I am standing at the top of the observatory tower of Lincoln Castle eyeing the streets of Lincoln and the magnificent Cathedral. What a fine setting for a novel, don’t you think? Yes, so did I, which is how Sir Stephan l’Aigle ends up in Lincoln in 1193 in For King and Country. But, the observatory tower didn’t exist back then. And Lincoln Cathedral? It was pretty much a pile of rubble after an earthquake rocked the area in 1185.¹
Writers want to place the reader in the shoes of the main characters so they see, hear, smell, and feel a place. It can be a bit challenging when writing historical fiction, and sometimes daunting – have I missed a source that would give more accurate information about this place and time? The reader familiar with the time period and location may put my novel aside if I screwed up, or at least, they might be temporarily thrown out of the story. Not a good thing!
I never intended for Stephan to enter the Cathedral, but I was curious. Would I need to mention it, especially given its proximity (about .2 of a mile) to the Castle? I had to do some sleuthing to discover if Hugh, elected as Bishop of Lincoln in 1186, had started reconstruction. Did the Cathedral look like this in 1193 when Stephan visits Lincoln Castle?
Would the interior look at all similar to the photos I snapped in September?
Were the flying buttresses built?
The answers to these questions: “No.” Bishop Hugh, who was canonized after his death, did begin raising money to rebuild this magnificent building in 1186 and construction was underway by the end of 1192.
The original church dates back to 1072, a few short years after the Norman Conquest, and the signage shows renditions of the structure before and after the earthquake. I think I was safe to assume that there was little there in 1193 that resembled a cathedral. Stephan arrived under cover of darkness and departed rather quickly – he probably wouldn’t have noticed anyway…
¹ “The damage to Lincoln cathedral has been debated. “… the extent of the damage is an inference from the other parts of the building which show no vestige of other earlier work. What has survived [of the pre-earthquake building] is the lower central part of the west end and the lower part of its two attached angle towers.”
All photos, except where noted, are the author’s own, and are licensed for re-use under CC BY-SA.
See more of photos of Lincoln Cathedral on my FLICKR page.