I’ve posted resources for research at kimrendfeld.com, but here are four I found indispensable as I wrote The Cross and the Dragon, a love story amid the wars and blood feuds of Charlemagne’s reign.
Einhard’s The Life of Charlemagne—This biography of the emperor was written by one of his courtiers about 830-33, at least 16 years after Charles’s death, and like most primary sources of this era, has a definite point of view. In addition to accounts of Charles’s many wars, Einhard provides a physical description of the man and his habits and discuss the monarch’s relationships. He also includes a few events Charles would have rather not had recorded such as the massacre at Roncevaux.
Carolingian Chronicles—This collection includes the Royal Frankish Annals, original and revised, and Nithard’s Histories. The RFA has several anonymous authors in the eighth and ninth centuries. These give the freshest accounts of events and show you how the members of the society saw themselves and their adversaries. A warning: the authors of the original annals wanted to make their boss look good, even if that meant exaggerating some events and omitting others that made him look bad.
Nithard was one of Charlemagne’s grandsons, who sided with his cousin Charles the Bald in the civil war that tore apart Francia after Charlemagne’s death. His books recount events as he sees them from 814 to 843.
P.D. King’s Charlemagne: Translated Sources—This collection of annals, letters, contemporary biographies, capitularies, and more provides even more insight into the Carolingian era. The letters, especially, reveal attitudes and beliefs of the time period, and show the real human beings behind them. For example, Pope Stephen writes a strongly worded letter to Charlemagne and his brother urging them not to marry the daughter of his enemy. If American textbooks had material like this, more students would be interested in history.
Pierre Riché’s Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne (translated by JoAnn McNamara)—How often did people bathe? How did they heat and light their homes? How did they dress? Daily life books help fill in those kinds of details. Riché, a scholar, focuses on the Carolingians.
The truth is, I owe a lot to scholars who translated medieval Latin for modern-day audiences. I could not have re-created eighth century Francia without them. (Historical novelist’s disclaimer: Any mistakes are mine and mine alone.)
Writers, what sources can you not do without as you craft your stories?