How did the potato get to Ireland?

One of those anachronisms that can trip up an author of medieval fiction is the nature of medieval food. In particular, the potato, a ubiquitous British food these days, comes from the “New World” and didn’t arrive in Britain until after the Spanish conquest. “The potato was carried on to Italy and England about 1585, to Belgium and Germany by 1587, to Austria about 1588, and to France around 1600. Wherever the potato was introduced, it was considered weird, poisonous, and downright evil. In France and elsewhere, the potato was Read More…

The Wildwood — the lost forest of the UK

Imagine all of the UK covered in a thickly wooded landscape, much like portions of the western United States.  I just spent the last 1/2 an hour looking up native plants in Wales, trying to come up with a couple that would have reliably flourished in Gwynedd in the 13th century.  My sister-in-law is a botanist, and she agreed that agrimony and juniper would good choices.  What has been difficult to determine, as with the Roman and ancient roads, is what the landscape looked like in the Middle Ages.  England Read More…

Maps of Wales

Both topography and geography change over time.  Geologically, Wales hasn’t changed much in 2000 years, but the topography has, from mining, from the building of villages and cities, and from the wholesale cutting–and then replanting–of forests.  As evidenced by the loss of the location of many of the Roman roads, transportation routes change over time.  What used to be on a major pathway across the country is now in a desolate, hard-to-reach area. As one example, in Powys, in the 19th century, the leader of Birmingham City Council set about Read More…