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Lionheart
Lionheart in Paperback

 


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My Medieval Mishaps

I was tempted to call this section Mea Culpa, since it is a confession of sorts. My most infamous gaffe occurred in my first book, Sunne in Splendour. I had not yet learned that even the most trivial facts must be checked when writing about a time hundreds of years removed from ours. And so I had a scene toward the end of the book where Richard III fed a squirrel in the garden of Nottingham Castle, and I made it a grey squirrel. It was not until the following year when I was doing research in the Cardiff Natural Museum that I discovered -- to my dismay -- that the grey squirrel is indigenous to North America and was not known in the U.K. until the 19th century. We were able to transform the little intruder into a red squirrel for the paper-back edition, but in the hardback copies of Sunne, there is a time-traveling grey squirrel frolicking in an English garden for all eternity.

Sunne was definitely a learning experience for me. I gave Richard an Irish wolfhound, and it was only years later that I realized I’d given him the Methuselah of wolfhounds. This remarkable breed sadly and rarely lives much past nine or ten. I like to think that wolfhounds were a hardier breed in the Middle Ages.

In Here Be Dragons, I draped Joanna and other female characters in rich velvet gowns. I later found out that velvet was not known in the 12th century. A great pity, for Llewelyn thought Joanna looked very sultry in green velvet.

In When Christ and His Saints Slept, Stephen was hawking with a hooded falcon. While researching a hunting scene in Devil’s Brood, I discovered that hoods were a later innovation, not used in England for several more decades.

Then there are mistakes that kind readers have called to my attention -- and that is not at all sarcastic! I really want to know when I’ve erred, or else I’ll keep making the same mistakes. One reader wrote to explain that ever-blooming roses were not known in the Middle Ages. Another reader informed me that medieval greyhounds would not be the color brindle, as that was a variation introduced several centuries later. And I should not have let my characters drink Madeira before its time.

Writers are fortunate to have eagle-eyed copy editors to catch most of our mistakes before they see the light of day. Occasionally, though, one slips by. Readers of my mysteries must have been startled to learn that Cain was the younger, not the elder son. Proof readers perform another highly valued service, correcting the mistakes that were made by others than the writer -- type setters, gremlins, etc. My favorite catch by a proof reader occurred in the galley proofs of Sunne in Splendour, where we discovered, thankfully prior to publication, that “Richard said a hasty prayer?had been mysteriously transformed into “Richard said a nasty prayer.?/font>

Sometimes apparent inconsistencies in my books are not errors, merely reflect information newly discovered. Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that Eleanor has shed two years since Here Be Dragons and my first mysteries. It was always assumed that she’d been born in 1122, but Andrew W. Lewis in “The Birth and Childhood of King John: Some Revisions,?published in Eleanor of Aquitaine; Lord and Lady, very convincingly demonstrated that she was actually born in 1124. Or occasionally I will opt for clarity over strict accuracy, referring to chain mail rather than mail so that my readers can more easily conjure up a mental image of the armor.

These are the mistakes that come most readily to mind, but I daresay I will be adding others from time to time. And for you Tudor fans out there, No, my sympathetic depiction of Richard in Sunne was not a mistake!

May 2009

I’d taken it for granted that my time-traveling grey squirrel would always be my worst medieval mistake. Well, I recently came upon a blunder in The Reckoning that totally eclipses that little squirrel. On p. 229 of the hardback edition, Edward is discussing weaponry with Roger de Mortimer, and Roger says that longbows are more easily mastered than the crossbow. This could not be further from the truth. A man could learn to use a crossbow fairly quickly, whereas it took years of training and considerable physical strength to shoot a longbow. For the life of me, I cannot explain or understand how I could have made such an egregious error, for I do extensive research on all aspects of medieval life. But since The Reckoning was published eighteen years ago, I will never be able to solve this bizarre mystery. I can only apologize for it.

June 2009

It's me again, reporting two typographical errors in Devil's Brood. One is a spelling error; lengua romana, the medieval name for the langue d'oc or Occitan language of Eleanor's domains, is correctly spelled lenga romana. The second error, called to my attention by a sharp-eyed reader, is actually sort of funny. Somehow an "east Anglian" accent was transformed into an "east Anglican" accent! This one was caught in time to be corrected in the paperback edition.

November 2011

This is an excerpt from my Lionheart’s A.N. I’d like to close with a mea culpa and an apology. I have a section on my website called Medieval Mishaps. Sometimes apparent inconsistencies in my books are not errors, merely reflect the “accepted wisdom?at the time I was writing. For example, sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that Eleanor has shed two years since Here be Dragons and my first mysteries; it was always assumed she’d been born in 1122, but Andrew W. Lewis convincingly demonstrated that she was actually born in 1124. Sometimes my mistakes are revealed by subsequent research, such as my women wearing velvet in the twelfth century or Richard III having the world’s longest-lived Irish wolfhound. Until now I considered my most infamous mistake to be the time-traveling little grey squirrel in Sunne. But that squirrel has been utterly eclipsed by the mistake I recently found in Chapter Seventeen1 of The Reckoning, where I have Edward I telling Roger de Mortimer that crossbows were more difficult to master than long bows. I was truly horrified, for just the opposite is true. What makes this so baffling to me is that I knew this at the time I wrote The Reckoning, and I never drink and write at the same time. So how explain it? I haven’t a clue, but it is extremely embarrassing, and I’ve been doing penance the only way I can—by calling as much attention to this bizarre blunder as I can.
 


A King's Ransom

 

 



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Sharon Kay Penman
author of Lionheart, Devil's Brood,
When Christ and His Saints Slept
and Time and Chance
from Penguin Putnam

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