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The importance of fish in the medieval diet….

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.

Fishmongers, from 15th century Chronicle of Ulrico de Richental

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.

from https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1020017

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.

Remains of fishpond alongside River Lodden in Old Basing, Hampshire

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.

From The Treatyse with an Angle
Men netting fish in a pond, 14th century

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!

Here is another article on the subject, another, another , another and another.
 
 
 

 

Prick your choice with your bodkin….!

 

Late medieval silver bodkin

While researching who was the Sheriff of Kent in 1375, and when, exactly, in March he would have been elected (neither of which has any bearing on this post) I came upon the following site:

https://scotneycastlent.wordpress.com/2016/02/03/the-high-sheriff-of-kent/

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?

The truth about the Christian New Year’s Eve….

From https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/saint/st-sylvester-pope-101

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

From https://www.eventbrite.de/e/mega-silvester-berlin-201920-tickets-67021094899?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

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.

”The Donation of Constantine”, Gian Francesco Penni, Sala di Costantino in the Vatican

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.

Admiral Pierre-Charles-Jean-Baptiste-Sylvestre de Villeneuve from From https://www.frenchempire.net/biographies/villeneuve/

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.

The Roman God Janus
from https://www.mercatornet.com/features/view/who-was-janus-the-roman-god-of-beginnings-and-endings/20868

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!

Villeneuve was interred at the Church of Saint Germain in Rennes, pictured here in 1910
from http://www.wiki-rennes.fr/Fichier:Eglise_saint_germain.jpeg

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

 

Let’s Hope 2020 is a Good One!

King Edward IV’s Last Christmas….

Reconstruction of Christmas at Eltham 1482Historic England (illustration by Peter Urmston)

In the 14th century it became a royal tradition to spend Christmas at Eltham, and by 1482, Edward IV also held his Christmas there.

Antique Print of Eltham Palace

The top picture is an imagined scene of this Christmas in the great hall (pictured immediately above) with Edward, his queen and perhaps some of his sons and daughters at the dais.

It is hard to say from the 1482 scene whether or not there is anything unusual about Edward’s attire, but, according to Edward the Fourth by Laurence Stratford, 1910:-

“….Christmas 1482 was spent at Eltham, where the King ‘kept his estate all the whole feast in his great chamber, and the Queen in her chamber, where were daily more than 2000 persons served.’ (Stowe, Annals, London 1619)  A contemporary writer has left us a graphic account of the prosperous appearance of the Court at this season:  ‘You might have seen, in those days, the royal Court presenting no other appearance than such as fully befits a most mighty kingdom, filled with riches and with people of almost all nations, and (a  point in which it excelled all others) boasting of the most sweet and beautiful children,’ (The Continuators of the Croyland Chonicle (translated and edited by H. T. Riley in Ingulph’s Chronicles, published Bohn) the issue of the King and Queen….

“….One of the guests appears to have been Andrew Palaeologus, a member of the fallen house of Constantinople. (Ramsay, Lancaster and York, 1892, ii. p 448) The King appeared ‘clad in a great variety of most costly garments, of quite a different cut to those which had been usually seen hitherto in our kingdom. The sleeves of the robes were very full and hanging, greatly resembling a monk’s frock, and so lined within with most costly furs and rolled over the shoulders as to give that Prince a new and distinguished air to beholders, he being a person of most elegant appearance, and remarkable beyond all others for the attraction of his person.’ (Cont. Croyland, pp 480-1)….”

Oh, if only the colours and fabrics had been described! I have some difficulty in picturing how, exactly, these clothes were so startlingly new and different. However, this certainly doesn’t sound like a man whose health would deteriorate so much that he would die only four months later, on 9th April 1483. I always thought his decline was long and slow, aided and abetted by obesity and years of riotous living. Surely such a man could not have been described as ‘a person of most elegant appearance’ at Christmas 1482?

Eltham Palace, showing the moat and position of the great hall

Christmas under Henry VII, complete with “foot sheets”. . .!

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Henry VII in royal robes

 I was browsing, and came upon the following interesting details about how Henry VII celebrated Christmas and Twelfth Night. It is from Christmas: Its Origin and Associations by William Francis Dawson, which I found in Google Books.

The following extract has been tweaked a little by me, to create more paragraphs and thus make it more legible. Huge paragraphs can become a strain to follow. In my opinion, anyway. The illustrations are my additions. Here goes. . .with my comments at the end:-

. . . Christmases . . . “were kept by Henry VII. at Westminster Hall with great hospitality, the King wearing his crown, and feasting numerous guests, loading the banquet-table with peacocks, swans, herons, conger, sturgeon, brawn, and all the delicacies of the period.

medieval-recipes-ancient-recipes

At his ninth Christmas festival the Mayor and Aldermen of London were feasted with great splendour in the great hall, the King showing them various sports on the night following in the great hall, which was richly hung with tapestry: ‘which sports being ended in the morning, the king, queen, and court sat down at a table of stone, to 120 dishes, placed by as many knights and esquires, while the Mayor was served with twenty-four dishes and abundance of wine.

medieval feast

And finally the King and Queen being conveyed with great lights into the palace, the Mayor, with his company in barges, returned to London by break of the next day.

mayor's barge leaving Whitehall

“From the ancient records of the Royal Household it appears that on the morning of New Year’s Day, the King ‘sitting in his foot-sheet’, received according to prescribed ceremony a new year’s gift from the queen, duly rewarding the various officers and messengers, according to their rank. The Queen also ‘sat in her foot-sheet’, and received gifts in the same manner, paying a less reward.

King Henry VII Christmas feast

Were Henry and Elizabeth employing their “foot sheets”…?

“And on this day, as well as on Christmas Day, the King wore his kirtle, his surcoat and his pane of arms; and he walked, having his hat of estate on his head, his sword borne before him, with the chamberlain, steward, treasurer, comptroller, preceding the sword and the ushers; before whom must walk all the other lords except those who wore robes, who must follow the king. The highest nobleman in rank, or the King’s brother, if present, to lead the Queen; another of the King’s brothers, or else the Prince, to walk with the King’s train-bearer.

Henry VII at coronation

The coronation, yes, but it’s an illustration of Henry VII in procession in his royal robes.

“On Twelfth Day the King was to go ‘crowned, in his royal robes, kirtle, and surcoat, his furred hood about his neck, and his ermines upon his arms, of gold set full of rich stones with balasses, sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and pearls’. This ornament was considered so sacred , that ‘no temporal man’ (none of the laity) but the King was to presume to touch it; an esquire of the body was to bring it in a fair handkerchief, and the King was to put it on with his own hands; he must also have his sceptre in his right hand, the ball with cross in his left hand, and must offer at the altar gold, silver, and incense, which offering the Dean of the Chapel was to send to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and this was to entitle the Dean to the next vacant benefice. The King was to change his mantle when going to mean, ansd to take off his hood and lay it about his neck, ‘clasping it before with a rich owche [brooch].’

Henry VII with sceptre

“The King and queen on Twelfth Night were to take the void (evening repast) in the hall; as for the wassail, the steward and treasurer were to go for it, bearing their staves; the chapel choir to stand on the side of the hall, and when the steward entered at the hall door, he was to cry three times, ‘Wassail! Wassail! Wassail!’ and the chapel to answer with a good song; and when all was done the King and queen retired to their chamber.

Wassail

Wassail!

“Among the special features of the banquets of this period with the devices for the table called subtleties, made of paste, jelly or blanc-mange, placed in the middle of the board, with labels describing them; various shapes of animals were frequent; and on a saint’s day, angels, prophets, and patriarchs were set upon the table in plenty.

“Certain dishes were also directed as proper for different degrees of persons; as ‘conies parboiled, or else rabbits, for they are better for a lord’; and ‘for a great lord take squirrels, for they are better than conies’; a whole chicken for a lord; and ‘seven mackerel in a dish, with a dragge of fine sugar’, was also a dish for a lord.

“But the most famous dish was ‘the peacock enkakyll, which is foremost in the procession to the king’s table’. Here is the recipe for this royal dish: Take and flay off the skin with the feathers, tail, and the neck and head thereon; then take the skin, and all the feathers, and lay it on the table abroad, and strew thereon ground cinnamon; then take the peacock and roast him, and baste him with raw yolks of eggs; and when he is roasted, take him off, and let him cool awhile, and take him and sew him in his skin, and gild his comb, and so serve him with the last course.”

roast peacock for medieval banquet

Me: It all sounds very grand. . .and incredibly stilted. Can they really have enjoyed the occasion? All those rules of precedence, etc. I can only suppose that Richard III must have endured the same?

And speaking of Richard, what, exactly, were the ermines that adorned Henry’s arms? They had to be basically fur, I suppose, and laden with so many jewels they must have felt heavy. Were they made especially for Henry? Or were they among the “crown jewels”, and therefore had been worn by Richard before him, and Edward IV, etc. I have never heard of ermine being donned separately on the arm. Maybe it was a Tudor innovation, to emphasise Henry’s right to the throne. Well, the right he usurped. My lack of knowledge does not mean much, for I am constantly faced with new things of which I have never heard before.

The same applies to “foot sheets”. What were they? In modern parlance they appear to be akin to plasters that are applied to the bottom of the feet. Hmm. I cannot imagine that if Henry and Elizabeth wore such items, it would warrant such particular mention. So, what were foot sheets? It was winter, so were they something to ensure the royal feet did not get too cold?

Prince-Philip-snuggled-under-blanket-Queen-Elizabeth-II

Were foot sheets something like this?

If anyone knows more, pray enlighten me! To learn a little more about medieval Christmases, go to:- https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/medieval-christmas-how-was-it-celebrated/

And finally, I wish you all the compliments of the season!

christmas-clipart-transparent-png-2

 

The dolls, toys and playthings of medieval children….

If you are interested in what medieval children played with, i.e. theirs toys and so on, rather than the things they found lying around and used according to their imagination, then this is an excellent site. It is part of the lars datter site, which offers a great deal of scope and information. The site’s official name is Medieval and Renaissance Material Culture.

My search for information about hobby horses is what took me to the site, and I thought it would be of interest to those who are absorbed in all things medieval.

Hygiene in Medieval Times

Have you ever asked yourself how people washed and perfume themselves in Medieval time? And what about the smart and noble Plantagenets? Was there a difference between rich and poor people? You will be surprised to discover that Mediaeval people were cleaner than we can imagine and they smelled good.

As you can imagine, hygienic habits differs from peasants to royals even though every class used to bathe and clean clothes. Of course, peasants and poor people in general, were at the lower level of hygiene due to several reasons, first of all status and income. They were not so rich to afford the cost of fuel to boil water or at least, to warm it as it was used to cook and staying warm. However, they washed themselves in some way using cold water or damp cloths. In summer, streams and river, made the difference. In order to avoid waste of hot water, they used to have a bath every couple of weeks following a sort of criteria. As the bath tub was filled, the head of the family had a bath at first followed by all the male relatives in order of age. After that, women could have a bath starting with the oldest. Babies came at last. It is not difficult to imagine that at that point, water was so murky that was even difficult to find the baby in the bath tub. It seems that the expression “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”, that today is an idiomatic expression, seems to come from this debatable habits.

In monasteries, things went a little bit worse as monks were allowed to bathe only 3 or 4 times a year but there are some records that show in reality they washed themselves regularly at least partially that means face, hands and feet. Being something related to the body, Church didn’t encourage bathing a lot.

As regards nobles, royals and in general healthy people, things were totally different. As they could afford the cost of hot water and accessories for bathing, they had some portable wooden bathtubs with a curtain where they stay standing. Water was often scented with flowers and herbs. They also have bathtubs very similar to those we have today cased in, with tiles around and in horizontal position.

As regards shaving, men shaved regularly but it was not that easy because mirrors were not clear and wide so they prefer to be shaved by a barber instead. In a household account about Edward IV, every Saturday night, he had a shave and head, legs and feet washed. It seems that Edward was also interested in smelling good. To this purpose, not only he washed himself but also he had his linen boiled in water into which orris root and violets were tied to linen. In addition to these plants, he should have used lavender, roses and rosemary as well. We have reason to believe that Richard and the other men and women of the court, might have followed this trend.

What about teeth? It seems that in Medieval times, the oral hygiene was not so bad as we could think. First of all, teeth at that time were almost perfect as not so many people could access sugar and not so often. In addition to this, they want to appear smart and smell nice so they clean their teeth using linen-cloths to rub them with salt, pepper, rosemary, mint, powdered charcoal, and many other herbs.

Due to the high waste of candles made out of animals fat, castles smelled damp and not exactly good. To avoid this, herbs and flower were strewn across the floor especially lavender, marjoram, thyme and rosemary. This last was used also as a perfume for men.

At this point, many of you are wondering if women removed hair from their body and the answer is yes. They shaved their armpits, legs and the so called “Head Down There”. This practice was common among Western women especially prostitutes who were considered more appealing without hair as this could have given them a sort of “innocent” air. They normally used quicklime for this purpose.

Finally, what was the main smell in Medieval times? There were many flowers and herbs to perfume the air and the body as rosemary, sage, marjoram, lavender, violets but the typical, Medieval smell was rose. To wash their hands and the hands of their close friend before eating, bowls of rose water and petals were put on the table for people to use. Roses are always so fascinating flowers preferred especially by nobles and monarchs and not only for hygienic reasons but also to conquer the heart of a woman. We have not changed a lot after all…

RICHARD III’s HORSES..

IMG_5875.jpgStained glass depiction of King Richard and his legendary horse, White Surrey.

As we now know sadly, Richard, did not own a horse called  White Surrey or, as he has sometimes been called, White Syrie  (1).  But  Richard did own horses aplenty and we are fortunate lists of these horses have survived – see below (2).  What I know of horses you could put on a postage stamp but the late John Ashdown-Hill explains in his book The Mythology of Richard III’  that liard or lyard are grey horses which could be described as white.  So therefore it can clearly be seen that Richard did have grey horses which could appear white.  If one of these horses was not called White Syrie…well..he should have been!   John goes on to explain it was once believed ‘that a horse called White Syrie was actually listed in a 15th century manuscript’  – see below  – ‘however this proved to be a misreading.  There is therefore no 15th century surviving evidence of the name of the horse that Richard rode in his last battle (3)’

THE NAMES OF HORSE BEING AT GRISSE IN HAVERING PARC

First Liard – trotting

Liard Clervax of Croft  – ambling

The Whit – ambling

Baiard Babingtone – ambling

Liard Strangwisse – Ambling

Baiard Rither – Ambling

Liard Cultone – trotting

The litille Whit of Knaresburghe  – ambling

My ladies grey gelding (name unknown) – Ambling

Liard Carlile – trotting

Liard Norffolk – Ambling

THE NAMES OF HORSES BEING AT GRISSE IN HOLDERNESSE

Liard Mountfort – ambling

Powisse Tomlynsone

IMG_5870.jpg

THE NAMES OF HORSES BEING AT HARDMET AT NOTTINGHAM 

Liard Danby – Ambling

Liard hoton – Ambling

The gret grey that came from Gervaux -ambling

Baiard Culton – trotting

Blak Morelle – Trotting

The Whit of Gervaux  – Ambling for my lady

The Walssh (hoby) nag – for my lady ambling

Jak

Liard Bradshare – ambling

The gret Bay Gelding of Gervaux  ……. (John Ashdown-Hill suggests this horse is a candidate for the  very horse  Richard rode into battle being stabled at Hardmet (Harmet) in Nottingham)

Lyard Say

Beyard Chambreleyne

The Blak of Holderness – trotting

Beyard Chamberlain

Liard Bowes

Alas no White Surrey or Whyte Syrie …it’s a great shame that the name of Richard’s horse t he rode into battle that day is lost to us  for,  without a doubt,   he would have been magnificent and as such surely deserves recognition.

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Armour for man and horse circa 1480.  Wallace Collection..

 

 

 

1.White Surrey Peter W Hammond.  Article in Richard III Crown and People p285

2. British Library Harelean  Manuscript p.4.5 Vol 1. Ed by Horrox and Hammond.

3. The Mythology of Richard III p117.118 John Ashdown-Hill.

Gourmet Magazine Does a Christmas Medieval Feast

gourmetLong before Gourmet Magazine went out of business in 2009, collapsed under too many overwrought articles on bovine emissions, it had been an intellectual colossus in the culinary world.  From the 1940s through the ’60s, it featured lush travel articles on world cuisine venturing into far-flung places such as Persia, Bhutan (“a taste of Shangri-La!”) and the Texas prairie.  Only Gourmet Magazine could print recipes from ordinary folks in the Midwest (“Nicoise Salad Abramowitz”) to the finger food of the Whirling Dervishes.  Its writing staff featured charmingly rococo names like Malabar Hornblower, Waverly Root, Doone Beal and Irene Corbally Kuhn all of whom had long literary and culinary careers.  Waverly Root wrote the classic Food of Italy and Hornblower did major historical work digging into the eating habits of the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts.  Gourmet took food and travel so seriously that articles were often published in two or three chapters over the course of several months no doubt incurring skyrocketing expenses that only post-war prosperity could support.  In its last years, it played more to the penurious and attention-deficit youth market:  store bought pizza dough recipes and textless photographs of Brooklyn mixologists.  Where oh where had the monthly columns “Specialites de la Maison New York” and “Paris Journal” – undoubtedly written by tubby gourmands with napkins askew – gone?

mario micossi

Mario Micossi’s etching for “A Medieval Feast”

Luckily, that’s where Ebay comes in.  For a pittance, one can buy ten old Gourmets and wile away a nostalgic hour or two remembering New York City or London restaurants one dined at in 1979.  Still, I was surprised to see Gourmet time travel.  While flipping through a 1976 edition, I came across an article called “A Medieval Feast” by the self-styled Pressure Cooker Queen Lorna J. Sass.  Written in the present tense, it captures something of the heated expectations of the barons seated in King Richard II’s Great Hall and the hysterical mood of the chief steward, pantler and butler.  Imagine two hundred cooks in the kitchen with slaughtered animals piled to the roof!  Here is a list of some of provisions she cites:

“14 oxen lying in salt, 2 freshly killed oxen, 120 sheepheads, 12 boars, 13 calves, 100 marrowbones, 50 swans, 210 geese, 200 rabbits, 1,200 pigeons, 144 partridges, 720 hens and 11,000 eggs”

While the kitchen is in tumult, minstrels play and jugglers and acrobats wander among the noble and refined diners.  “Like the Prioress in the Canterbury Tales, they are careful to leave no traces of grease on either their lips or their mazers (drinking bowls).”  How those merry Yorkists could rock it!

Here are two slightly adapted recipes from “A Medieval Feast” that reinforces how our western ancestors applied the modern notion that savory and sweet can be combined in a delicious and sophisticated manner.  Everything old is new again.

Try these during the Christmas season:

medieval-pie

Pork Pie with Herbs and Spices

Make two pie dough crusts and drape one round over the rolling pin and fit it into a pie pan.  Prick it with a fork and chill for 30 minutes.  Do a blind bake at 400 degrees F (200 C) for 10 minutes.

In a bowl combine 1 beaten egg, 1/4 cup each of minced pitted dates and raisins, 2 tablespoons of chicken broth, minced parsley and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, salt, sage, 1/2 teasoon of ground ginger and crushed saffron threads.  Add 3/4 pound of boneless pork loin cut into cubes and combined well.  Transfer to pie shell.

Place the second pie round over the rolling pin and unroll over the pie.  Trim and crimp and paint with either milk or beaten egg.  Prick the crust to allow steam to escape.  Bake the pie at 350 F (175C) in the lower third of the preheated oven for approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes or until crust is golden.

Spiced Pear Puree

In a heavy saucepan combine 6 ripe but firm pears, peeled, cored and diced along with a cup of sherry.  Add several cinnamon sticks (to taste), 3 tablespoons of brown sugar and 1/8 teaspoon of allspice, mace and pepper.  Bring to a boil and reduce until pears are soft.  Discard cinnamon sticks and puree the pears.  Return to fire and cook until slightly thickened.  Stir in homemade breadcrumbs or graham cracker/digestive biscuits crumbs and serve with sweetened whipped cream with a little nutmeg grated on top.

pears

And while you enjoy these dishes, give a nod to the Plantagenets and their Yorkist cohorts who brought such joy and abundance to the Christmas season and a doleful sigh to the Tudors who brought them low.

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All about medieval pets….

Cats doing what cats must do…chasing and disposing of unwelcome rodents.

Humans have always kept pets…or so it seems to me, anyway. We simply like to have certain animals around us. I can’t imagine that the likes of rhinos, bulls or camels were ever on anyone’s list of must-have pets, but there have always been cats, dogs, birds and so on.

“…. Pets were a rarity in the medieval world – people in the Middle Ages did keep domestic animals like dogs and cats, but most of them served a purpose. Dogs would be used to guard homes or assist in the hunt, while cats were needed to catch mice and other vermin. Still, the relationship between these animals and their keepers was often an affectionate one….”

The above is a quote from this website, an interesting article with which I am not entirely in accord. I believe pets were far more popular than being rarities. Yes, cats and dogs had to work for their living, but I’ll bet that a lot of them were fussed and cuddled too. It’s human nature, and animals are canny enough to know how to win us over.

Nevertheless, I recommend the link, which is informative…and which contains other links to similar sites about medieval pets.

One of the recommended books is Medieval Pets by Kathleen Walker-Meikle, which I have and can recommend. If you want to know all about our medieval ancestors and their relationships with their pet animals, this is the place to go. There are also separate books by the same author, dealing specifically with cats and dogs.

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