Monday, April 8, 2013

L. Blankenship, Author of Disciple Part II, is talking about pop culture's "medieval" vs.Historical reality

Today, L. Blankenship is talking about pop culture's "medieval" vs.Historical reality as a part of the Disciple Part II blog tour!

We all know that movies aren't a good place to find historical accuracy. Their job is to entertain us, first and foremost, and accuracy can get in the way of that. Over time, movies, television and novels have build up their own conventional ways of representing medieval Europe -- habits that started out as honest mistakes or for the sake of drama and looking good.

I'm going to point out a few of these. I'm going to stick to world-building details, since the particulars of things like politics, social morals, the treatment of women, etc., varied from place to place and century to century -- and one must always leave room for individual variation in things like that. Not everybody in a given place or time would perfectly conform to the letter of what's been passed down to us.

For clarity, a definition: the medieval period, in Europe, lasted from the fifth century until the end of the fifteenth century.

Costuming problems
This is an easy detail to pick on. Movies go for aesthetics over accuracy, since vegetable-dyed wools just aren't as pretty as bright, swishy synthetic fabrics. All the evidence points toward most medieval folk wearing warm, boring clothes and directors want their stars to look sexy. It's worth looking up photos of (or meeting) serious re-enactors who put a lot of effort into dressing themselves accurately.

The earliest references to corset-like undergarments date from 1530 at the earliest -- which is the sixteenth century. So strictly speaking, there were no corsets in the medieval era. Ladies' dresses might be tailored to fit snugly in the bodice, and they might use structure and lacing to encourage that snug fit, but they didn't wear true corsets.

Medieval men didn't wear pants. But the ancient Romans and the Vikings did, so what the heck happened? To put it simply, pants turned into underwear. Men wore full-length robes over them in the early middle ages. As those robes got shorter over the centuries, socks got longer to make up the difference. They started calling the socks hose, or stockings -- and those eventually evolved back into pants in an ass-backwards manner.

Plate armor
Knights always wear a full harness of metal plates, right? Not until the late 14th century. Components began showing up earlier -- breastplates are ancient -- but it wasn't a full suit until the medieval period was almost over. Before plate, knights wore mail (chainmail, to D&D gamers) suits, and it was a very different style of armor.

Military combat
It's difficult to judge exactly what was done on medieval battlefields, but we know this much: a pell-mell race across a field to attack the enemy is a good way to get slaughtered. We've all seen this in movies, though. It's exciting and dangerous. One-on-one combat in a chaotic field looks great, and it gives characters a chance to have dramatic, easy-to-see fights.

It's also what helped Rome conquer the world: they hunkered down behind their shield walls and cut those disorganized charges to hamburger. Passion in battle is a great thing, but it's been proven beyond all doubt that discipline and organization will beat passion every single time.

Medieval tactical writers knew this too. They describe knights charging in stirrup-to-stirrup lines and defensive formations for the polearm-wielding infantry. Shield walls persisted long after the fall of Rome -- because they worked. Individual combat on a chaotic field is immensely risky. Terrifying. Standing shoulder to shoulder with men you trust, behind a wall of wood, is much more heartening. Your chance of surviving is much better.

This isn't to say that individual combat on the battlefield never happened. In small engagements or ambushes, it's more plausible. But still, what you want to do is bunch up with your friends, not stand out there all by yourself. 

If you're interested in a place to start, with medieval tactics, check out these tagged posts at I, Clausewitz' LJ.

These are some points where you can differentiate your work from other stories. By stepping away from pop culture expectations, you can add greater individuality to your world and challenge yourself creatively.


The prince first kissed Kate Carpenter for fear of missing the chance if they didn’t survive the journey home through the monster-prowled mountains.

Now that kiss seems like a fever dream. It’s back to work for her, back to the fellow physicians jealous of her talents and the sneers of an infirmary director who wants her shipped off to some tiny village. Kate means to be on the front lines to save lives. She’s worked too hard to overcome her past to let them deny her the chance to serve her homeland when the enemy’s army reaches their kingdom.

The grand jousting tournament is a chance to prove she can manage combat wounded, and at the royal Solstice banquet Kate means to prove she isn’t an ignorant peasant girl anymore.

But the prince’s kiss still haunts her. Their paths keep crossing, and the easy familiarity they earned on the journey home is a welcome escape from their duties. It’s a small slip from chatting to kisses.

This is no time to be distracted by romance -- a vast and powerful empire is coming to slaughter anyone standing between them and the kingdom’s magical fount.

Kate ought to break both their hearts, for duty’s sake.

Disciple, Part II on sale now
along with Disciple, Part I

Disciple, Part III coming in late 2013
Disciple is complete in six parts and will make a lovely doorstop
when all 400k words have been published.

Goodreads links:


SA Larsenッ said...

Ah-ha! That is such an interesting detail about pants. I didn't know that. :)

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for sharing. All of this was very enlightening. I agree with Sheri. I had no idea they didn't wear pants back then.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I knew chainmail was used for armor (yes, I am a D&D geek) but didn't know that about the pants.

Angela Brown said...

There are so many things today's post really touch upon, especially the battle tactics. It is very Hollywood to run all melee and willy-nilly showing off style and battle form. Staying behind a wall of shields does sound so much better.