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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Have a great weekend!