The Google rabbit hole (trivial research worries of an historical novelist)

When Lewis Carroll decided to make a white rabbit a central character in Alice in Wonderland, did he wonder what breed of rabbit it was? Did he dress him in a suit and waistcoat because it was easier than working out what breed of rabbit was likely to frequent the Surrey countryside? Rabbit holes remain a major trip hazard in 2020 for the novelist. Google rabbit holes, that is.
In the case of my novel The Tawny Sash, the rabbit hole is not just a metaphor.

Gabriel Vaughan is hiding from some enemy soldiers and a rabbit runs past. The soldiers go in pursuit of the welcome addition to their dinner and one says ‘should be some more varmints about’.
Which got me wondering – was ‘varmint’ a word in use in 1644? Online dictionaries are good for this -giving the origin of words and the date when they were first used. So the answer was yes. I might have left well alone then, but decided (second question), I had better find out the literal meaning of the word.
The answer to this was ‘vermin’. Oh – but were rabbits considered vermin in 1640s England? Rabbits were introduced into Britain by the Romans, but were prized for their meat and fur for many centuries. Landowners were still cultivating burrows for the meat and fur. As we all know rabbits breed like… So at some point they became a pest. Might they have been protected under the Gaming Acts at that time? Were the Gaming Acts in force?

Conclusion – it was really not worth the effort. I deleted the word ‘varmints’, having just got lost down THE GOOGLE RABBIT HOLE!!

Not only rabbits, but hares. Like rabbits, introduced to Britain by the Romans in all probability. Earlier in the book, Will Lucie’s cavalry troop is saved because he catches sight of a hare.

This caused another brief diversion – what colour were hares? Were they considered a delicacy at the time? How were they caught? With dogs as it turns out, but I decided a dissertation on hare coursing was probably superfluous as the hare only had a bit part.

A movement behind a bush caught his eye. He inched towards it. A flash of long, black-tipped ears as the brown hare, disturbed, lolloped away at great speed. They were good eating, if you could catch them, he thought regretfully.

Fortunately for the hare, Will was too busy on cavalry patrol to round up a dog or two and give chase. It had fulfilled its purpose – catching Will’s eye so that he spots an enemy troop emerging from the direction the hare has obligingly vanished in.

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