Weird Facts I Unearthed in Research

For my upcoming novel, The Key & the Flame, I did a lot of research. I found out what herbs were important and why in Celtic lore; which flowers bloom in British forests in late spring; and how long it takes to drive from Heathrow to a little cottage in Oxfordshire. Here are some more interesting questions and answers that I researched:

How much space does a Quetzlcoatlus dinosaur need to take flight?

Quetzlcoatlus was a Pterosaur from the Cretaceous period with a wingspan of about 35 feet. It could fly at 80 miles per hour for seven to ten days at a time. It is the largest flying animal of all time, looking something like a winged giraffe with a wickedly long beak. The Quetzlcoatlus required about 16 feet clearance to take off and launch itself about 8 feet into the air. Check this out to see a simulation of the takeoff:

How was human waste disposed of in a medieval castle?

A latrine, or garderobe, was an indoor water closet situated off the lord’s bedchamber. It was fitted with a seat over a hole that might empty directly over the moat or a river, or through a long shaft. While a shaft was more pleasant, it could be dangerous, as castle attackers sometimes climbed the shaft to breach the castle (yeah … ew). Château Gaillard, stronghold of Plantagenet kings, fell to this sort of breach to the French king Philip II in the year 1204.

What were table manners like in medieval times?

Table manners were strict in the Middle Ages. Forks were not used, and spoons only rarely, so food was eaten mainly with the fingers and with the aid of a sharp knife. Food was served from a common platter and scooped onto trenchers, which were hard pieces of day-old bread. Because several diners ate from  the same platter, clean hands were considered essential. At a lord’s feast, the meal would begin with a ceremonial washing of hands. People were expected not to lick their fingers or touch anyone else’s food. “Double-dipping” of  bread into the common gravy or soup bowl was forbidden–much as it is today.

At the end of the meal, the used (yes, used) trenchers were gathered up and given to the poor to eat. Yum!


Life in  a Medieval Castle by Joseph & Frances Gies (Harper Perennial: 1974)

Food in Medieval Times by  Melitta Weiss Adamson (Greenwood Press: 2004)


Claire M. Caterer is the author of The Key & the Flame, a fantasy set in an alternate version of medieval England. Look for it in April 2013 from Margaret K. McElderry Books / Simon & Schuster. Connect with Claire on her blog, Twitter, or Facebook page.


5 thoughts on “Weird Facts I Unearthed in Research

  1. That table manners tibit is really interesting. And a little gross!

  2. True, Christa, but they did make a big effort to stay clean. Kind of interesting that they made an effort, considering they didn’t know anything about germs or how illnesses were passed around.

  3. catwinters says:

    I’m really surprised about the cleanliness aspect of medieval table manners! Thanks so much for sharing these interesting tidbits, Claire!

  4. Jenn McGowan says:

    See, this is why I avoid talking about my people eating. 🙂 drinking, yes. But trenchers were still an element of dining in Elizabethan England and, well… I’m not a fan. It always makes me laugh to see “bread bowl soups” at restaurants, because I think it’s a tradition from these medieval times!

  5. […] also seemed more hardy than I would have been in the same situation. As Claire pointed out in her research blog earlier this week, personal hygiene was quite a different experience for the men and women of that day: the men and […]

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