Researching the Medieval Period – Guest Post by Elizabeth Chadwick, Author of “The Scarlet Lion”

Sourcebooks has been kind enough to sponsor a giveaway for two lucky readers in the US and Canada.  See below for details.  I know you all want a copy of this book, since it has my blurb on it!

Many thanks to Devourer of Books for inviting me to the blog to talk about how I conduct my historical research!

I strongly believe an author needs more than just reference works to write absorbing historical fiction.   If a story is to leap off the page, then the research should enter the world of 3D.  My own method of research involves a five strand approach, these strands being woven together into a detailed and (I hope!) seamless braid.  The below is how I went about researching The Scarlet Lion and it’s the blueprint for all my novels.

1. I use Primary sources.  I read original charters, documents and chronicles to gain a feel for the period and the mindset of the period.  These documents provide a social and political framework of the world in which my characters dwelt.

2. Secondary sources.  I read numerous books on all sorts of subjects concerned with the period, generally from academic and university presses or specialist publications.  I also use online study, but I am careful about the websites I use, as there is a lot of poor information out there as well as the useful material – this especially applies to genealogy sites.

3. Location Research.  I visit locations mentioned in the novels where possible.  So for example for The Scarlet Lion, I travelled extensively in South Wales, the Welsh Borders, Wiltshire and Berkshire and walked the Marshal’s home turf. I didn’t get to France this time around, but I have been there in previous years for research purposes.  I like to get a feel for the places where my characters  lived, even if the ground is sometimes very different now.  I take numerous photographs, buy the guidebooks and make detailed notes.

4. Re-enactment.  This is part of the 3D element.  I re-enact with early medieval Living History society Regia Anglorum.  The society does its best to be authentic for the period and conducts living history experiments on a regular basis.  I own numerous exact replica artefacts, courtesy of craftsmen who work for museums and the re-enactment community.  I know what it feels like to walk up and down castle stairs in flat shoes and a long dress.  I have looked at the world through the eye slits of a jousting helm.  I have worn a mail shirt and handled and used the weapons.  I have used medieval cooking pots (better than stainless steel pans I can tell you!) and woven wool on a drop spindle.  I can call upon the expertise of the members of Regia, many of whom are historians or archaeologists. There is nothing quite like experiencing it for yourself, handling artefacts, or talking to someone who has direct practical knowledge.

5. The Akashic Records.  This is a form of psychic research based on the belief that everything leaves its imprint in time and that if you have the ability, you can access this resource and look at the lives of the people who have gone before.  Their thoughts, their feelings and emotions. What they looked like and what they experienced.  I don’t have the ability, but I have a consultant who does, and I employ her skills.  You can find more on this particular subject at my website under this heading.  The result is a bit like conducting an in depth interview with the historical person involved, or perhaps like seeing a documentary of their life in sensory detail.  I have my transcripts of this particular resource looked at by members of the academic community and specifically someone with a doctorate in medieval studies.  I am told that what is coming through is medieval mindset and thought patterns.

Taking these five strands, I add a sixth thread of imagination to fill in the gaps and weave the story, and voila – the finished novel!  Of course not every bit of research goes into a novel, but even the unused material is never wasted because it is absorbed by the subconscious, and it’s all useful knowledge. The more an author becomes immersed in his or her historical period, the more the characters become of their time, and the more intense the experience for the reader.  That’s how I see it anyway!

A page-turning novel of honor, intrigue, treachery, and love, continuing the story of England’s greatest knight of the Middle Ages, William Marshal. Bestselling author Elizabeth Chadwick, “an author who makes historical fiction come gloriously alive” (The Times of London), is known as a writer of uncommon historical integrity and accuracy.

By 1197 William Marshal’s prowess with a sword and loyalty with his heart have been rewarded by the hand in marriage of Isabelle de Clare—heiress to great estates— and their brood is growing. But their contentment and security is shattered when King Richard dies. Forced down a precarious path by the royal injustices of the vindictive King John, the Marshals teeter on a razor-thin line of honor that threatens to tear apart the very heart of their family.

Elizabeth Chadwick (UK) is the author of 17 historical novels, including The Greatest Knight, Lords of the White Castle, Shadows and Strongholds, A Place Beyond Courage, the Winter Mantle, and the Falcons of Montabard,  four of which have been shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Awards.  She won a Betty Trask Award for The Wild Hunt, her first novel.  For more information please visit her website, her blog and follow her on Twitter

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5 comments to Researching the Medieval Period – Guest Post by Elizabeth Chadwick, Author of “The Scarlet Lion”

  • That’s fascinating! As an actress, costuming can often be the key to period movement, and the Akashic Records sounds very interesting. Thank you for stopping by Devourer of Books and making this post, Ms. Chadwick- I think I’m definitely going to pick up your work now!

  • I enjoyed reading Elizabeth Chadwick’s approach to research for her books in this post. I’ve never heard of the Akashic Records until now — interesting! I’m descended from King John and have de Clares in my family tree (although I don’t think these particular ones), so I think this would add to my enjoyment of this novel.

  • Interesting guest post! I’ve never heard of Akashic records before.

  • Love your work, Ms. Chadwick. Very interesting. Valerie, we are *cousins* lol!
    I am supposedly a descendant as well (through Joanna and through Henry)

  • I’ve always wondered how on earth these authors re-create the past the way they do, so vividly. But this is mind-blowing! I’m sorta sitting here in awe at this point.