Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders [Third Edition]

This is not a book on how to write historical fiction. It is a book on how not to write historical fiction.

If you love history and you’re hard at work writing your first historical novel, but you’re wondering if your medieval Irishmen would live on potatoes, if your 17th-century pirate would use a revolver, or if your hero would be able to offer Marie-Antoinette a box of chocolate bonbons . . .

(The answer to all these is “Absolutely not!”)

. . . then Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders is the book for you.

Medieval Underpants will guide you through the factual mistakes that writers of historical fiction—both beginners and seasoned professionals—often make, and show you how to avoid them. From fictional characters crossing streets that wouldn’t exist for another sixty (or two thousand) years, to 1990s slang in the mouths of 1940s characters, to South American foods on ancient Roman plates, acclaimed historical novelist Susanne Alleyn exposes the often hilarious, always painful goofs that turn up most frequently in fiction set in the past.

Alleyn stresses the hazards to writers of assuming too much about details of life in past centuries, providing numerous examples of mistakes that could easily have been avoided. She also explores commonly-confused topics such as the important difference between pistols and revolvers, and between the British titles “Lord John Smith” and “John, Lord Smith” and why they’re not interchangeable, and provides simple guidelines for getting them right. In a wide assortment of chapters including Food and Plants; Travel; Guns; Money; Hygiene; Dialogue; Attitudes; Research; and, of course, Underpants, she offers tips on how to avoid errors and anachronisms while continually reminding writers of the necessity of meticulous historical research.

NEW third edition, revised and expanded
74,000 words — approximately 240 pages in print edition


Profile Photo Susanne Alleyn

About Susanne Alleyn

The granddaughter of children's author Lillie V. Albrecht (author of Deborah Remembers, The Spinning Wheel Secret, and three other historicals), Susanne Alleyn definitely doesn't write for children, unless, like her, they have found guillotines, high drama, and the French Revolution fascinating since the age of ten or so.

After studying acting and singing, and earning a B.F.A. in theater from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, Susanne eventually came to the conclusion that, as an actor, she was quite a good writer, and that looking for an agent or publisher was still easier on the nerves than going to auditions. (She can, nevertheless, still sing a high C when requested.) Having been unwholesomely fascinated by the French Revolution since, at age 9, she read the Classics Illustrated comic-book version of A Tale of Two Cities, she set out to write about it. Her debut novel, A Far Better Rest, a reimagining of A Tale of Two Cities from the point of view of Sydney Carton, was published in 2000. Her latest book is The Annotated A Tale of Two Cities, a heavily annotated edition of the novel for the student or curious reader.

Though a longtime fan, she had never considered writing mysteries, however, until she suddenly found herself creating a historical mystery plot suggested by an actual series of murders committed in Paris in the early 1800s. Police agent Aristide Ravel made his first appearance in Game of Patience (2006) and returned in A Treasury of Regrets (2007), both set in Paris in the Directoire period of 1796-97. Prequels, The Cavalier of the Apocalypse, and Palace of Justice, the third and fourth mysteries in the series, followed in 2009 and 2010. Susanne intends to cover the entire Revolutionary period in future Aristide Ravel novels.

Her sixth historical novel, The Executioner's Heir, is the first of two (non-mystery) novels about real-life Charles Sanson, eighteenth-century executioner of Paris, who has a small featured role, at a much later period of his life, in the Ravel novel, Palace of Justice. She is currently working on the sequel to The Executioner's Heir, but she promises to write more Ravel novels when Charles Sanson's story is at last out of her system.

In a foray into nonfiction, Susanne's book, Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders (2012), a writer's guide to avoiding errors and anachronisms in historical fiction, was written during a burst of exasperation over "historical" authors who under-research and give us medieval peasants eating potatoes (which are from South America) or Victorian heroines who think and talk like Valley Girls.

Susanne lives in New York State. Visit her temporary author website at (a new one is soon to come!) and learn more about her publishing imprint, Spyderwort Press, at

All books by Susanne Alleyn

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