Some History Reading


I’ve been doing some sport reading (heh, meant to type “spot,” but “sport” works just as well) about the Middle Ages, attempting to find a point in history to start deviating. The more I’ve been reading and taking notes, I have been realizing this sort of book preparation is World Building Lite. I’m not sure I’m ready to invent an entire world (the time spent doing “research” would take me away from writing too long), but taking history and adapting it to my needs is sort of the same thing. The question that has been turning around in my head this morning is: is the gain worth the headache? As soon as you start modifying history, you invite the wrath of the history junkies. Regardless of the fact that I’m writing fiction and, frankly, I can do what I want, it’s my audacity of rewriting history that opens the doors for commentary from any chap who has an opinion about what has gone before.

Oh, I’m going to do it. Don’t think I’m looking for an excuse to weasel out of this idea. No, and this is the same sort of apprehension that still holds me about SOULS, I’m striving for some semblance of verisimilitude because it is an anchor for the reader — something for them to grab onto and assist their entry into the story — but I don’t want to get things so “wrong” that I invite derision. I want the background to be authentic enough to be inviting, but not so alien that I have to invent a thousand years of history to justify the “flavor” of the world.

This is one of the attributes of Steven Erikson’s Malazan series. He’s got enough of the history worked out — he’s been steeping in it for years — that the characters feel like they are inhabiting a fully-realized world. They reference history; hell, their actions are predicated by this fictitious history.

So, anyway. History. When I make the Borgias one of the villains of the piece and turn Lucrezia Borgia into a howling matriarch who seeks to perpetuate her family line in the Papal Chair, I know Will Durant will be turning over in his grave. Or how about turning Marco Polo into a lunatic who just imagined his travels to the East, but his “memoirs,” dictated in a Genoan jail around the turn of the 14th century, are the Holy Atlas sought by the Venetian League of Explorers because they might be true?

1291. The Vivaldis of Genoa sail past Gilbralter to find the “Indes.” They never return. The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem settle Cyprus. Mamluk Sultan captures Acre, thereby ending the Christian occupation of the Middle East. The Crusades are over.

1294. Roger Bacon dies. So does Kubla Khan.

1295. Marco Polo returns to Europe.

1297. Genoa and Venice have at it in a strategic battle where the Genoese win.

1309. Beginning of the “Babylonian Captivity” of the Papacy. Clement V settles in Avignon. Knights of St. John take Rhodes, thereby completing their conquest of the island. They rename themselves the Knights of Rhodes. It is these cats who, in 1522, hold off Suleiman’s 400 ships (and 200,000 men) for six months. They later become the Knights of Malta.

1312. Malocello, a Genoese navigator, goes west in search of the Vivaldi Brothers and ends up on the Canary Islands and stays for two decades.

1314. The Templar order is destroyed when Jacques de Molay is burned at the stake. One of the myths is that he cursed Philippe le Bel (the French King) and Clement V (the Pope), challenging them to meet him before the judgment of God by the end of the year. Both stepped up to the plate and went off to the Holy Hinter Land in short order.

1332. Plague in India. The “Great Famine” in Northern Europe.

1337. Beginning of the Hundred Years’ War between France and England.

13471351. Plague Years — the Black Death. Starts in England, spreads to Northern Europe and starts getting ugly about the time that Jews in Basel, Switzerland, are rounded up and burned, believed to be carriers. Numbers vary, but reports are that somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 of the European population died. One of the records of transmission is that Genoese ships, fleeing plague-infested Caffa, brought it back with them to Messina, where it spread across the Continent.

1364. Crete revolts against Venice.

1368. Ming Dynasty starts building the 4th Great Wall of China.

1377. Pope Gregory XI returns to Rome. Brings the rest of the household with him.

1396. Richard II of England marries Isabelle of France, making for a wee bit of truce between the two countries. It doesn’t last.

1399. Henry IV usurps the crown of England and throws Richard II in jail where he dies under “mysterious circumstances.”

1420. Treaty of Troyes where France recognizes England as the virtual ruler of France. Elsewhere, Prince Henry the Navigator is appointed governor of the Order of Christ (the Portuguese successors to the defunct Templars).

1431. Joan of Arc, burned at the stake. All is not well in France under English rule.

1453. Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II takes Constantinople, thereby ending the Byzantine Empire. Later in the year, the France push the English out of France, ending the Hundred Years’ War.

1481. Spanish Inquisition begins. Papal bull Aeterni regis grants all lands south of the Canary Islands to Portugal. (Those Canary Islands again.)

1489. Cyprus, where the Knights of St. John once were, is sold to Venice.

1492. Columbus sails the ocean blue. The Inquisition starts bearing down on Spanish Jews. A meteor falls near Alsace. It is the Year of the Apocalypse, according to the Byzantine Date of Creation, and a man named Behain makes a globe.