Life in Medieval Times – Research Book Review

Life in Medieval Times (Perigee)

If you are going to write a fantasy novel, it helps to research various cultures – most especially the medieval culture. A great research book is the “Life in Medieval Times” by Marjorie Rowling. Get ideas for your fantasy culture by reading about lords and vassals, townsmen and traders, or monks and friars.

The research book starts out with the time of Charlemagne. It describes the man as well as the times he lived in. Things changed after Charlemagne’s death. Internal battles became more frequent and the scholarships through churches diminished. Feudal estates began to become more prevalent which tied the people to the land and their lord and the lord to their vassal.

Other things I learned in the research book “Life in Medieval Times” include the rise and development of the mounted knight, the devastating effects of the Black Death, the influence of the great international fairs of Europe, the inferior view of women, etc. The research book goes over common medieval dishes, games, clothing, occupations, and so on. Occupations the “Life in Medieval Times” touches on include that of warriors, monks, scholars, artisans, doctors, astrologers, and more.

Here are a few of the interesting facts I found in each chapter:
1. Charlemagne & Society – Books were rare, expensive, and subject to thievery.
2. Lords & Vassals – Allods were lands free of service to vassals but sometimes when an allod needed military protection, they surrendered themselves and their land so that the lord could give it back as a fief.
3. Townsmen & Traders – The process of making cloth was divided into workers who specialized as drapers, weavers, warpers, spinners, spoolers, fullers, and dyers.
4. Women & Wives – While the role of women was viewed as inferior, they did gain some status and value when they men went on crusades.
5. Pilgrims & Crusaders – Ordinary people going on a pilgrimage faced a number of harrowing trials including famine, living in filth, disease, robbers, etc.
6. Monks & Friars – Various religious orders and different rules of behavior. Different orders include St. Bernard, St. Bruno, the Carthusian Order, St. Dominic, St. Bernadino, and the Order of St. Benadict.
7. Schools & Scholars – Education for a nobleman might include reading, chess, backgammon, hawking, hunting, fencing, geometry, magic, and law.
8. Church Builders & Artisans – Stone building were erected under the supervision of a master mason and wooden structure under a master carpenter.
9. Doctors & Patients – Surgery was strongly frowned upon and left to barbers.
10. Scientists & Technologies – Secular knowledge was frowned upon by the church but there were still a few scientists such as alchemists and astrologers.

Perhaps we don’t want our fantasy novel to be exactly like medieval times. We want to romanticize it a bit, don’t we? Depending on the message we are giving in our fantasy novel, we may want to give our women a stronger role, make our castles more like palaces, or downplay some of the dirtiness of the cities. Reading “Life in Medieval Times” can give you some great plot or character ideas. With your newfound knowledge you can build your own believable order of knights, create conflict with your information on the roles of the king vs the church, establish your own sumptuary laws, create your own guilds, and so on. With a fantasy novel, the possibilities are endless but it helps to have a foundation of knowledge.


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