sleeping pallets were placed over that stuff.
**Oh, and—in the early days, when hawking or using falcons was a popular means of hunting—some records show lords would bring their prize birds to the table with them and set them on stands nearby. Imagine the floors in those halls.
**Most great halls were on what we could consider the second level or floor of the donjon, for defensive purposes. Access was via wooden stairs which could be burned if the enemy got through all the defenses and attacked the main quarters. With the stairs destroyed, the enemy couldn’t get up into the main room to get at the defenders.
**The first or ground floor went through various incarnations through the years. The area could be used to house the fighting men. Later, when the barracks were moved to other areas, it was often used for storage (the undercroft).
**In early Middle Ages, residences of the nobles had one large room, with no separate bedrooms. The lord and lady slept in the great hall or common room with everyone else. Later a corner was partitioned off to give the lord and lady a little privacy. Still later, various rooms were constructed as well as separate sleeping chambers. By the High Middle Ages, the separate rooms included solars. They were used as sleeping rooms or as rooms the ladies could have to themselves.
**These early residences, even of the nobles, had the main fire in the center of the room—the fireplace as we know it—set along a wall—was introduced later in the Medieval period. (Again, a generalization, but true of many parts of the country.)
**Kitchens were in separate buildings, to cut down on the danger of fire. Food frequently was cold by the time it arrived at the tables. Kitchens became part of the structures later, of course.
**Castles were cold, damp, drafty, smelly, often moldy. Tapestries were used not just for decoration, but to cut down on drafts and warm the place up.
One last story I’d like to share, this one about what expectant mothers faced.
**In early medieval times, males who served as doctors usually were not allowed to assist women in childbirth. Those women were attended by midwives or village ‘wise women.’ In those early times, birthing chairs were often used on which women sat or knelt. One picture here from a German text shows midwives attending a birth while the mother sits on a three-legged chair. The other is a drawing showing a birthing chair. (I found both on the internet.)
Thanks for sharing these research tidbits with me today. My debut, Silverhawk, is set in the High Middles Ages. Castles had become more developed and more complicated in construction, especially when some of the lords brought back ideas for design from Europe and lands further East.
Here’s the blurb for Giles and Emelin’s story: He’s everything a proper lady should never want; she’s everything a bastard mercenary can never have.
Sir Giles has come to England to kill his father, who seduced and betrayed his mother. First, however, he’ll seek sweet revenge—kidnap the old lord’s new betrothed. But when Giles uncovers a plot against King Richard, he faces a dilemma: take the lady or track the traitors. What’s a good mercenary to do? Both, of course.
Lady Emelin has had enough. Abandoned in a convent by her brother, she finally has a chance for home and family. Yet now she’s been abducted. Her kidnapper may be the image of her dream knight, but she won’t allow him to spoil this betrothal. Her only solution: escape
Rescuing the intrepid lady—while hunting traitors—is a challenge Giles couldn’t anticipate. But the greatest challenge to Giles and Emelin is the fire blazing between them. For he’s everything a proper lady should never want, and she’s everything a bastard mercenary can never have.
Now, more about Barbara:
Barbara Bettis has always loved history and English. As a college freshman, she briefly considered becoming an archeologist until she realized there likely would be bugs and snakes involved. And math.
She now lives in Missouri, where by day she’s a mild-mannered English teacher, and by night she’s an intrepid plotter of tales featuring heroines to die for—and heroes to live for.
Visit her at: http://barbarabettis.com and www.barbarbbettis.blogspot.com
The buy link for Amazon
The book will be in wide release in Nov. 15.
I hope you enjoyed meeting Barbara. I find her to be an interesting woman, the kind you want to sit and talk with about all sorts of topics over tea and scones.