My intent is to allow the reader to walk down the lanes of old London (before it burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1666) and feel as if you are actually there. You can smell and touch the nuances of London. You'll know what it's like to work your way through the City and its the conflicting laws where religion played in important part of everyday life. So sit back and enjoy the ride.

Oh, and then there's my French Revolution novel.

Friday, November 9, 2012

On Research, A Rant

One of my critiquers scoffed at several items in a chapter. I am writing about Barbers during the 17th century in London, and he couldn't believe of what I wrote. He wrote 'No' in the margin near a mention of rivet spectacles.

It was an affront to my research. If I were a man during the time in which I write, I would have thrown down the gauntlet. I would have challenged him to a duel.

Archeologist John Layard (1850) found what appeared to be a lens on the site of Nimrud (Iraq). It was a rock crystal. Professor Giovanni Pettinato of University of Rome considered this a plausible reason why the Assyrians (3000 years ago) were so adept in astronomy.

Items of this sort were found all over archeological sites from the Middle East and Mediterranean. Polished rock crystal predates Pliny, but records show this burned holes in parchment, erased what was written in wax tablets.

Sainted monk wearing rivet spectacles
Enter Medieval Christians. Monks copied the Bible. Their heads were buried in tomes morning, noon, and night. Their eyes got tired.

The reading glass was invented about 1000 AD, a precursor to the magnifying glass. From that, men could see the written word or pictures up close. But held in one hand, he must read and turn pages with the other. This becomes cumbersome and problematic.  

Some say Roger Bacon invented the magnifying glass, or hand lens, in 1250.  He wrote a paper on it, directing the user to place the convex side closer to the eye to see better.

Venetians are attributed to have put glass into frames where the wearer could set it on the bridge of the nose. 

Hence to the riveted spectacles my critique partner poo-pooed.
Bacon's optic specifications

According to my research,  riveted spectacles were invented prior to the invention of the printing press. Lenses were set in leather, wood, horn, and bone, then riveted together where the frames would sit on the bridge of the nose. The rivet at the center would allow the wearer to adjust the spectacles more evenly and tightly against the bridge, but with movement they'd eventually slip. Eventually, someone would add ribbon to the sides of the spectacles that would attach around the ears with the result of more secure spectacles.

So, next time you read one of my novels, and spectacles are in the narrative, please don't throw the book down. More than two or three sources are used with all my research. If something sounds outrageous, I seek more data. If I can't find more data, the historical tidbit is not used.

One can never assume anything in history. Since my novels are about a particular year in London, I cannot talk about periwigs prior to when in use. I can't have stuffed chairs, or cotton dresses before 1662.

They may have been in other countries, but after the chaos of religious infighting, it took awhile for the English to emerge out of the dark. Once their merchant ships sailed the seas to the Spiceries, once King Charles II married Catherine of Braganza, everything changed. England came into a Renaissance of its own, and that is what my next novel is about, a study of science vs superstition.

For more reading on London 1660's (and one French Revolution novel), please see:

Many thanks go to: and History of Spectacles / Eyeglasses by Richard D. Drewry, Jr., M.D.


  1. Spectacles no problem in medieval England - see the pic here - - of spectacles in a stained glass window from All Saints North Street, York. The stained glass is from the 15th century ... I once had a reader query some of my stuff in a Late Roman manuscript, and know how galling it is. The main thing for a critique partner is for them to look at the storytelling qualities not the historical research, IMHO :)

    1. Thanks very much. Many historical authors use tidbits of history in their works. They may even clump historical events into one year, or juggle them around. The critiquer said he read a lot of historical fiction, but I can't say if he read well researched works, or like the above I've mentioned. K

  2. I and most of the members of my critique group write Regencies. We alwasy check facts as well.

    You're in good company regarding a reader thinking you got it wrong. The samething happened to Candice Hern and her research is spot on.

  3. So annoying. He obviously doesn't know how to critique. You never say no to someone's writing, and he hasn't done his research homework to back it up. Hopefully he won't continue to critique your work.

  4. When I published Kathleen Herbert's novel, Moon in Leo (set in 17th C Furness) I had some reader queries of this nature. We set up a page on the website for book-notes to supply background info on anything that had been queried. Of course, in every case, as you would expect from a respected author of historical fiction, they were 100% accurate. Like you, I had originally written blog posts in response; this gave us a way of not just correcting misconceptions, but of permanently enriching the reader's experience. You can find the page on our website under Authors >Kathleen Herbert >Moon in Leo I am now looking to add either the notes themselves, or hyperlinks to them, to a new digital edition of the book.
    Good to meet someone else who is fascinated by the later 17th C. I look forward to reading your books- good luck to you!