I believe myself to be one very lucky author. I have always wanted to write historically accurate novels and with the development of the internet I am able to access information from all over the world, anytime of the day or night, without leaving my home. Twenty years ago I would have spent a great deal of my time at the library, reading, recording and requesting additional material. Of course not all sources found on the web are correct and some are more reliable than others, so a certain amount of discretion and, dare I say, common sense is required when attempting to identify fact from fiction.
Jean Froissart (c. 1337 – c. 1405) a medieval French chronicle would have faced the same issue. Though his information was obtained from first-hand accounts, not all of his witnesses were candid nor honest and as we all know, one person’s impression of an event is not the same as another’s.
A case in point – the founding of Most Noble Order of the Garter.
I wanted to include a version of this incident within The Lily and the Lion and spent a great deal of time researching the tale.
In 1348 King Edward III was aged 36. Court celebrations were a common occurrence and dancing was seen as a pastime enjoyed by all. Many ladies would have vied for the opportunity to be partnered with Edward, but was it in fact the King on the dance floor and if so, who precisely was he dancing with?
During the period described there were, in fact, two powerful men named Edward and two ladies who held the title of Salisbury. Katherine Grandison was the wife of the 1st Earl of Salisbury and in 1348 was aged in her mid to late 40’s. But it is not her age that leads me to believe she is not the Lady Salisbury in question, for in about 1341 Katherine alleged that whilst at Wark Castle, Edward III had raped her when she refused his advances.
The second Lady Salisbury was the much younger Joan, Fair Maid of Kent who in 1348 was aged only 20 and widely known for her beauty. She was then married to the 2nd Earl of Salisbury, but had a strong affection for her cousin, Prince Edward (later to be known as The Black Prince) who was then 18 years old.
If you close your eyes and picture yourself as one of the guests, you will see several young couples, hand in hand, forming a chain or circle, dancing within a group as the minstrels play a merry tune. The senior male members of court are gathered around the fire admiring the woman as they shuffle by. Their wives are sitting together, sipping wine and exchanging gossip, resting their pinched toes. Joan walks forward to join the Carol and allows her dashing cousin to take her hand. As she steps from side to side the garter slips from her leg and is picked up an admirer and handed to the King.
It is easy to see how various interpretations of the event have been reached, including my own. I choose to imagine the young Prince, enamoured by Joan’s beauty and having youth on his side, to be her dancing partner. I imagined Lady Katherine Salisbury to be a bitter woman who would have refused any advance from the King and I imagined Edward III to be a man who ruled over the celebrations rather than one who joined in.
Of course the above may be completely incorrect, but in context of the establishment of the Order of the Garter it matters little. In context to The Lily and the Lion, it mattered greatly, so I indulged my imaginations and allowed the version of my choice to appear within the pages.
A writers prerogative!