It’s common knowledge amongst historical writers that only a portion of what we actually research ends up on the page. For ten pages of research reading, perhaps only a line or two might be written to place the reader into that historical setting.
What happens to the rest of that information? Well, every writer is different, but as for me, I keep folders of notes on my computer. I refer back to them often and build them as I go. For those of you who enjoy history, or those of you who enjoy going Beyond The Page‘s of your books for further research, I’d like to introduce a series of posts to help illuminate “Where History Meets Metzlingen” in The King’s Sword.
THE KING’S SWORD (TKS) opens on a specific date – August 7, 1479 at the Battle of Guinegate (which will have it’s own post later). Just what was going on in the world then? A LOT, but here is a list of random things that might help you start to orient into the time and place.
Brew a cup of coffee and pull up a chair, and enjoy these . . .
“10 Things to Know About” the year 1479
3. What did they drink? For many, beer and / or wine were consumed on a daily basis. The Germans didn’t invent beer, but my husband would argue that they perfected it (As would my character, Matthias. And his brothers, but I digress.) 😉 Monks at (certain) monasteries at one time were the main producers of beer, which was rich, and high in alcohol and spices, and also a source of nutrition. The oldest continuously operational monastic brewery in the world is at Kloster Weihenstephan (Weihenstephan Abbey) in Bavaria. It got it’s license in 1040. Weihenstephaner Beer brewing eventually became a professional trade, sometimes supporting an entire town. The history of wine-making in Germany goes back to Ancient Roman times (we’ll focus on that another time). And water? Yes, they drank water. Check out this link for specific information on that. Did people drink water in the Middle Ages? – Medievalists.net
4. Those beer steins though . . . What we commonly refer to today as a “beer stein” could have evolved from wooden tankards (vessel, later to mean drinking vessel) or stoneware mugs. The Bierkrug (beer mug), usually coming in a half-liter or full, are made from things such as stoneware, pewter, porcelain, glass or even wood. Some are simple, others quite decorated. Some have an open lid and others have the hinged lid (which serves as a sanitary measure). One theory on the lid’s origin is that they were introduced to protect the beer from the vast numbers of mosquitos brought about after the plague of the 14th century.
5. What games were they playing? You’ll read mention of a few in TKS, one of which is chess. Here is an illustration from “The Game and Playe of the Chesse” by William Caxton from 1474 (which you can find free online, if you’re interested or here’s an interesting article about it Caxton’s the Game and Playe of the Chesse on JSTOR). The game itself is much older (exact origins unclear, though several sources believe it to have originated in India in the 6th or 7th Century AD). Another game my characters play is cards. The games also originated several centuries ago in the Far East (believed to be China in 9th Century AD). In the early 1400’s, there were professional card makers in cities such as Ulm, Nuremburg and Augsburg, creating printed decks. Here is a link to a set of cards produced in Stuttgart in 1430 Stuttgart playing cards, ca. 1430 (old.no) or the still complete Flemish Hunting Cards produced in 1475 The Cloisters Playing Cards | South Netherlandish | The Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org)
6. Let’s talk food. The Germans were known for their use of lard, butter and mustard. In TKS, you’ll hear mention of Pottage and Turnips. Why? Pottage – a thick stew with vegetables and grains – was a staple food, especially for peasants. Generally a thick stew with vegetables and grains, sometimes meat and spices were also added. The diet consisted of meat and vegetables, such as cabbage, made into sauerkraut and turnips, preserved with salt. What other types of vegetables? Carrots, onions, parsnips, salsify . . . but NOT the potato (or that German potato salad that you love). The potato wasn’t successfully cultivated in Germany until the mid-17th century.
7. What could they have been eating back then that you still find today? One tasty and traditional treat that you can find in a German Backerei is the Brezeln (pretzel). You’ll see the Brezeln often used on the gilded signs hanging at bakeries. The exact origin of them is arguable (one legend is that an Italian monk created them in 610 AD as a reward for children who learned their prayers and the folded shape is to resemble arms crossed in prayer), but you’ll find them documented in manuscripts in 12th and 14th century. When we lived in Germany, we found them everywhere: simply baked and ready snack on, stuffed with meats and cheeses, sliced and smeared with butter, baked with cheeses or seeds on top, stuffed with puddings, and hanging on poles at market, among other ways. Fun fact – Most of my kids were thrilled to munch on a pretzel any day, but one of the twins always wanted a brötchen. These small bread rolls come in several ways as well, but she wanted it plain or with French butter (if you haven’t had French butter, seriously, treat yourself). Special note: While these have been around for centuries, and bread certainly has been around much, much longer, I couldn’t confirm exactly when the term or tradition for brötchen came around. It didn’t seem a far reach making smaller versions of bread, so I took literary license adding them as a favorite of the character Avelina, as a nod to my daughter. I did NOT however add Nutella, much to my children’s chagrin, as it was invented by Pietro Ferrero in Italy and put on the market in 1964. 😉 There are nods to each of my children weaved within the novel and series. <3)
8. Now that you’re hungry . . . let’s switch gears to discuss something else Germany is famous for – it’s castles. You’re probably familiar with Neuschwanstein, arguably one of the most photographed, visited, and well-known castles in Europe. Although it was styled after the older castles, it’s foundation stone wasn’t laid until 1869. Which castles were around in 1479? Several, but here’s one great example that’s frozen in time – Burg Eltz (Eltz Castle). Burg Eltz is an 850 year old castle in Wierschem, Germany. At their website, you can find their history and several photos (both interior and exterior). Home – Burg Eltz (burg-eltz.de) My characters visit castles and ruins in TKS, as did my family. One of my favorite memories was the day the kids and I took a walk and were surprised to find ruins within the village we lived in (Stuttgart – Hofen ❤). So much history everywhere. The Hofen Burg wasn’t rebuilt, but if you look at the history of others, such as Burg Hohenzollern (which influenced one within in TKS), you’ll find that they were rebuilt and changed over time. Startpage – Burg Hohenzollern EN (burg-hohenzollern.com)
9. What was going on in other areas of Europe? Elsewhere? A LOT. Here are a few other events and names that you might recognize . . . England is embroiled in the later years of the War of the Roses (1455-1487). Edward IV sits on the throne. He was of the House of York (Plantagenet) and married to Elizabeth Woodville. Their eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, would go on to marry Henry Tudor (aka Henry VII). Another powerful couple you may have heard of, whose famous marriage (in 1469) became the basis for the unification of Spain, was King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile. Ferdinand II succeeded his father to become King of Aragon (1479). One of their later born children was Catherine of Aragon who married Henry VIII. The Spanish Inquisition began in 1478.
10. As ever in the ever changing landscape of those years, there were peace treaties and there were battles. Two such treaties that year were the Treaty of Constantinople on January 25, 1479, which ended fifteen years of war between the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire, and the treaties signed between Spain and Portugal on September 4, 1479. Trouble was still brewing however, in other parts of Europe. After the death of Charles the Bold (Duke of Burgundy) at the Battle of Nancy in 1477, King Louis XI of France seized several Burgundian territories. This comes to a head in 1479 at the Battle of Guinegate . . . which you’ll read about in the next BEYOND THE PAGE post.
Hope this information allows you to start to visualize where we are. I’ll follow with more historical posts as I can, as well as put up a list of books and resources that I’ve used for research. Just received another book in the mail today – always so exciting!
Until next time friends – my best to you – take care.
P.S. PHOTO INFORMATION: Chose some fun photos for this one, as we were talking beer and brezeln. The steins are to show them made from various materials. The lion is most definitely NOT from 1479, but he is from Germany 🙂 Also, I picked up the oil painting of the monk at a flohmarkt in Stuttgart years ago. His face looking into that empty beer stein is priceless. I’ve been unable to decipher the signature – wish I could credit the painter, because I love it 🙂 The picture of my kids (babies!) was from the day we found the Burgruine Hofen ❤ The food is from a day at the Stuttgarter Weinachtsmarkt – and now I’m hungry again.