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By LJ Shea

When I began the research for my medieval mystery novel, The Ravens’ Augury, it was inevitable that companion animals would feature significantly in the storyline. I have loved animals for as long as I can remember.

When I first envisaged Faucher, the imposing yet gentle black horse ridden by the protagonist Wat Baudin, I assumed that he was a Clydesdale. Little did I know at that stage that this breed of horse would not exist for another four hundred years! The name, “Faucher”, is Norman French for ‘to mow.’ Considering how much food the draught horses I have owned can put away, it did seem rather apt. My research indicated that the heavy horses used in medieval times for agricultural purposes were simply called ‘cart horses’ or ‘pack horses’.

Thanks to film and television, I think that most of us picture an immense beast of war when considering what a typical horse looked like during the Middle Ages. These horses were called chargers, or destriers, and it was their role to carry a knight into battle, much like the white steed ridden by the haughty Sir Giles de Tessier in my story. The immense strength and courage required of these horses, to carry a knight in full armour into battle whilst sometimes wearing armour themselves (known as barding), amazes me; my Australian Stock Horse has a melt-down every time I approach her with her winter rug!

The every-day riding horses which Wat’s men, Duncan and Thomas, used were referred to as palfreys, although I did not use this term when I was writing the The Ravens’ Augury, and I was delighted to learn that the very medieval-sounding ‘rouncey’ was an all-rounder horse, used in virtually any capacity.

Another interesting fact which I learned as part of my research into medieval horsemanship was that, despite the fact that the side saddle had been available for a century by the time the events in my story took place, most women rode astride. I must admit that I had a misconception about this, which is why I felt it important to have Wat’s mother, Elizabeth, riding her mount astride when she is called upon by the countess to come to Rochester Castle.

Writing my first novel allowed me to indulge in plenty of research, and this is one of the many things that I, as a life-long learner, love about the writing process – I am always discovering new things. No matter what you think you know about a certain topic, there is always more to learn.

Get your copy of LJ Shea’s new novel, The Ravens’ Auguryhere!


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