Historic accuracy?

While reading Cadfael I was pondering the historic accuracy. The actual events usually are. Some of the characters (such as Cadfael himself) involve a certain massaging of the truth, supported by contemporary detective fiction that speak of a mystery solving monk in Shrewsbury. Give it another few years and he’ll have always been there.

Botanical accuracy though is something that’s a bit hit and miss in all historic novels as it’s so specific. So it stood out that throughout the latest one I’ve read, ‘An Excellent Mystery’, a title taken from a quote that would be lost on today’s readership (including me), Cadfael is walking under willows on the river bank.

The legend is that weeping willows, the sort that grow on river banks as they love water, were brought by Alexander Pope who grew them from a sprouting delivery basket. So how was Cadfael seeing them? But having had an internet rootle there are comments that English folklore either associates willows with death, or that they uproot and follow travellers about, so either Pope’s wasn’t the earliest example or there were different species already here or ‘folklore’ only dates back to the advent of the internet.

I also found the use of ‘throve’ to describe that something thrived. Perfectly correct. As Samuel Johnson said, it’s not a proper word unless it can be spelled three ways. And there was also mention of a species of willow that grows to 2.5 inches tall but spreads horizontally. Depending how fast it spreads that sounds worth seeing!

Historic truth is stranger than fiction.

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One Response to Historic accuracy?

  1. Harma says:

    I’ve seen Hercules walking through a cornfield, read about potato pies in 13th century Ireland. Not every writer read Katrin Kania and Gillian Polack’s “Middle Ages Unlocked”.

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