The Devil is in the Details -- And I Love Details

Katherine Longshore 3 Tuesday, April 26, 2011
I can spend days researching.  Months.  I live in fear of being called out on an historical inaccuracy, even though I’m sure it’s bound to happen.  As hard as I try, I don’t know everything.  But that doesn’t stop me from trying.

I have researched:

The color pink
The use of corsets
Renaissance tapestries
The locations of the Royal Court from 1539-1542
The life of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk
The life of Henry Howard, his son
The life of Thomas Howard, his son, and 4th Duke of Norfolk, who was beheaded for treason by Elizabeth I, 30 years after the action of my novel takes place.

You see, each of these have taken me into a poppy field, to use Donna’s analogy.  I got stuck for almost a half an hour – even after I learned that yes, people did wear pink in 1539 – on the use of plants for dyes, their names and uses and the colors they produced.  Because, as Donna says, research allows me to become a “pseudo-expert” on anything and everything that interests me.

And I’m interested in a lot of different stuff.

But because I want to be as absolutely accurate as I possibly can, I do my best to find the bulk of my information in accountable reference materials. 

Primary Sources

Kind of hard to find a letter written by Henry VIII in California.  But the brilliantly fabulous Letters & Papers of Henry VIII have been transcribed and posted online for everyone’s viewing pleasure.  Someone has deciphered the indecipherable scrawl that was Henry's handwriting, and that of his courtiers and scribes.  Want to know what the Privy Council was doing on November 11, 1541?  It’s right there!  You can even search key words!  This is the first site in my bookmarks folder and I have spent days trawling its awesomeness.

Published Secondary Sources

There are some incredible historians out there writing about Henry VIII, his Court and his wives.  Lacey Baldwin Smith, David Starkey, Alison Weir, Antonia Fraser, Robert Hutchinson, Julia Fox.  I have read dozens of books –cover to cover, as well as footnotes and endnotes – and every time I discover something new and enticing.  They all have referable bibliographies, so if I need to find a particular reference in a different source (like L&P!) I can do so at my leisure.  Plus some of them are a rollicking good read.

Personal Travels

Setting.  To build a world, it must feel real – whether you are writing science fiction or history.  And in order to add visual details, I love to get the visual reference.  The Tower of London.  Hampton Court Palace.  Syon House.  St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Windsor. 

But don’t let me fool you.  I just love to go to these places, too.  Did you know that the crests of all the Knights of the Garter are on the ceiling of St. George’s Hall in Windsor?  Only some of them have been removed, leaving only a white plaque.  These are the Knights who were stripped of the Garter when they were attainted for treason.  There are lots of these from the 16th century.  One of the reasons I love the Tudors.

And last is the Internet.  I do not cite Internet sources, and if the information is important enough, I make sure I corroborate it elsewhere.  Because I have caught Internet sites (even Wikipedia!) in historical inaccuracies, I cannot trust a reference that has not been fact-checked.  Why, yes, I do have a control-freak personality.  I call it attention to detail.

And attention to detail is what research is all about, right?  You can’t have a Tudor drinking tea just like you can’t have an open door on a Mars-bound spaceship.  As a writer, I need to make my world and my characters real and believable.  I can’t lose a reader’s willing suspension of disbelief with shoddy research. 

It’s a good thing I love it so much.


I just love reading about your passion for your work, Katy! Also love pink, so nice they wore it back in the day :)

Great post, Katy! I love knowing that even if I'm not in the mood to write, I can lose myself in the world of research and still say I'm "working on the book."

I'm curious, what do you think of The Tudors from a historical accuracy standpoint? How about from a hot shirtless men standpoint?

Thanks, Stasia, I think we're all pretty passionate, right? And Eve, that's exactly how I feel -- and it means play time can also be work time.

As far as the Tudors goes, I think I'm a little bit in love with Henry Cavill, who plays Charles Brandon (and made me appreciate the historical character a bit more). But I think you've probably heard that historical accuracy wasn't the main aim of the show...

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