When writing about an historic period no research can beat actually being there. But how often does a writer have a chance actually to live in their time period when they are writing about the 14th century? Well, that's exactly what I was able to do last week.
My next Monastery Murder, An All-Consuming Fire, will have Richard Rolle and other English Mystics from the Middle Ages in the background of the mystery Felicity and Antony are thrust into solving just weeks before Christmas and their wedding.
Ten years ago I had the delight of accompanying our son Preston and his wife Catherine to The Pennsic Wars
, the crowning event of the year for any member of the Society for Creative Anachronism
— an experience of living in the Middle Ages that could have come right from the pages of Ellis Peters' St. Martin's Fair
. And this year, because Preston's work prevented his attending, I was invited to attend again, this time to serve as nanny for my almost-five-year-old grandson Mason so that Catherine could participate in her I Sebastiani
("The best Comedia del Arte troupe in the entire world!") productions.
My personna, in keeping with my role as nurse or nanny, was Sister Elswyth (old Saxon form of Elizabeth) a nun such as one to whom Richard Rolle might have given spiritual direction.
Some of the most charming aspects of the week, aside from simply being with Catherine and
the music— everywhere strolling troubadours, bagpipers and drummers leading warriors to the field, and small groups sitting under trees delighted the ear, and in our own camp vocalists would break into song as naturally as breathing;
the sense of "being there" as I walked the muddy road to town, surrounded by women on their way to market carrying their shopping baskets or bands of warriors clanking their way to the battlefield
and everywhere children, most often splashing in puddles, just as children have done in all times;
the pleasure of being called "milady," or sometimes, as suited my persona, "sister";
and the wonderful meals cooked over open fire with hand-forged utensils, including fresh-baked bread.
And what are some of the things I learned? How the hems of long dresses would wick mud to the knees and higher when it rained;
how truly practical wearing a veil could be in difficult living circumstances;
how wonderful it could be simply to sit under a tree and watch people go by;
how long-winded court could be in spite of the pageantry
and how unbelievably good a hot bath could feel after 6 days of cold showers.
Donna Fletcher Crow (US) is the author of forty-some books, mostly novels dealing with the history of British Christianity. She is the author of The Monastery Murders series; The Lord Danvers Victorian True-Crime series; The Elizabeth & Richard literary mysteries, GLASTONBURY,A Novel of the Holy Grail and more.