Thursday 23 January 2020

#Fantasy author, Laura Maybrooke, is exploring the life of medieval monks and comparing it to her own fantasy priests #History @LMaybrooke

Life as a Medieval Monk:
Fantasy vs. Reality
By Laura Maybrooke

Writing fantasy gives us access to fantastical worlds—ones unburdened by the nitty-gritty details of reality. That is not to say a fantasy world can function without an internal logic system, but that one needs not always adhere to the small details of ancient everyday life.
Today I am exploring the life of medieval monks—and by extension, showing how it contrasts with the life of my priests in my fantasy novel Immortal Defiance and its upcoming two sequels.
In my fantasy novel, priests of Lordanys are dedicated monks, skilled at healing and herb lore, but many of them are also excellent fighters. An example of such a character in my novel is the high priest Myoden, an ally to the novel’s leading lady, the elven enchantress Dulcea. His position as a high priest likens him to an abbot of a medieval monastery. The priests’ powers are half magic, half hard work. They dress in fancy embroidered robes and can marry and have children, own worldly goods, and are free to leave the temple whenever.

Quite different from the life of real medieval monks, would you not say?
In medieval times, apart from some notable Irish exceptions, monks mostly lived and died within the walls of the monastery they had once joined as a novice. Their possessions were few: apart from a few sets of clothes, they usually only owned a comb, a small sewing kit, a pen, and a knife. Grooming equipment such as razors were only available at select times. The monks’ meagre possessions extended to their sleeping space: they often had only a straw-filled mattress and a few woolen blankets.
The life of a medieval monk was one of constant work, whether physical or spiritual. Monasteries differed in size: the smallest had only a dozen or less inhabitants, while the larger ones could boast having over a hundred brothers. In France, in mid-12th century, the monastery of Cluny Abbey at its peak had 460 monks living there.
The larger the monastery, the wealthier it normally was. Although people of any rank could apply to become a monk, many monks came from well-to-do families and provided the monastery with considerable riches. In the smaller monasteries, the monks sometimes needed to take care of all the chores of the monastery, including cooking, cleaning, and laundry. The larger, wealthier monasteries often attracted many lay brothers and could also afford to hire laborers for the manual work. Lay brothers, where available, lived within the monastery’s walls—together but separate from the monks—and adhered to some monastic regulations while doing manual labor for the monastery and on its lands.
A monk’s duty was never-ending. Their daily life consisted of worship, prayer, meditation, reading, and manual labor. Breviary, the unabridged version of the more famous Book of Hours, divided into eight sections—or hours—was the monks’ main prayer book. It was read at eight specific times of the day in the monastery church, even during the night at 2 am and then again at 5 am. These occasions were known as follows: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, Nones, Vespers and Compline.
The monks’ dress was basic, made from the cheapest cloth, and they normally owned only two pieces of the same clothing. Their wardrobe consisted of linen underclothes, sometimes hose or socks, a simple woolen tunic, a cowl, and a robe. During winter, a sheepskin cloak provided extra warmth. Most monks received a new cowl and a robe each Christmas. A monk’s cowl, a long sleeveless robe with a deep hood, remains their most recognizable item of clothing to this day.

Like with the cowl, medieval monks’ other most remembered distinguishing feature relates to their appearance. Monastery rules required all monks to shave the top of their head. This distinctive haircut, called a tonsure, left their heads shaven except for a narrow strip of hair above the ears. For the monks, tonsures symbolized their renunciation of worldly fashion and esteem.
As the Middle Ages progressed, different orders branched out from the Benedictine Rule practiced by the first medieval monks. Different orders had different practices, and some took vows of silence while others were not as strict. In general, though, all main orders subscribed to three essential vows: those of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Anyone breaking the monastic rules got reported to the abbot, and depending on the severity of the transgression, possible punishments included being beaten, exclusion from communal activities for a time, temporary imprisonment, or even expulsion from the monastery.
What then compelled people to become monks? Why would people sometimes send their children to the monastery as young as at five years of age?
Almost no one lived an easy life in the Middle Ages. The medieval world was rife with disease, famine, warfare, and violence. Even the most powerful monarchs were in constant danger of something uncontrollable upsetting their world. The life of a monk was hard, but unlike most other career options, it offered a secure roof over one’s head and above average quality and amount of food and drink for the duration of one’s life.
As such, it is difficult to say how many became monks for the sole purpose of devoting their lives to serving God, and how many just to live life in a secure retreat, to escape from violence and warfare, or to lead a peaceful and quiet life.
Monasteries contributed in an important way to the communities near them. Anyone joining the monastery could receive an education there, learning reading, writing, arithmetic, and Latin. The monks produced and copied books and illuminated manuscripts, travelers could find a room with them when needed, and they also helped the poor by providing medical care, orphanages, homes for the aged, and public baths. Monasteries were also great patrons of the arts and looked after many pilgrim sites.
While monkhood was not always a permanent career choice, particularly from the 13th century onwards, most monks had no need or desire to leave the monastery after their acceptance into it. Because of this, monasteries were self-sufficient and provided its inhabitants with all the things necessary for survival, including education, food, spiritual sustenance, medical care, and barber services. The specific skills present in each monastery depended on the monks’ own training and interests.
For more information on medieval monks and their everyday life and habits, start with Ancient History Encyclopedia:
or Medieval Life and Times:
Both of which sites were used to contribute to the content of this article, along with my own knowledge and impressions gathered throughout the years.

Immortal Defiance
(Dulcea’s Rebellion #1)
By Laura Maybrooke

Some things never die. Hope. Heroes. Defiance.

Things take a strange turn for Dulcea, the elven enchantress turned war heroine and Dragonmistress, when a countryman's betrayal lands her in enemy hands.

As she awaits her execution, a stranger with mysterious powers offers her another chance at life. Will she die here or risk what sinister fate he has in store for her?

Can Dulcea reclaim her rightful place and lead her army once more? Or does Krath, the man who travels the Realm of the Dead as one of its own, prove to be the obstacle that fells her rebellion?

… Or will this immortal vampire warrior turn out to be the best chance she has of defying the ancient evil arising in the west?


Dulcea stared at the black ceiling, shivering from the cold of the underground. She attempted to recount all the important things in her life before it was to end when out of nowhere she heard a soft voice.
“A damsel in distress.” To her confused surprise, the language spoken was Caerynian Common instead of Sarusean, the tone of the words fascinated. “A maiden sacrifice.”
Dulcea thought she saw a shadow move from the corner of her eye, but when she turned her head to look there was no one there. For an instant, fear took her breath away.
The seconds ticked by, but nothing happened. She saw no one.
“Aren’t you going to ask who’s there?” the voice asked her after a moment, sounding amused.
It was a man’s voice, deep and smooth—almost familiar, like something half heard in a dream.
She drew in a shuddering breath. “Who are you?”
“I could tell you my name, but it would mean nothing to you,” the voice said. “I can tell you what I am instead: I am the beast that has come to collect you.”
Her blood ran cold. The hair on her nape stiffened.
Her throat felt raw. “Keep away from me!”
“You are afraid. Good. You should be. Things do not look good for you.”
Dulcea whipped her head from side to side, but still she saw no one. The voice seemed to come from a different direction every time it spoke. She could not tell if she was talking to a person under an invisibility spell or a disembodied spirit.
“What do you want?”
There came a soft, answering chuckle from somewhere nearby. “If only it were that easy. What do I want? The mind can want one thing, the heart another. Reason and instinct can both be at conflict. It is not so much about wanting as it is about choosing a path, and I have not yet chosen.”
“Who do you serve?” He sounded different from the priests.
“I serve no one.”
“No. Everyone serves someone, even kings and emperors.”
“I am neither a king nor an emperor, but I serve no one.”
Dulcea froze. Fear entered her mind. She had the sudden dreadful premonition that perhaps she was already dead and talking to Asherac himself.
“You refused to heed the counsel of your friends,” the voice said. “You ignored the caution advised to you, only to find yourself in this wretched place. How does that make you feel?”
Her breath failed her. Dulcea wheezed, trying to calm the panicked fluttering of her heart.
“I bet you have some regrets and would welcome a second chance.”
The faintest hope stirred in her breast at his words. Perhaps he meant her no malice.
“Yes…” Her tone was cautious. “I wish for a second chance.”
“It is a vain wish. There are no second chances. All of us we only get one try, and if we fail, we must live with the consequences. You have failed. I am not here to rescue you. I am merely here to offer you a different kind of nightmare.”
“What… what are you talking about?”
“I cannot seem to choose on my own, so you must do it for me. Would you like to take your chances with me… or with them?”

The Coffee Pot Book Club

Highly Recommended

Read the full review HERE!

Pick up your copy of
Immortal Defiance

Laura Maybrooke

"I live in my own little world. But it's ok, they know me here." (Who besides me has this fridge magnet; raise your hand!)

That's sometimes what it feels like. Who says stories aren't real? I live in the land of the Midnight Sun and Polar Nights, together with my husband and daughter, and a cast of fantasy characters running around in my head. It's busy here. Care to stay and chat a while?

Laura Maybrooke is an 80s' child, who works too much and writes too little, but who'll never say no to a thrilling romance, a high fantasy adventure, or a cookbook full of delicious treats she'd like to bake one day.

Connect with Laura: Website • Facebook • Twitter • Pinterest.

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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx