1. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    Conflicting information in his-fic

    Discussion in 'Research' started by King Arthur, Jun 19, 2016.

    I'm writing a historical fiction novel.

    The trouble is that for every fact I discover, there's twelve angry scholars tearing it a new one and suggesting another alternative.

    I've found eight different answers to the simple question "did Anglo-Saxons wear socks".

    How does one choose?!
     
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  2. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, I can't help with that question, but it did make me smile!

    I'd say check with re-enactor's groups, etc. They're the ones who are concerned with clothing, etc. I reckon they will know.

    Try these guys: http://regia.org/about.php
     
  3. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    Yeah, but then it's a vicious cycle of "who do I trust? Regia, the anglycann society, wulfingas, Professor John Smith, professor Juan Nadie?"
    Thanks for your link, I'll send them an e-mail.
     
  4. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    Cut yourself some slack – pick a source (the consensus?) and run with it. It's called historical fiction for a reason. ;)
     
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  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Exactly.

    One thing that anthropologists the world over are agreed upon is that the archeological evidence available to us is spectacularly skewed in favor of representing a specific set of activities and levels of society. We bury our dead with a reverence that misrepresents who they were in life, and we have always done this, and the higher the social level of the person, the greater the skew. If you go just off of archeological digs of burial sites and habitation sites you get the distinct impression that everyone we find was "a person of great importance", "a cheiftan", "a shaman", etc. and that religion and reverence of royalty pretty much ruled the mind of the ancient person.

    This is why garbage heaps (called middens) are so important to archeology. A garbage dump is the great tattler. It pulls away the social lies we tell ourselves about who we are and it does the same for the archeological record. The one most undergrad anthro students are aware of in the US is the Tucson Garbage Project. Many different studies have been carried out in this dig across the years, one of which is a study that was done wherein two almost exclusively Mormon neighborhoods in the Tucson area were polled door to door about alcohol consumption, to which the friendly denizens of these neighborhoods gave a resounding "No, we don't drink." The Mormon religion does not permit drinking. At the same time as the poll was taken, the garbage from these neighborhoods was segregated prior to making it to the dump and, lo and behold, their garbage told a very different story about just how much beer and booze is being tossed back in those neighborhoods.

    In short, the historical record is painfully confused by the social lies we tell about ourselves and about others. We paint ourselves in ideal colors, others in a less flattering shade. There is no wonder that you are coming across such a diverse set of opinions on these minutia.

    But, my frank question is, socks, who cares? How does this play in the plot of your story? As @Wayjor Frippery mentions, it's fiction, it's supposed to be about an intriguing story, not a text-book about Anglo-Saxons.
     
  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is definitely a group of purist "historians" who seem to read historical fiction with no other interest than finding anachronisms and pointing them out with great disdain.

    You're never going to please them. Or, rather, you'll only please them when you give them something to be critical of.

    Write with the level of precision and accuracy that you find satisfying, and ignore the rest. There's no way to win.
     
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  7. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    Yeah, I've already got my helmet on for having shielmaidens and changing a single date.
    I do want to portray the period as accurately as possible, with artistic flourishes where we know nothing.
     
  8. christinacantwrite
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    christinacantwrite Member

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    This is exactly how I approach historical fiction - where there are facts, use them, where there are gaps, fill them in however feels right. Bear in mind though that with a period as far back as yours, there is more speculation than fact, which means lots of gap-filling. If you succeed in writing a book that one historian finds accurate, another will probably disagree. Besides, historical purists who can't tell the difference between fiction and academia are not your target audience. And if you're worrying about getting Anglo Saxon footwear correct I suspect you're already doing better than some of the most successful hist-fic authors (*cough* Philipa Gregory *cough*).
     
  9. King Arthur
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    I wasn't kidding, by the way. I got:

    -Everyone wore them but slaves.
    -Everyone wore them.
    -Everyone wore them except ceorls and slaves.
    -Noblemen wore them.
    -Men, not women, wore them.
    -Children didn't wear them, everyone else did.
    -Trousers had socks attached to them.
    -No one wore them.

    I ended up going with one. Makes sense to me, as slaves weren't wealthy enough to even buy trousers. Seven is true too, though it's unknown how popular it was and seems to me they'd probably be more for the winter months when you'd have several tunics on.
     
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  10. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    If the truth of the matter is important to the novel, you pick the theory that you like best, as the author, and go with it. If it is not important, there is no reason you can't maintain ambiguity, even in a historical novel.
     
  11. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I guess it all depends on the individual goal of the writer. Philipa Gregory undoubtedly pulled the idea of George Boleyn being gay directly out of her dainty posterior, but her book was an enjoyable read. :whistle: :-D
     
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  12. christinacantwrite
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    christinacantwrite Member

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    Haha! Amazing how such a simple question gets such varying answers.
    I think I might agree with the last one, being pedantic, because I'm not sure "socks" even existed... They didn't have elastic fabric so socks as we know them would not have been possible, surely (?). I'm fairly sure all but the poorest would have worn something on their feet, English weather being what it is. Trousers didn't exist, though, and I know that in the medieval era both men and women wore stockings/hose. I'd guess that the socks were incorporated into them, like modern tights, and it may have been the same for the Anglo-Saxons.
    So that is what I'd go for. But it's your story, and since the answer to this question is unknown, go with whatever fits for you. I think it's great that you're thinking about the little details. They are what make a story come alive, imo.
     
  13. christinacantwrite
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    christinacantwrite Member

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    Oh, of course! My main issue with her is not her writing itself, but that she presents herself as a historian, meaning that people are more likely to believe her fantasies.
     
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  14. King Arthur
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    Trousers have existed since b
    Trousers did exist, we have surviving examples.

    They have existed since well before 0 AD. This is set in circa 500 AD.

    Socks did exist, being elastic is not a necessity. They seem to have been wool or linen, to protect the foot from the leather shoes they wore.
     
  15. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Understood. ;)

    For anyone reading this who only ever saw the film version of Gregory's book, The Other Boleyn Girl, the notion that Anne's brother George is gay is not present in the film, only in the book.
     
  16. King Arthur
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    Here are fifth century trousers (and shoes) Germans would have worn.

    [​IMG]
     
  17. christinacantwrite
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    Hm, very interesting! I hadn't come across this before.
     
  18. King Arthur
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    The Germans wore these, the Romans would have worn a mix of these and hosen.
    Eventually the hosen took over.
     
  19. Sapphire at Dawn
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    If the historians are arguing over whether they did or not, I think you can pretty much say that nobody really knows. Therefore, your inclusion of socks is neither correct nor incorrect. If you're really worried about historical accuracy, pick the historian you trust and respect the most and roll with their opinion.
     
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  20. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe if you have two groups of people who are already fighting about (land religion resources whatever) then you could spice it up by having a person from each group get into an argument about the proper role of socks in society :D
     
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  21. newjerseyrunner
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    newjerseyrunner Contributing Member

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    What clothes someone wore mostly likely stemmed from their vocation. I would assume a "properly dressed gentlemen" would be wearing socks. Lavishness and excess was the style for the upper class, however, the lower class would have been more interested in functionality. Miners didn't wear the same clothes as farmers or hunters.

    Also, what time period is this? After the collapse of Rome? The Roman Empire had a lot of cultural influence on anglos, especially the south of the UK.
     
  22. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    Yeah, if I didn't know that my book would be shit to be honest.

    Clothing wasn't really vocational, everyone wore the same kind of tunic. What varied was the material and amount of tapestry based on wealth.
     
  23. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just finished an 800 page historical fiction: 1st century
    Roman/Indian/Chinese/Bactrian/Xiongnu... Ran into the same problem. I did consult with a very helpful professor at U of London who steered me clear of some not-too-obvious post-Islamic things in Bactria (Mohammad is 500 years in the future). Others I picked and chose: the two most controversial points were 1. Did Roman soldiers, survivors of Carrhae, settle in Liqian, Gansu? I needed their descendants as bilingual translators for the Gan Ying expedition, so I opted for yes. 2. Did the Gan Ying expedition actually make it to Rome in 97AD? Most say no, they turned around after being detoured into the Indian Ocean by the Parthians. I kept that part, but had them make it to Rome... I needed a trigger for the Roman expedition in response, and a way for the translators (1 above) to be in Rome. 3. Did the Alexandrian lighthouse rotate? Conflicting views. I had it do so, by day and by night, using two mirrors, one rotated by donkey timed by waterclock day and night, the other geared off that one to track the sun and reflect it straight down to the rotating mirror (set at 45 deg) through the day. Hence the waterclock to time the donkey driver. The same mirror reflected a fire below at night from its other side, so they didn't have to haul a whole load of fuel up a 400 ft structure. Plausible, and added a cute vignette. Everyone periodically sees the beacon flash brightly during the day about once a minute or so, and wonders about it. The Senator had gone up to see how it worked, given tour by an engineer, but he was not one, so he didn't bog down in technical details describing it, pretty much what I said above. It could have been done that way.

    Remember you are telling a good story to a wide audience, nor writing a history paper to be graded by professors. I suspect Anglo-Saxons wore socks, simply because it gets cold in both England and Germany where they came from, and they understood frostbite. Just avoid really glaring mistakes.
     

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  24. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    I managed to go through 17000 miles of adventure and socks never came up once. Blisters did: the soldiers, deck hands, the Buddhist monk, the pirate had no problem covering 15 miles a day on foot. The Senator, 50 lbs overweight, the former concubine, and her brother... another matter. The centurion took care of them, a little extra time riding in the oxcart, so nobody got infected till their feet toughened up. Did they wear socks? It's summer, so maybe not, just open sandals. In a Chinese winter 20 below F, probably as many pairs as they could, plus fur-lined boots. Peasants often stuffed the shoes with straw as an alternative. Unless a detail like socks is crucial to your story (like someone makes them, or they were a gift from someone special) they don't matter.
     
  25. King Arthur
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    But they are important.
    A poor POV character will comment on the fact his woolen socks are uncomfortable.
     

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