Of Horses, Harnesses and Henins

The other day, I was asked why I chose 1398 for the setting of The Luck of Two Magpies. I didn’t select the date consciously, though in my mind, the medieval period always seemed so romantic, with its knights in shining armor, war horses, lances and tower castles, and ladies to be wooed and won.

I grew up with horses, as my dad bought them for us to ride, even if it meant driving into the Bronx where they were boarded. Most little girls love horses and so did I, though unlike most little girls, my love was had at close range, in the saddle, or with curry and brush and hoof pick in hand. I could observe and learn their personalities, and laugh at some of their pranks.

As a child, I lalso liked to put models together and paint them—not ships, or airplanes, no.inthelists The models I loved were–what else?–the horses I adored, though now they were made of plastic, thickly muscled and clad in caparisons, their long faces protected by iron shields called chanfrons. Their riders were inevitably harnessed (armor-clad), with lances at the ready, either couched or at rest, held vertically, the butt of the lance resting on the rider’s armored boot or stirrup.

Some knights swung broadswords, others maces. Some horses stood proudly, others were at the charge (these required stands to hold them upright).

joustAs I painted the horses and their ornamental drapings in bright colors(sometimes I copied heraldic signs; other times I made my own up), I imagined youthful riders,  knights errant—chafing to prove themself in the pas d’armes. Other times, they were black knights bringing their contests to the lists in the hopes of defeating the white knights for fame, power, lady loves or gold.

And of course, the ladies were always porcelain-skinned, perfectly proportioned, chiffon or brocaded gowned, their locks hidden beneath coifs or henins–at least those were the ladies in heninimages I found in books. 

That much floated up from childhood, but it wasn’t until after I’d imagined William, Margarida and Elisa that I read about the usurpation of King Richard III’s crown by his cousin Henry Hereford (whom we know as Bolingbroke) in 1399, and the pieces of the story began to fall into place.