As a reviewer at AAR I tend to review mostly contemporary and category romances, with a bit of paranormal thrown in. However, in my non-AAR time I read quite a bit of historical fiction, historical mystery, and even historical romance. Over the years, much of the historical fiction I’ve read has sparked my interest in learning more about the actual history of the period I’m reading about.
Over the holidays I listened to Philippa Gregory’s The Lady of the Rivers for audio review at AAR. The book is set in Medieval England during the 1400s and the start of the War of the Roses. Before starting the book I knew nothing about the main character, Jacquetta, the mother of the future Queen Elizabeth (wife of Edward IV). Most of what I know about the War of the Roses I picked up from various Shakespearean plays. After listening for just a few moments I found myself wanting more information about the main characters and the events both prior to and during the War of the Roses.
The first thing I did was pull out some of my own reference books. The first book I consulted was Kings & Queens of England & Scotland. It’s a tiny little book with about a one-page write-up on each of the Kings and Queens of England. It’s helpful when I’m confused about which Henry or which Edward is being referred to in a book. But in this case it just didn’t provide enough information. I immediately ordered, and now own, The Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens, which provides much more information about all of the Kings and Queens. I also consulted some of my old college world history texts, but they didn’t prove particularly satisfying.
I next turned to one of the oldest features at AAR, the history section, and in particular, Articles about the History of Great Britain. After perusing some of the articles, I was off to do some Google searches. The Luminarium Encyclopedia Project offers extensive information about Jacquetta, Elizabeth, and the War of the Roses. I know I’ll be visiting that site again. I also found useful information about Henry VI at the New World Encyclopedia.
But once I get going, it’s not just the history of the period I want to learn more about. I also find myself curious about the art and culture of the times. Shortly after finishing The Lady of the Rivers, I headed to a nearby art museum to look at paintings and artifacts from the period.
After returning from the museum, I thumbed through one the books I own on life during the Middle Ages. Daily Life in Medieval Times by Frances and Joseph Gies has some wonderful photos of art and architecture of the period and includes sections on life in a medieval castle, a medieval village, and a medieval city.
Quickly, though, I again turned back to the Web. I found myself searching out museum collections online with outstanding collections of medieval art and artifacts. First up, and one of my favorite museums, is the Musee National du Moyen Age in Paris. Among their wonderful collection of art from the period are the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. I’ve also found interesting online medieval collections at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, and the British Museum. The Medieval London gallery at the Museum of London is filled with facts about life in medieval London.
Does your reading of historical fiction ever send you off in search of additional historical information? What types of things have you looked for? I know that there have to be many more wonderful Web sites filled with information about Medieval England and Europe as well as many books that I’ve missed out on. In particular, I’ve been frustrated in my efforts to find good sites on the clothing of the period. Any suggestions?
– LinnieGayl AAR