A folly or not?

12Feb2014This post is by Nancy Jardine

In April 2011, I was holidaying in Spain but was also doing the edits for my first ever published novel. It wasn’t all work, though, since I visited some fantastic locations in that hot April sun- hot for me coming from a cold and dreary Scotland. I adored the wonderful tourist site named Castillo Monumento Colomares, especially since we went early in the morning when it wasn’t thronged with amateur photographers.

Castillo Monumento Colomares
Castillo Monumento Colomares

My friend Pete, whose apartment we were staying in, had warned me on the drive that all wasn’t as it seemed. Unable to speak Spanish I’d not taken a guide book; the ticket woman profusely apologising for not having any English versions. I wondered when it was built as I wandered around, Pete saying with a twinkle that it wasn’t as old as it looked.

It was a fantasy world of miniature castles and monuments which have a real antique ‘feel’ about them though it’s all an illusion- a folly without the tumbled-down effects. The site was built by Dr. Esteban Martin y Martin between 1987 and 1994; the miniature splendour in honour of Spain’s rich historical seafaring traditions, and in particular Christopher Columbus’ first sail to the Americas in 1492.

Dscn3038Authenticity out of the window! It’s all an illusion. My Collins dictionary definition of folly is as follows:

1. the state or quality of being foolish. 2. foolish action. 3. a building in the form of a castle, temple etc. built to satisy a fancy or conceit. 4. (pl) theatre an elaborately costumed revue.

Castillo Monumento Colomares is like some writings from the past which are shrouded in mystery and can be very entertaining, though misleading- follies of another sort. Take this quintessentially English Nursery Rhyme,for example.
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty dumpty had a great fall,
All the King’s horses and all the King’s men,
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
Humpty Dumpty is often visualised as a round egg character, a happy jovial figure- many of this type stemming from the Victorian and Edwardian illustrations drawn by Tenniel for Alice in Wonderland, and by illustrators like Denslow.

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Where did the rhyme spring from? No–one really knows but there are many theories. Carrie, a new friend of mine, mentioned the ‘Humpty Dumpty as a cannon’ theory recently with regard to the fortifications at Colchester in Essex, north east of London. Colchester (Camulodunum) is a place I’m very interested in since it has the reputation of being the oldest known Roman settlement in the UK, and people who follow this blog know I’m a wee bit obsessed by all things about Roman Britain.

Colchester is a city of much antiquity and  has many other very interesting historical associations which came later than Roman times, but the Humpty Dumpty cannon theory was new to me (or maybe I had read it before but had forgotten).

In 1996, the Colchester Tourist Board began to spread publicity about ‘Humpty Dumpty’ referring to a cannon which was used during the English Civil wars of the period around 1645. In England, in 1646, there was a huge push to overthrow the monarchy and put in its place a more ‘Parliamentary/Republican’ style of leadership. The theory goes that one particular cannon (Humpty Dumpty) was used during the siege of St. Mary-At-The-Wall church, the cannon having been taken to the top of the bell tower by Royalist supporters so that it could be more effective in its aim to fire on the Parliamentarian opposition.
The story then states that a shot, fired from the Parliamentarian cannon on the ground, managed to damage the bell tower structure below the battlements causing the tower to tumble. As the battlements tumbled so did the cannon (Humpty Dumpty) and also all the Royalist defenders (All the King’s men) who were stationed at the top of the tower. Can this story for the Nursery Rhyme be proved? Not at present, but I find it heartening to have a historical basis for the rhyme even if it is an illusion.

About Humpty 1

About Humpty 2

Many of us who write historical fiction want to have our work enjoyed for the storyline but also for the authenticity of the historical backdrop. Often, though, we are working in a conjectural ‘darkness’ when categorical authenticity cannot be proved. Is it folly to spend ages researching for the perfect information to include in our novels? Sometimes I think it might be when I realise how the day flies, but I need to satisfy my own craving for knowledge as well as pander to my actual writing impetus. I need to create an illusion that works for me- the hope being that it also works for my readers.

If anyone has read my Celtic Fervour Series of Historical Romantic Adventures, do you think it’s a folly of mine– built to satisy a conceit in me – that I strive for authentic details and for credible fiction even if there is an element of illusion?  I’d love to know what you think when you read historical fiction- illusion, a folly or not?

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Have a great weekend!


23 thoughts on “A folly or not?

  1. Nancy, very interesting. Most Nursery Rhymes are not just rhyming words, they have some kind of meaning that is often lost over the years. So it’s probably true about Humptt Dumpty. Even in fiction, you have to do a lot of research and fact checking. Fiction has to ring truer than real life. Cher’ley


  2. Lovely post, Nancy. Intrigued by one of the possible origins of the Humpty Dumpty rhyme. Agree with Cher’ley, that many little rhymes and songs from ages past have a lot of history behind the meanings that we probably will never know for sure. Always wondered about the lullaby, Rock a’bye Baby. How bout the baby in the treetops and then the bough breaking and the baby falling. What’s that all about? Good post, Nancy. You got my mind in gear for the day.


    1. Thanks, Sherry. I’ve read about some sinister overtones to the Rock a Bye Baby rhyme. I have a feeling one of the other Wrangler authors, Frank Lanerd, might have mentioned it before?


  3. Nancy,
    I always think historical fiction should have a basis in fact, otherwise, it would not be ‘historical’. Of course you are talking to a historian so I am biased. If you are like me the research drives the stories that fiction brings to life. It may be ‘folly’, but in many ways it brings the history to life. Doris


    1. Hi, Doris. I need that ‘fix’ of research whether it be a time wasted ‘folly’ or not! And it is the research, as you say, that drives the fictional version to be created.


      1. Me too, Nancy…even if what I’m after isn’t fiction. When I read well researched fiction it is just more enjoyable for me. Doris


      2. Now there is something I recognise! I tend to do too much of it, crossing the line between ‘needed for the story’ and ‘not necessary but hey, this is actually interesting stuff.’ Right now I’m working on a story set in the Scottish Lowlands, but I’ve probably spent more time researching than writing. 🙂


  4. Hi Jeroen. Since I’m from the Scottish lowlands/Glasgow area it might seem like I would know the stuff you’re reserching but it probably isn’t so. That’s what’s so spectacular about history- there’s always something new to learn, and especially about your home area. I’ll be watching out for more on your writing. 😉


    1. This particular story is a novella-length ghost story, involving a Scottish castle (complete with resident ‘Green Lady’) and a fictitious clan, situated in a fictitious town roughly halfway between Edinburgh and Aberdeen. The castle description is based on an existing castle; I just hope the good people of Scotland won’t be too angry that I had the audacity to transplant one of their castles from the Highlands to the Lowlands. 🙂

      You may or may not be able to help with the research, but if you’re interested: I have an opening for a Scottish beta reader, probably in the second half of May. Speaking the language is a bonus; one of my supporting characters is a Scotswoman who refuses to speak proper English (being, in her own words: ‘A Scotswoman n’n proud o’ it’), so I had to write a small part of the dialogue in Scottish. 🙂


  5. Historical novels I read are extra fascinating when there’s a rich tapestry backdrop of accurate details. I love American Civil War history and enjoy a “fiction” book as long as the background details are spot on. Now fantasy genre is different. Here I have to create a world, yet not bog down my narrative with lots of background details that will put the reader out of the story. I think sometimes that’s why fantasy genre authors write 700 and 800 page epics … they’re spending huge amounts of time building a world and readers often want to learn about that world. For example, authors like the late Robert Jordan; but I get very frustrated when a plot sputters because of too much of a background tapestry. Mike Staton


    1. I agree about the fantasy genre, Mike, having richly detailed backgrounds. and as yous ay so long as that detail is not detracting from the plot flow then it works well.


  6. Interesting post and comments about history and fiction. I love historical fiction and writing it also. But, I want to know the historical facts are real and am always disappointed if at the end the author says they took liberty with some of the facts, instead of having fictional characters involved in some of the events. I had heard Humpty Dumpty had some political origins before. I think people spoke in riddles or poems about real things that were dangerous to speak of factually sometimes. I have heard different theories about the meaning of The Wizard of OZ also. And I too have always wondered about that cradle falling!


      1. Hi Neva. I think you maybe need to be sure you’re not logged in as Cherley? – to ensure your own name appears? I totally agree about the speaking in riddles as people were often misinterpreted by an opposite faction.


  7. Interesting post, Nancy. It was fun to learn about possible origins of the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme. I applaud your struggle for historical accuracy. I’ve always preferred learning history from historical fiction–so I like it when the history is as accurate as possible. In my own work, I have characters based on or drawn from figures from ancient mythology–many of whom have layers of stories, some contradictory, associated with them. Since I’m writing fantasy, I get to decide which of those stories I might want to build on or rework, but I’ve tried to keep some kernels in my fictionalized fantasy versions Stephanie


    1. Stephanie- I like a bit of that historical ‘reality’ in fantasy as well- especially the epic variety. Your work sounds great!


  8. Great post Nancy. Like you, I love research and getting my facts straight but at times I’ve had to take a little liberty in using what facts I know interspersed with a little fiction. That’s because I can’t always find all of the facts! Loved the description of Castillo Monumento Colomares. When i was in Spain in the late 60’s it hadn’t been built yet. I find it so intriguing that when I travel there again I’ll be sure to check it out. I’ll bet that if someone took a lot of time a lot of nursery rhymes are based loosely on fact. I didn’t know about the Humpty Dumpty information – enjoyed reading about it!


    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Linda. I did a post on my own blog a while back about Colomares with more photos. My blog has a search box if you want to see other photos.


  9. I agree with Doris — if a person is writing historical fiction, there has to be fact the fiction is based upon. You do an excellent job, Nancy, of telling stories based on historical fact and making those characters and settings come to life! Great blog post, too!


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