Naked Writer #17: Getting Anglo-Norman

English: illustration intended for the mid-nin...
English: illustration intended for the mid-nineteenth-century history of the European Middle Ages. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So since last week’s update I have started actually looking at the sources for the Pontvallain campaign. First up is the Anonimalle chronicle – an English chronicle written at the Abbey of St. Mary in York, which covers most of the fourteenth century and is best known for its account of the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. It’s written in Anglo-Norman, so this week I transcribed a page of it and started translating it into English. The section that I was started with gave details of numbers of soldiers in Knolles’s army – suggesting that the army consisted of 2,000 men-at-arms (gentz darmes) and 6,000 archers (darchiers) – Jonathan Sumption thinks this can’t be right if you compare it with some of the other figures, so here the chronicler must have been mistaken.

Luckily I did GCSE French so I can just about read most of the text and get the gist of it. For the rest I have been reliant on an excellent resource called the Anglo-Norman Dictionary. More resources on how to use it can be found at the Anglo-Norman Online Hub. Fantastic to have this and easy to use as well – it provides examples of usages and variants of spellings of each word.

I have a feeling I might be using it a lot over the next few weeks!


Listening to the excellent Sol Stein‘s Stein on Writing and reading Conque

st by Juliet Barker about the English Kingdom of France at the end of the Hundred Years War – I’m thinking GRR Martin might have based a lot of his history of Westeros on these events – terrible intrigue mired with chivalry, assassination, massacres and mystical inspiration!

Also playing Crusader Kings 2 – not sure how I missed this before – shines a light on the convoluted personal politics of the Middle Ages like no other game I have played – the combat system is rubbish (just sums!) Will probably blog about this a bit more sometime.

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Naked Writer #16: Getting Ready

Allegory on writing history by Jacob de Wit (1...
Allegory on writing history by Jacob de Wit (1754). An almost naked Truth keeps an eye on the writer of history. wisdom gives advice; with Ptolemy I Soter, a master in objectivity in his book on Alexander the Great, below in profile (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since last posting an update to the Naked Writer series at the start of October, I have made some more progress getting my research sources ready for the next section of Stonhearted. I have now sourced pretty much everything I was hoping to source – including a copy of an Anglo-French chronicle that I needed to get on inter library loan. The last couple of weeks have probably been the busiest of the year for me work wise – especially last week, so hardly any writing work got done. Now I’m back from that and hopefully ready to get on track again.

The next few weeks will consist of a lot of reading through sources, which will include transcribing and translating some. It should be fun and I’m looking forward to seeing what I will find out.

I am also in the process of typesetting the next issue of Alt Hist ready for copy-editing. That’s a lot of fun as well and I am really looking forward to seeing it out before the end of the year.

Until the next time!

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Using to Research Your Novel

The Internet Archive,, has to be one of the most valuable resources for any historical novelist. The Internet Archive contains a lot of things from archived versions of internet pages, to audio and visual material including films. But for me the most valuable resource is the number of scans of old, out of copyright books. In particular the number of printed editions published in the 19th century of historical documents such as chronicles, registers, parliamentary documents etc, is simply staggering. A number of these books have been scanned from the collections of various libraries and in particular large US Universities, so if you want material from non-English speaking countries then other resources might be better. And sometimes they haven’t scanned every book you might come across. For my research of the Pontvallain campaign I did find that other repositories of material were useful as well, but by far the largest source has been the Internet Archive.

You might say – “hasn’t Google books” scanned a lot of out of copyright books? Yes you’d be right – as have Microsoft. But often the best place to find these scans is at the Internet Archive – for whatever reason Google Books often doesn’t display the full version of these scans and the Internet Archive is easier to use.

So how do you get started?

I am assuming that you already have your bibliography together. If you need to research titles then somewhere else might be a better place – probably a general history of the period with good footnotes and bibliography of primary sources.

For this example I am going to be searching and downloading the Issue Roll of Thomas de Brantingham, bishop of Exeter, Lord High Treasurer of England…, A.D. 1370, ed. F. Devon (1835)

1. Searching

I would suggest you search by the title of the document rather than the author name. The search box is pretty straightforward, but if you search for the Editor here, Devon, you get the following:

search - devon

But using the title you get:

search results

2. Which Title

There are likely to be different copies of each text – presumably because scan have been provided by different libraries. I would generally choose the one with the most downloads as its likely that other users have found this to be in the best conditions – some scans can be messed up – blurred images, bent pages!

3. Book summary page

This is where you see the metadata for each book. Key things you might want to check are the publication date, copyright information and language. On the left you will see a list of file types. Ignore this list! Go straight to the link for All Files. If you go straight to PDF for example here, you might be redirected to Google Books and then find you can’t get the PDF for some reason – but you can.

book page

4. All Files list

I would always select the file type ending .pdf as this will be the best version. Sometimes you will have the option to choose colour or black and white – the colour version looks pretty but takes longer to download.

All files

5. Download!

Be warned this can take sometime – each PDF might well be 50 MB or more in size. So be patient.


6. What about Kindle, ePub, text versions!

Well unfortunately as these are scans of books producing images the text is not particularly well rendered, so you may well get nonsense. Some of the text comes out fine, but some will be rubbish. See the example below:

text nonsense

This is from the text file, but the text is used to make the ePub, Kindle formats as well, so you will have the same problem.

PDF is the best option.

Check out the Archive

I hope this guide has been useful. The Internet Archive really is a great resource for any historical novelist or anyone with an interest in history and in particular primary sources.

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Naked Writer #15: But the Rent

Still at the research for the next volume of Stonehearted! Nothing much to report other than that.

Not much done over the weekend, but otherwise I have made some progress on getting ready to read through the source material references I have gathered for the Pontvallain campaign. That includes matching up events with each of the footnotes in Divided Houses by Sumption, and also gathering copies of the source material. Nearly finished on getting the source material, much of it has come from – which is the historical writer’s friend! (more on that site another time). When that’s compiled I will be starting to translate some of it – most of it is in Latin or French, so the plan is to use the Sumption footnotes to make sure I just translate the few pages I need from each source.

Other than that I am gearing up to produce the next issue of Alt Hist – I have gathered all the author manuscripts together and will be typesetting these this week.


I am listening to Robyn Young’s Brethren – it’s OK, but I wish it was a bit faster paced. Just started reading an ebook from my local library of People’s Queen by Vanora Bennett, which is based on the life of Alice Perrers, Edward III’s mistress. This is right on the money in terms of the time period that I write about, so its fascinating to see how the author portrays things. As with much of historical fiction a lot of the characterisation and interpretation of what actually happens is speculative. I think the author is doing a great job on this at the moment!

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