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The History Jigsaw

Piecing together research

I’m working on a new history book, in the same time and location as my others: medieval Swansea and Gower. It will be called Swansea Miracle. Initially it looked like it would be an easy job as there are witness statements from people who were actually there. But the research turned into a history jigsaw, and the pieces don’t fit together!


Bestiary medieval bookUsually with history research you are faced with bits of individual information that have to be fitted together. Sources have to be judged for reliability and completeness. You also need to be aware of bias: History is written by the winners. For some of my books, the amount of research that I didn’t include was almost enough for another book!

Papal Commission

Thomas de Cantilupe's tomb

Thomas de Cantilupe’s tomb

For Swansea Miracle a Papal Commission was held eighteen years later to decide if the many miracles at Thomas de Cantilupe’s tomb warranted making him a saint, and we have the record of their testimonies today. There was also a record made in Hereford Cathedral at the time. But they don’t all agree, hence the research is a history jigsaw.

The witnesses’ memories were very clear. They remarked that the story had spread very quickly and was much talked of round about, so their memories may have been kept fresh by constant retelling. Some of the witnesses were speaking of what they had been told rather than what they saw for themselves, but it is possible to piece together the story by comparing the accounts. Some of the witnesses actually saw some of the events.

Dates, Time and Distance


The witness accounts all agree on the important facts but differ in the details. A long time had passed and dates and times were difficult to pin down in medieval times. What they were not clear about was time and distance. They were not even clear about how old they were, relating their birth to some nearby important event or a particular year of the king’s reign. Dates were related to the seasons or church festivals. Distances were estimated by bow shot or the distance a man could walk in an hour or a day. I have had to choose one version of each event in order to make a cohesive story.

Head shot Ann Marie ThomasAnn Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Intruders, Alien Secrets, and Crisis of Conscience are out now. Follow her at