Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The King Must Die

The author will be awarding a $25 Amazon GC to one randomly drawn commenter during the tour.


I asked Gemini to tell us about the clothes in the period of The King Must Die, how they are similar to what we wear today. And how are they different.

In the late Middle Ages, clothes were, first and foremost, about function. What people wore had to be versatile, comfortable and durable. A woolen cloak had to keep the rain off, warm you during winter, sometimes double as a blanket and last until it fell apart at the seams. Unless they were nobility, people didn’t have wardrobes full of clothes. Money, when they had any, was better spent on food. By the twelfth century, roads had improved enough so that trading increased options for fabrics. Flanders (a region encompassing part of modern day Belgium, France and Holland), for example, became known for its weaving and tapestries. Linen (made from flax) and wool were the most common fabrics; it wasn’t until later that silk and velvet were known in Europe and those were affordable only by the rich. As the centuries progressed and various dyes from afar were more available, clothes became more colorful, but there were often restrictions on what colors you could wear, depending on your class. Feel like wearing purple? Sorry, not unless you’re the king or queen.

The very rich often took fashion to extremes, such as oversized draping sleeves that swept to the floor and long pointed toes on the men’s hose. Young girls wore their hair loose or plaited, but married women were more likely to keep their heads covered with a type of veil called a wimple. This not only kept one’s head warmer in the colder months and kept the sun off one’s neck in summer, but solved the problem of what to do with unwashed hair. More than mere decoration, jewels were a status symbol for both sexes. It wouldn’t have been unusual for a lord or earl to wear a jeweled clasp on his cloak or a jewel-studded belt.

It’s easier to say that men’s clothes in the Middle Ages held more similarities to those of today than women’s. For shirts, men wore tunics – a type of loose-fitting shirt, belted at the waist and hanging to somewhere between the hips and knees, depending on the era. Instead of tailored pants or jeans, men wore leggings – baggier in a way than the leggings we have today, but meant for movement. Women, for reasons of modesty, couldn’t wear anything but long skirts, not even when riding horses. Heaven forbid we should see an ankle or calf! Layers were the thing back then, particularly for women, and yes, they did sometimes wear undergarments, but nothing elaborate and entirely for practical purposes.

While it may seem impractical to me to wear a gown I had to lace up the back and skirts with multiple layers, it would have been absolutely scandalous to a woman of the thirteenth century to wear pants. Nowadays we have far more flexibility in the fabrics, colors and styles we can choose – and I’m grateful for that.

What is done cannot be undone.

England, 1326. Edward II has been dethroned. Queen Isabella and her lover, Sir Roger Mortimer, are at the pinnacle of their power.

Fated to rule, Isabella’s son becomes King Edward III at the callow age of fourteen. Young Edward, however, must bide his time as the loyal son until he can break the shackles of his minority and dissolve the regency council which dictates his every action.

When the former king is found mysteriously dead in his cell, the truth becomes obscured and Isabella can no longer trust her own memory . . . or confide in those closest to her. Meanwhile, she struggles to keep her beloved Mortimer at her side and gain yet another crown—France’s—for the son who no longer trusts her.

Amidst a maelstrom of shifting loyalties, accusations of murder propel England to the brink of civil war.

In the sequel to Isabeau, secrecy and treason, conspiracy and revenge once again overtake England. The future rests in the hands of a mother and son whose bonds have reached a breaking point.

The Wedding of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault
Edward III – York, January 1328

While a howling wind lashed the snow into knee-high drifts, we proceeded to the castle. Philippa and I rode abreast of one another, our horses caparisoned in heraldic silks, the silver bells attached to their bridles and reins tinkling gaily amid the clamor. It may well have been the coldest and snowiest day in years, but it did nothing to dampen the spirits of England’s people. We dismounted before the steps to the great hall, the bells of York’s churches pealing in celebration. She slipped her hand from beneath the warmth of her miniver-edged cloak. I grasped her fingers and pulled her closer.

“I regret to say,” I whispered rapidly, before anyone could close in and overhear, “that my mother has raised objection to our wedding night being so close to Lent. She thinks we should forego, ah, a certain ‘rite’ in the hopes of receiving God’s blessing upon our union.”

Philippa clasped her other hand over my forearm. “I had not thought of that. Will we not ...?”

Casting a glance around, I guided her up the steps. A pair of porters opened the great doors before us. I shrugged. “Do you want to?”

“I do.” Lowering her chin, she shrank inside her hood to conceal her blushing. “That is, if it would not trouble your conscience.”

“Mine? No.” I scoffed. “Christ himself could not keep me from you tonight.”

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

N. Gemini Sasson is also the author of The Crown in the Heather (The Bruce Trilogy: Book I), Worth Dying For (The Bruce Trilogy: Book II), The Honor Due a King (The Bruce Trilogy: Book III) and Isabeau, A Novel of Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer (2011 IPPY Silver Medalist for Historical Fiction). She holds a M.S. in Biology from Wright State University where she ran cross country on athletic scholarship. She has worked as an aquatic toxicologist, an environmental engineer, a teacher and a track and cross country coach. A longtime breeder and judge of Australian Shepherds, her articles on bobtail genetics have been translated into seven languages.



  1. The men's clothing of the period had to be more comfortable I think. Imagine how restricting the women had it. Gorgeous to read about & look at though.


  2. I love my jeans and T -shirts too much. It couldn't have been easy to wash clothes either. Washing would be a difficult business. I love your cover. The hero has very piercing eyes.

  3. Thanks for allowing me to share this bit of history, Sandra.

    I'm thankful for the variety we have these days, too, Shelley and Marybelle. Those skirts had to feel cumbersome at times.

  4. My pleasure Gemini and Goddesses:)

    Thanks for stopping by, ladies.

  5. It would take a long time just to get dressed. Can you imagine how hot it would be in the summer? I like my shorts, jeans and tank tops.

  6. Very interesting topic and reading about things like this make a book of the period more real. Now, aren't we lucky to be living in this present time? I would love to find a time machine to travel back to various periods in history just to see what it was like...but I'm a creature of comfort...I wouldn't want to live there on a permanent basis.

    I think the point of personal hygiene (or lack thereof) is driven home in the 2005 remake of Pride and Prejudice compared to the BBC production with Colin Firth. Notice the not-so-white linens, the dirty skirt hems and shabby shoes. I think makeup even took care to make the character's hair look not-so-clean too.

    kareninnc at gmail dot com

  7. And that's why I couldn't have lived in the medieval period. I don't think I could stand not being able to wear jeans (or any kind of pants) at all. ;) Thanks for the post, Gemini!

  8. I love wearing dresses, but casual and comfortable ones, not those you described. Plus I wear jeans more often than not.

    I love the story line and thank you for being so historically accurate.

  9. Fascinating post...I'm a jeans and T-shirt wearer myself, so I'm happy to be a modern gal!


  10. I say cushy running shoes are the best clothing invention ever.

  11. I think i could put up with the fashions back then, but i do like the wardrobe i have now a little more lol