Getting The Science Right

The Medieval period had technological advances, too!

I love medieval historicals.  With all the wars and battles, it’s easy to find a year where really dramatic things can happen to your heroine.  Of course, the hero rides around on a horse, defending the woman he loves with a sword and shield.  Then there’s the costumes.  Ahh….chivalry.

But romance novels these days are moving towards strong, independent, if not aggressive heroines (at last!), and such heroines are starting to populate medieval novels, too.

You can argue that medieval women were not aggressive, and I’d argue right back.  There were many spectacularly strong women back then.  Eleanore of Aquitaine is a perfect example:  She was married to the King of France at an early age.  After his death she fell in love with Henry Plantagenet who was to become the King of England.  Theirs was a genuine love match, and together they schemed and piloted England to success.  Eventually the nation held more land in its control than England has ever managed to hold before or since.  Eleanore was no man’s fool.  After Henry died, she continued to control her four sons and shape their destinies, and that of the country — two of her sons became King of England; Richard I and after him, John I.

So I say, bring on the strong heroines.  They have a role in medieval romances, too.  But…!

I read a chapter of a medieval romance for a budding romance writer yesterday.  The heroine was feisty and courageous, never more so than when she strapped on her father’s armor, picked up his sword and went to war.

And that’s when I stopped reading, with a sour grimace.

You can’t afford to forget about the technology of the times, including the technology of war.

The feisty heroine that ruined the story for me was an average woman.  In those days, average women were about 5’4”, and weighed about 130lb, perhaps less if they were not one of the pampered nobility who ate well.  There is no way she could have strapped on that armor and even stood up, let alone ridden off into battle!

Have you ever picked up a broadsword?  They’re heavy!  You can hold it up for a few minutes, but you need a powerful wrist and even stronger biceps, chest and shoulder muscles to swing it with any sort of precision or power.  The average woman, even today, couldn’t hold her own in a sword fight for more than a minute.

You also need to be careful around deceptively simple weapons like the longbow.  The long bow is 6’ long.  The development of the longbow was a breakthrough in technology, because the length of the bow gave more power to the arrow — which could sometimes pierce armor, if the bowman had a strong pull.  Think about that.  The pull on a longbow is very strong, and you have to have equally powerful muscles to draw the string.  A strong woman could do it…but if you’re going to have your heroine pick up a longbow, please show where she developed the strength to use it!  Don’t have her pick it up for the first time in her life and fire off a perfect shot.

Keep your heroines strong and independent and willing to fight for themselves, but make sure you understand the science behind war, politics and the other male domains you send her into.  Then your reader will relax because they can see you know what you’re talking about…and they’ll enjoy the story that much more.

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