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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

07 December 2006

Height and the Lutrell Psalter


I love this topic, Kalen, and being tall like you--- of considerable height myself (5'11), I've often wondered if I wouldn't have towered over my medieval heroes, and well, if maybe my depiction of them as 6 feet tall or taller, isn't' historically accurate (unless they were from Scotland).

I wanted to post this image of the 14th century Lutrell Psalter, because it has been much studied regarding the heights of the horse, the knight and the ladies (and since I can't post this image with a comment, I went ahead and blogged it.)

The Lutrell Psalter, a prayer book commissioned by the noble and very wealthy Lutrell family, is named by modern scholars after its original patron. The largest picture in the manuscript depicts a knight on horseback attended by two women, immediately below the words A Lord Geoffrey Luttrell had me made in Latin (Dominus Galfridus Louterell me fieri fecit). The two women in the picture can be identified by their coats of arms as Geoffrey Luttrell's wife, Agnes de Sutton, who hands him his helm and lance, and his daughter-in-law, Beatrice le Scrope, who carries his shield. Geoffrey Luttrell was lord of the manor at Irnham, between Grantham and Spalding in Lincolnshire, but he owned estates across England, thanks to his great-great-grandfather, also called Geoffrey. His ancestor's loyal support and service to King John had been rewarded with grants of various properties, which were greatly added to by marriage to an heiress. The style of the illumination shows that Sir Geoffrey commissioned the Psalter some time between 1320 and 1340.

Now to the height business. Destriers of the time were usually no more than 15 hands tall (4 inches=hand) and the horse in this image is estimated to have been around 14.2 or 14.6 hands tall at the withers (58 inches, or so). That said, Lord Geoffrey's wife, with the top of her head not quite reaching the withers, is estimated to have been about 5'1" and Lord Geoffrey himself, not over 5'6". . But he was a great hero of the time, and he must have been a tall man in the saddle!

Thanks for letting me barge in on your topic!

7 Comments:

Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I've often wondered . . . if maybe my depiction of them as 6 feet tall or taller, isn't historically accurate (unless they were from Scotland).

Don't forget that we're talking "average" height here. This means that half the people were shorter, and half were TALLER. So, if the "average" man in your era was 5'6", a TALL man could easily be 6'-6'3".

Heck, we know men this size existed, extant amour for men who were this tall can be seen in both the Met and at The Tower of London.

10:07 AM  
Anonymous Mary Blayney said...

Very useful Kalen and something I've always wondered about. I've avoided doing serious research on it by referring to heroes as "taller than most" or "the height of the men around him" -- do you think many readers care about that sort of thing? And if we try so hard to be accurate why is it that so few of our characters have bad teeth?

12:50 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

And if we try so hard to be accurate why is it that so few of our characters have bad teeth?

LOL!

I always try to think about it in terms of what the norm was and what they, as people of the era, would have noticed. What a modern person (esp an American with our obsession with electric white, perfectly straight teeth) might perceive as "bad" might not have even been noticeable to a person of the 16th, 18th, or 19th century.

Kind of like body odor. My tolerance was tried pretty hard on the Metro in Paris, and I’m sure I’d think my hero STINKS if I were to suddenly find myself in the same room with him, but would my heroine think so?

1:33 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Whew, I feel better now knowing there's armour-evidence for men who were 6'-6'3 tall! I saw a 14th century stone sarcophagus in a French cathedral where the carved knight laid out on the lid must have been 6 feet tall, at least.

The tour guide assured us the maker was not "exaggerating" as, ahem, "men are prone to do." ;-)

I had my doubts, but now I must reconsider.

2:40 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Ok, neither suit is on the web, but let me assure you, at nearly 6' myself in heels, the suit in the Met TOWERED over me. I came up to about the shoulder. The two suits next to it didn't even reach the armpit. LOL! This was one TALL man. The suit in the Tower was also well over 6' (I vaguely remember it being noted that he was the King's champion). But I’m guessing these guys would have been well noted for being on the extreme end height, much as basketball players are today.

3:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've avoided doing serious research on it by referring to heroes as "taller than most" or "the height of the men around him" -- do you think many readers care about that sort of thing?

I do the same thing--I figure it doesn't matter if my image of "several inches above middling height" is exactly the same as a reader's or not.

I’m sure I’d think my hero STINKS if I were to suddenly find myself in the same room with him, but would my heroine think so?

One of my favorite details from a Regency-era primary source is from an enlisted man's Peninsular War memoir (I think it was Rifleman Costello's, but I'm not sure). He volunteered for the forlorn hope at the storming of Badajoz, then made sure to bathe in the river on the eve of the battle (this was early spring, and still quite cold), because he wanted to have a clean skin in case he was killed or wounded--I guess the period equivalent of wearing clean underwear in case you're in a car accident!

Anyway, I used that story to illustrate to my CPs who don't write historical that people from my era did have a concept of cleanliness, and that while you wouldn't want a scratch-and-sniff version of my stories, it's not like these people were filthy and happy about it!

9:33 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Wow, Susan. That's a great detail to have at my finger tips. Thanks!

10:33 AM  

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