Writing historical fiction involves a lot of research…well, it does if the resultant book is to be taken seriously. So when it came to describing medieval Moorfields, just north of London’s city wall, I came upon the inevitable mention of drying grounds for washing. Yes, I knew all about them, because they turn up in all sorts of ways. Washerwomen cleaned the clothes, sheets or whatever, and then spread them on the ground or over bushes. Dry weather was therefore somewhat essential…as it was over the centuries until the invention of dryers of various kinds.
I remember that when my Welsh grandmother was robbed of a suitably dry Monday (always washing day) she would arrange the well wrung washing on the rack that was then hauled up on a rope to hang over our heads in the always warm kitchen. But, if the Monday weather was good, out it all went on the clothes line, pegged up to catch the breeze on a Welsh hillside.
So there you have the relevant words: pegs and line. Such things seem so very obvious that it’s tempting to imagine they’ve always been around, but no. Inventive as the medieval mind was, it didn’t dream up such a novel way to do the business of dry what had been washed. Well, it did from around the 16th century onward (see image above), but still most washing was dried in the time-honoured way, on the ground or in bushes. The object, too, was to let the sun bleach materials that were off-white.
So, much as I’d like to describe the clothes lines fluttering in 14th-century Moorfields, I can’t. Everything would have been on the ground or draped over suitable bushes. Or, I suppose, hanging over low tree branches? Whatever, no medieval CleverClogs seems to have come up with the idea of suspending a line between those branches and then hanging out the washing with a little peg of split wood! It would apparently be well over a century before such inspiration came. And even then the ground and bushes remained the overwhelming preference.
Anyone who has watched a Scottish rugby or association football match will be familiar with the Corries’ folk songO Flower of Scotland, which is played before their matches. The second line of the chorus (“Proud Edward’s army”) refers to Edward II, defeated at Bannockburn so that he never actually ruled Scotland although he may have technically been their King by marriage. I have chosen Barbara Dickson’s version.
The Netherlands’ national anthem, the Wilhelminus, is named after William the Silent, a Protestant monarch assassinated in 1584 during an ongoing independence war against the Spanish forces. Paradoxically, perhaps, it is sung lustily among a sea of orange flags at football internationals.
Can you think of any other monarchs mentioned in anthems?
It’s obvious from the amount of depictions of dogs from the medieval period they were highly prized by our ancestors, both for work and play. They are everywhere! Their delightful little figures pop up on tombs, heraldry and manuscripts regularly.
Some think, when depicted on a tomb effigy of a lady especially, they represent fidelity. Of course..that figures..but casting that aside I believe that actual pets were being represented unlike the lions, representing strength, that were found at the feet of the effigies of males. Indeed some of their names are on the tombs. Lady Cassy’s little dog, ‘Terri’ was shown and named on her brass at Deerhurst, Gloucestershire and since the brass was commissioned by Lady Cassy after the death of her husband ‘it is likely that the name of the dog represents personal initiative on her part'( 1 ). Another dog named on an effigy at Ingham was “Jakke”.
Lady Cassy’s little dog, Terri, wearing a collar of bells. Deerhurst, Gloucestershire.
Many wore collars festooned with bells such as the dogs on Bishop Langham tomb instead of the usual lions found on a male’s tomb. Richard Willoughly specifically requested that bells adorn the collar of the dog at the bottom of his wife’s effigy.
Richard Willoughby specifically requested the dog on his wife’s effigy to be adorned with bells. Wollaton, Notts.
Blanche Mortimer’s effigy has a little dog, now sadly headless, peeping out of her spread skirts on her tomb at Much Marcle, Herefordshire.
Blanche Mortimer‘s little dog, still with her on her monument. Much Marcle, Herefordshire.
And there they are, for all posterity at their mistresses and masters feet, looking for all the world as if they are about to roll over for a belly scratch at any time.
The dogs that lived in upper class households undoubtedly were extremely lucky and led pampered lives but hopefully even the poorest households valued their dogs or ‘mungrell curres’ as a 13th century writer put it. For the many other aspects of medieval doggies lives see this article, covering everything you ever wanted to know about our canine friends…. I must say I feel for the poor ‘dog boy’ who had to be in the kennels at all times, even nights, to prevent the dogs fighting – Good luck with that! – to monks complaining that dogs and puppies ‘oftentimes trouble the service by their barkings, and sometimes tear the church books’..
Piero della Francesca – detail of the dogs from St Sigismund and Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta
Dogge eyeing up a cat…14th century manuscript..
Alaunt with a posh collar…
English Church Monuments in the Middle Ages p307 Nigel Saul
Every September on Wakes Monday, which follows Wakes Sunday, an unusual dance takes place in the small Staffordshire village of Abbots Bromley. A company of dancers bearing huge, ancient reindeer horns, accompanied by a Fool with a pig’s bladder, a Maid Marion who is a man in female dress, a Hobby Horse, a Triangle Player, a Musician, and an Archer played by a young child, dance throughout the village then journey out across the nearby reservoir to Blithfield Hall, stopping and performing along the way.
How long this dance has taken place is unknown but it is assumed to be medieval. There was a right to hold a fair granted to the village of Abbots Bromley in 1221 and a carbon date from one set of antlers goes back to 1065–before the Norman Conquest. As the antlers are from reindeer, they (or the animals that bore them)must have been imported from Scandinavia, as reindeer are not believed to have been extant in Britain at this period. The first official mention of dancing is in 1532 when the Hobby Horse is mention (the old Hobby Horse, a bit decrepit, hangs in St Nicholas’church), and a later account of the 1600’s describes the dance as we know it. The participants wear ‘Tudor’ style costumes today.
The last performance takes place before the Bagot family of Blithfield Hall, which is not normally open to the public. The Bagots have lived at the hall since the 14th C, although the structure is mainly Elizabeth with a 19th C Gothic facade. The Bagot family are related to the Earls of Stafford and hence the Dukes of Buckingham; in 1195 Hervey Bagot married Millicent, the daughter and heiress of the Earl of Stafford.
Of course Shakespearean London is post Ricardian but most of the streets and buildings covered in this interesting article would have been there in Richard’s time.
For anyone visiting London, this article would be an excellent referral point especially for covering the lesser known parts. Starting at St Pauls station, via Bankside, a thoroughfare since the 13th century, ending back at St Pauls, the walk covers much including Borough Market, the church of St Magnus Martyr, where two stones from the original Medieval bridge are still in situ, Eastcheap, the London Stone, close to Cannon Street Station where once Warwick the Kingmaker’s London house, the Erber, stood and St Pauls, rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the disastrous Fire of London 1666.
I’ve posted some photos here of places covered on the walk although I’m not sure these are in the book, see below, from which this article is an extract.
For the purposes of the historical novel upon which I am at present working, I have recently been looking into the complicated business of medieval hunting. By which I mean the sort of hunting indulged in by royalty and the aristocracy. The poor man sneaking off with some midwinter game has been left well alone – and I hope he enjoyed every nourishing mouthful of his illicit stew!
I know nothing about modern day hunting, wherever in the world it takes place, nor do I wish to, but things were very different during medieval times. Then, hunting was much admired, and deemed to make men good and noble. I think my 21st-century attitude would soon lead to me being pursued to a very sticky end in the heart of some royal forest or other! That unlikely scenario aside, those long-gone huntsmen knew all the vast numbers of intricate rules and very precise words that can be quite mystifying to us today. Especially given the happy-go-lucky medieval spelling!
The hounds are still today described variously as lymers/limers, raches (running hounds), greyhounds, alaunts (large haunts), spaniels, mastiffs (called curs), terriers (small curs). And these are only some.
Lymers (scent hounds) appear to have played a very significant role, and I always thought (from the frequency with which they are mentioned) that they were numerous. But, in The Hound and the Hawk, by John Cummins, it is recorded that “…Richard III’s Master of the Hart-hounds received a feeding allowance for forty dogs and three lymers…” The king himself only had only three lymers with his hart-hounds? These must have been very valuable hounds indeed.
Cummins goes on “…The lymer (French limier, German leit-hund, Spanish can de traella) had a special role in detecting the whereabouts of the hart on the morning of the hunt, when the huntsman in charge of the lymer went out with it on a leash in order to report back to the assembly. It was vital to locate the hart as precisely as possible without disturbing it; the essential qualities of a lymer, therefore, were strong scenting abilities and silence. It was often housed apart from the other hounds, sometimes in the huntsman’s own accommodation….”
Valuable and pampered. I wonder if Richard knew these three lymers? He must have done. And their names, I imagine.
Cummins again: “…Under Richard III, the Master of the Hart-hounds was allowed 3s 3d a day ‘for the mete of forty dogs and twelve greyhounds, and threepence for three lymers’…” So, in England at least (it may have been different on the continent) lymers were a separate and larger breed of hound.
Looking at illustrations, it often seems that medieval lymers were an early type of bloodhound, and that as the years passed into the Renaissance period, they were more definitely bloodhounds as we know them today.
If you wish to know all the minutiae of high-class medieval hunting, then Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York, wrote an excellent book that he presented to Henry V, when Prince of Wales. The book is called The Master of Game, and can be read in its entirety here. And if you want to see all the different types of dogs and hounds, then go to this article, which is packed full of colourful illustrations.
There is no disputing that fish was very important to the medieval diet. The Church ruled that not only was it required food on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but also for Advent and the forty days of Lent. And I’m sure there were other days when it was mandatory too, but the previous sentence covers the main diet.
If you go to this article you’ll find the story of how fish became part of the religious year. You’ll also find that “….after Henry [VIII] became smitten with Anne Boleyn, English fish-eating took a nosedive….” Henry’s son, Edward VI, took steps to rectify this awful situation!
The thought of fish for forty days is a little daunting, I have to say, but it’s what our medieval forebears observed seriously. And I’m sure may still observe this now. But today, of course, we have refrigerators and freezers to be sure of always having our fish fresh. But what about back then? In the middle of summer, many miles from the sea, how could they ensure their fish stayed edible? Well, they had it all worked out, I can assure you.
What follows now is mainly about knightly households and higher, because that is what I have been researching for my present novel. My source is The Great Household in Late Medieval Period by C.M. Woolgar, and I have by no means covered all the detail continued in this very informative book, which I thoroughly recommend.
Let’s start with sea fish. There wasn’t anywhere in England that was too far from the sea for people to have fresh sea fish, but such fish were also widely preserved—pickled in brine, smoked and dried (often accompanied by salting). This kept fish like herring, cod and other white-fleshed fish in good order for months, and was vital over the winter period.
Cod that was salted and pickled in brine was known as saltfish. If the cod was dried in the open air, it was known as stockfish. If certain fish were to be kept for a shorter period, but still longer than if they were fresh, they were “powdered” (lightly salted). But eels and oysters were kept in barrels, the salt water being regularly changed to keep it clear.
Both stockfish and saltfish were often imported from Scandinavia and the northern coast of Germany, but there was a large contribution from English waters as well. There is evidence in the Severn estuary of late-medieval fishtraps that would have caught sea-bream, salmon, mullet, plaice and so on.
Herring was a vital fish for the nation’s diet, and around it grew a considerable industry in the North Sea ports. It was seasonal, of course, being readily available in mid to late summer. White herring (salted and pickled) became available toward the end of the fresh-herring season, and red herring (smoked) were to be had later on. Joan de Valence, when at Goodrich, was supplied with preserved herring from Southampton, and she had dried, salted cod brought by sea from her Pembroke estates to Bristol, shipped across the Severn to Chepstow, and thence by conveyed by packhorse to Goodrich. A lengthy business, but no doubt the cod was thoroughly enjoyed.
Oysters were much consumed at Lent, either fresh in shell, or pickled, without shells, in barrels. Mussels and whelks were sometimes confined to Lent. Shellfish were gathered along the shore by women. Joan de Valence’s cook, Master Roger, was sent weekly from her residence at Hertingfordbury to purchase fish in London.
Fresh sea fish were usually carried by packhorses, and like stockfish and saltfish were put in baskets or wickerwork panniers. Fish pickled in brine were transported and stored in barrels. Sometimes they were stored in straw.
Now let me move to freshwater fish, which could be very expensive and were generally confined to consumption by the upper class and monasteries. There was some fishing in rivers, but the great majority of such fish were kept in ponds. Not natural ponds, but those that were specially constructed around castles, great manor houses and religious houses. The more modest of these ponds were small and rectangular; others were like lakes.
Households employed skilled fishermen to select and catch the denizens of these ponds. They went out in boats on the large pools, but the small ones required fishing from the banks.
John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, kept a record (partly in his own hand) of the stock in his ponds. This included carp, which were not widely recorded in England before the 1700s. Clearly he deemed them worthy of his own personal attention.
The fish in these ponds included pike, eels, lamperns, lamprey, bream, roach, chub and tench. Trout were fished from freshwater streams, and I have not found them mentioned as being kept in ponds.
Freshwater fish were usually eaten within hours of being caught, and thus ponds were sited close to residence. There fish were sometimes moved wrapped in wet straw or grass, or in barrels that were lined with canvas and filled with water. Storing live fish in water is something still done by many fishmongers, and I well remember back in 1962 selecting trout from a tank outside a hotel in Grundhof, near Echternach, Luxembourg. The trout came from the nearby River Sûre. I’d never seen such tanks in England, so it came as a great surprise. And that particular tank is still there!
So, thanks to C.M. Woolgar, I am now more knowledgeable about medieval man and his relationship with fish, but one thing does puzzle me. The small matter of pike. In a pond. With other fish.
Now, the pike is a predatory cannibal, and I can’t imagine it will sit on its fins and whistle a happy tune. No, it will be hellbent on consuming anything that moves in its vicinity. So, what did medieval man do to preserve all his freshwater fish? Building a separate pond for the pike would be very expensive indeed, and unlikely. So…what happened? How did they cope with a rapacious pike?
I can only hope Master Pike didn’t grow to the proportions of Jonah’s whale!
From this, I have extracted the following interesting little snippet.
“….Sheriffs are nominated annually for the position….The list of candidates is drawn up and presented to representatives of the Sovereign in March at a meeting of the Privy Council.
“….The successful candidate is chosen by the process of ‘pricking’. This is done by pricking the parchment with a silver bodkin next to the name of the chosen candidate. The practice of ‘pricking’ is said to date back to Elizabeth I; when she was employed in embroidery and was asked to choose the Sheriffs she pricked the vellum parchment with her silver bodkin.
“….However, the process of ‘pricking’ may have come before this anecdote as parchments from Henry VII’s reign, Queen’s Elizabeth I’s grandfather, have also been pricked.
“….Another explanation for the pricking of the vellum was that it could not be repaired, whereas a mark in ink could be removed, as being selected as the High Sheriff was not always well received. When elected as the High Sheriff there were financial implications, shouldering some of the cost as well as trouble in duties such as collecting taxes. The pricking of the vellum therefore could not be erased and the chosen Sheriff was obliged to carry out their post, with cost being one of the reasons that the post was only for a year….”
I wonder how old this practice is? Might it go as far back as Richard? Edward IV? Even further?
New Year’s Eve now and New Year’s Eve in the mediaeval period actually refer to two different calendar days. Old New Year’s Eve was 24th March. For an easy-to-understand explanation, please go to here, but whichever the day, it was still New Year’s Eve. We now celebrate it with much fun, laughter and hope, but its history is rather different. And so this article of mine has appeared on the day as we know it now.
The name Sylvester is a reference to New Year’s Eve, because St Sylvester’s Day is celebrated then. This saint’s day is still widely celebrated, although not particularly here in the United Kingdom. The Germans, for instance, call New Year’s Eve Silvester. See this site
St Sylvester was first Pope Sylvester I, and was in office from 314 to 335. (see Brittanica Online) He died on 31st December 335, hence it is his feast day. He is the one who converted the Emperor Constantine to Christianity.
There was a second St Sylvester who was also a Pope, 999 to 1003, but apart from having taken the name Sylvester (he was originally Gerbert of Aurillac) I do not think he was connected with New Year’s Eve. He was the one who introduced Europe to the decimal system. Pope Sylvester III took office in 1045, and is believed by many to be an antipope (see explanation of antipopes here) Pope Sylvester IV was another who was considered to be an antipope.
New Year’s Eve was the birthday of Bonnie Prince Charlie. It was also the birthday of the French admiral who was defeated by Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar. Pierre-Charles-Baptiste-Silvestre de Villeneuve was born on 31st December 1763. Hence the name Silvestre being added.
When it comes to English medieval history, the closest I can come to New Year’s Eve is the Battle of Wakefield, which took place the day before in 1460. To learn more, go to Battlefields of Britain As the 3rd Duke of York and his second son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland, were killed at the battle, I imagine that New Year’s Eve was a time of utter sorrow for their remaining sons/siblings.
The Scots have their New Year’s Eve celebrations too. They call it Hogmanay. If you go to this article you can read all about it. The name is thought to have been used after the return of Mary, Queen of Scots, to Scotland from France in 1561. The origin of the name Hogmanay is not really known, but the above BBC Newsround link offers quite a number of possibilities.
Now, in the present day there is no ignoring the claims that most of our Christian feasts and festivals have a pagan origin. I don’t know whether to give this credence or not. Julius Caesar was said to have used 31st December/1st January to honour the two-faced Roman god Janus, god of changes and beginnings. Janus was said to look back into the past and forward into the future. That sounds logical enough to me.
So, while you’re all enjoying your parties tonight, seeing in the New Year and singing with gusto—and not a little alcoholic assistance!—perhaps you should raise your glasses to Julius Caesar, St Silvester I, Bonnie Prince Charlie, and poor old defeated Admiral Villeneuve (who, was returned to France by the British, and was quite amazingly supposed to have committed suicide by “six stab wounds in the left lung and one in the heart”. That, ladies and gentlemen, was quite feat, I think you’ll agree. I can’t imagine anyone believed it was self-inflicted!
I will end this now, but but not before reminding you of the very first Sylvester I ever knew – yes, Sylvester the Cat, who so wanted to eat that annoying Tweety-Pie. Personally I always hoped he’d succeed. Was there ever a more irritating, stupid-looking canary? Anyway, here’s a link to make you laugh as you see out 2019! I’ll bet a lot of you remember I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvNfPSXWZqw