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Epiphany – medieval and now….

The Adoration of the Magi
Tapestry executed by William Morris, after Sir Edward Burne-Jones

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the following two definitions refer to the use of the word epiphany:-

  • The manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi (Matthew 2:1–12). Definition (1)
  • A moment of sudden and great revelation/realisation. Definition (2)

Epiphany has been a recognised feast of the Western Church since the 5th century, but these days we generally associate the Magi/ Three Wise Men with our modern Christmas Eve/Day. They appear on our Christmas cards. Yet there are—and always were—Twelve Days of Christmas, with Twelfth Night marked as Epiphany Eve or sometimes Epiphany itself, depending upon which precise moment you begin to calculate the commencement of the season. For an explanation, this is a good place to start.

Souvenir of Shakespeare’s “King Richard II.” Produced by Mr Tree at His Majesty’s Theatre September 10th, 1903. By Charles Buchel (Karl August Büchel) National Portrait Gallery.

If ever there was a King of England who revered Epiphany (1), and all that went with it, that king was Richard II, who reigned 1377-1399. He was still a small boy, but when the Yule logs were brought in for the first Christmas of his reign, they must have been kindled with hope and excitement that he would bring healthy, wealth, happiness and prosperity to his new realm. If this was indeed the hope, there would eventually be some very unhappy people, because he was plagued by rebellions and resentful lords. And his habit of turning to a coterie of close friends, twinned with his own questionable decision-making, did not really create the best circumstances. But, initially, there was hope, and those first Yule logs of 1377 will have burned brightly. The flames would have danced and roared.

That fanciful thought aside, it is my opinion that in June 1381, when as a boy of only fourteen Richard faced a thousands-strong army of peasants at Smithfield, he underwent an epiphany (2). He rode out at the head of his retinue to face a ragtaggle peasant army led, among others, by Wat Tyler. We all know the famous scene. Tyler was cut down in front of everyone by Sir William Walworth, Mayor of London, and out of nowhere the moment became electrifyingly dangerous. Pitched battle was on the very lip of breaking out, but then Richard rode his horse forward calmly and promised to do all he could to grant the peasants’ their demands (which we today think were more than justified).  It worked and the peasant army broke up to return to their homes.

Richard later went back on his word (something he was prone to do throughout his reign) but at that precise moment he’d displayed astonishing courage, and split-second decision-making. No one else in his entourage had done anything but freeze. Many things about the adult Richard II were to be criticized, but never again would his courage be questioned. Did he have an epiphany, as described in (2) above?

From Richard’s portrait in Westminster Abbey – believed to be the first true likeness of a King of England.

Certainly he was always to honour Epiphany above all other Church festivals. To begin with, he was born on that day in 1367. Another King of England who was buried on that day in 1066 was to become Richard’s favourite and most cherished saint. That king was St Edward the Confessor, whose feast day is 6th January/Epiphany, and whose great tomb in Westminster Abbey can still be seen. It’s now a shadow of its former glory because all the jewels and other decorations that once adorned it have been gradually stolen over the centuries by all forms of souvenir-seeker. But it must once have been a glorious sight, as was St Thomas à Becket’s tomb in Canterbury, which has been similarly denuded.

The Confessor’s Shrine, Westminster Abbey – source of illustration unknown.

The Confessor had been England’s national saint until 1350, when he was supplanted by St George, and on Epiphany every year, Richard II went to worship there, usually leaving a costly gift. Such occasions must have been very impressive and colourful. Richard also had a separate little chapel built nearby, where he would worship. It is still called the Chapel of Our Lady of the Pew, and contains a niche in the wall where it is said the wonderful Wilton Diptych was placed for Richard’s prayers.

The Wilton Diptych

The diptych shows Richard as a child king, with St John the Baptist, St Edward the Confessor and St Edmund standing behind him as he kneels before the Virgin and Child. At the entrance of the chapel are two carved headstops of angels, one holding Richard’s royal arms, the other those of the Confesser. (Pingback https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2017/07/15/the-little-chapel-in-westminster-abbey-beloved-of-richard-ii/)

The one on the left, with the royal arms, has always looked very like Richard himself to me. Source of photographs not known.

According to  https://www.britainexpress.com/History/medieval/christmas.htm , another link between Richard II and Epiphany occurred on Twelfth Night, 1392. The citizens of London, who were not on good terms with him at the time, attempted to bury the hatchet by bestowing upon the king and queen “a one-humped camel and a pelican, novelties for the royal menagerie at the Tower of London”. Another source adds that there was a boy on the dromedary.

Richard and his much loved queen Anne of Bohemia would eventually be laid to rest together close to the Confessor. In the latter part of his reign, Richard had even had his own coat-of-arms impaled with the supposed arms of the Confessor, so there is no doubt at all that Richard II truly esteemed Epiphany and the Confessor, with whom he felt a close connection.

To the less religiously minded people of today, Epiphany is Twelfth Night, a time to party and take the Christmas decorations down – if they haven’t been removed already! The more devout will still associate it with the Magi and the Confessor.

Of course, the calendar has changed from Julian to Gregorian, and dates have moved with it. Old Twelfth Night was celebrated on 17th January. Many wassail traditions, such as the wassail cup and wassailing the cider apple trees, are associated with Twelfth Night. The Yule Log, so bright with flames in the image above, needs to burn from Christmas Eve until Twelfth Night. Charcoal from it was kept to kindle the following year’s log, and also to protect the house from thunder and lightning. There were also many delicious foods that were associated with that night, including a special cake.

Mary Berry’s Twelfth Night Cake from https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/twelfth_night_cake_53367

In many places across the land older customs have been resumed in recent years. I don’t know when in the past they began to wassail the cider apple trees, in the hope of ensuring a supply of cider for the next harvest. Does it go back to the medieval period? Yes, according to this article

“….There are two distinct variations of wassailing. One involves groups of merrymakers going from one house to another, wassail bowl in hand, singing traditional songs and generally spreading fun and good wishes. The other form of wassailing is generally practiced in the countryside, particularly in fruit growing regions, where it is the trees that are blessed….”

“….The practice of house-wassailing continued in England throughout the Middle Ages, adapting as a way by which the feudal lord of the manor could demonstrate charitable seasonal goodwill to those who served him, by gifting money and food in exchange for the wassailers blessing and songs….”

Wassailing the Cider Apple Trees, from https://chawtonhouse.org/whats-on/evening-orchard-wassail-2/

Singing from house-to-house eventually became the carol-singing of today, but at the end of the season, not the beginning. As happens now with the Three Wise Men, who appear of Christmas cards, but are actually associated with Epiphany.

Now, to go back to the very beginning of this article, and the epiphany (2) that I feel certain happened to the young Richard II in June 1381. Until that day in Smithfield he had been confined and controlled by his uncles and government, but when Tyler was cut down in front of everyone and things turned very nasty indeed, Richard stepped into the breach by calmly taking charge.

From where did that sudden steely resolve come? He hadn’t displayed any such thing before, but….did he think of Epiphany? His day? When the Magi took gifts to the Christ Child? Did he suddenly see himself as a Christ Child too? Born to reign over all? Did he begin to understand that it was his God-given right by blood to cast aside the oppressive rule of his uncles and their government? Might such a heartstopping moment of insight been the reason for the Wilton Diptych, which shows him as a boy (when he was adult by then) anointed and royal, reaching out to accept something from the Christ Child. The reins of his kingdom, perhaps? Was this his epiphany (2)? Albeit in June.

Afterwards, in quiet moments, did he sit alone and pensive, considering who he was and how he should face the future?

It was to be another eight years before he was finally able to strike free of those who sought to keep him under their control, but I believe his first realisation of his true destiny was born that day in Smithfield.

from an unknown painting from the Jerusalem Chamber, Westminster: illustrator unknown: the engraver is S.Sly

Epiphany had one more vital role to play in Richard’s life, and that was in 1400, just after his cousin, Henry of Lancaster, had usurped the throne and consigned Richard to captivity in Pontefract. Epiphany was the date chosen by Richard’s desperate supporters to fight against the new regime and restore him to his throne.

Richard II’s Funeral Procession, from https://picryl.com/media/funeral-of-richard-ii-from-bl-royal-18-e-ii-f-416v-33b74d British Library.

Known as the Epiphany Rising, this revolt was doomed to defeat because of treachery within its ranks. And the eventual result was Richard’s probable murder at Pontefract, to prevent any more attempts to restore him. At least he didn’t die on Epiphany as well, but he was laid to rest on the 6th…of March, 1400.

His Twelfth Night was at an end. The bright Yule log had finally run its course, flickered and faded.

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!

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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.

gourmet

 

father christmas

 

 

 

 

 

How strict was medieval royal court mourning at Christmas….?

Christmas garland - 1

Medieval Christmas

Medieval Christmas

I know I have (more than once!) written of a strange string of coincidences connecting Richards II and III and their queens, both named Anne. Now I have come upon another question that puzzles me. It is well known that Richard II loved his Anne deeply, and was distraught when she died suddenly in the summer of 1394. He and his court were plunged into mourning, he had Sheen palace razed to the ground because he could not bear to go where he and she had been so happy, etc. etc.

Richmond's Islands, 1720

Richard II and his queen had a lavish lodge, La Neyt, built on an island in the Thames at Sheen, so they could be alone together

One way Richard chose to distract himself was an expedition to Ireland, where trouble was brewing for English rule. No English monarch had been there since King John (when he was still a prince). Richard II took a huge army over, and believed himself successful in reasserting English power, as witness the illustration below, of him received homage/knighting Irish kings. At Christmas 1394, barely six months after Anne’s death, historians tells us that Richard had a whale of a time with entertainments, revels and all the usual celebrations of the period.

Henry-VIII-at-Court-at-Christmas - 2

Royal celebrations at Christmas – Henry VIII

Now, does this sound like a monarch and court in full mourning for a beloved consort? No. Was Richard II, who was a very emotional man, able to set his grief aside and order revels, both for the season and the “victory” over the troublesome Irish kings? [It wasn’t to be long after Richard’s return to England that those kings started stirring again – well, I would have too!] Or have these junketings been overstated or even falsely reported?

Dublin - Richard II knighting the Irish kings - 1394

Richard II receiving the Irish kings, 1394

Whatever, it was Christmas, and we have a King Richard, sunk in grief for his Queen Anne. I now find myself wondering what might have happened if Bosworth had gone the other way, and Richard III were still king at Christmas 1485. He was another king in deep mourning, having lost his Anne in March that same year (and his son the year before). He too would have had something to celebrate – defeating Tudor, and enjoying the Christmas season. Even if negotiations were in full swing for his remarriage, would he have thrown mourning for Anne to the winds and had a lavish old time of it? Perhaps he would think his court and the realm at large was in need of a happy time at last, and so he would set his own feelings aside? Maybe that’s what Richard II had thought before him?

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

The giving of New Year gifts at the court of the Duc du Berri.

I’m genuinely curious about this business of kings in mourning, because Richard II made it clear he adored Anne of Bohemia, and as far as we are concerned, Richard III and Anne Neville loved each other too. Their shared agony on the sudden death of their only child, Edward of Middleham, suggests a great closeness, if nothing else. Maybe both marriages were first entered into for political reasons. Anne of Bohemia brought nothing to her marriage, except her family and connections; Anne Neville brought half the Warwick inheritance, which was nothing to sniff at. I believe that both marriages became love matches, and that whether the kings liked it or not, they were obliged to marry again as soon as possible.

Betrothal of the French Princess to Richard II

The betrothal of Isabella of Valois to Richard II.

Just over a year following Christmas 1394, Richard II married the six-year-old Isabella of Valois, daughter of the King of France. One theory for this odd choice of bride—by a childless king who was beset by uncles and cousins hungry to succeed him—is that it was a way of staying faithful to Anne for longer. Such a very young second wife would not be expected to be available for consummation before she was, at the very least, twelve.

It was still 1485 when Richard III’s envoys commenced negotiations for him to marry Joanna of Portugal, who is known to posterity as the Blessed Joanna, Princess of Portugal. She was eight months older than Richard, and in the end did not marry anyone. These 1485 negotiations were not only for Richard’s marriage, but for that of his eldest niece, Elizabeth of York, who was to marry Joanna’s cousin, who would become Manuel I.  This sounds a workmanlike arrangement, made because, as I have said, a childless king had to marry again, quickly. At least Richard III’s chosen bride would be able to provide him with heirs, unlike little Isabella of France. And he was arranging a very good marriage for his illegitimate niece.

So, just what was the protocol for this sort of thing? Did mourning mean just that, mourning? Nothing less. Or could it be dipped into and out of, as the situation dictated?

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Christmas 1483 at the court of Richard III….

Christmas Richard

What was Christmas like for Richard III? I’m thinking particularly of 1483, his first as king. He still had both his wife and child, and the future must have looked set for a long and prosperous reign. He was only to have two Christmases as king, and by 1484 he and Anne had lost their only child, Edward, Prince of Wales. If he’d lived to Christmas 1485, he’d have lost Anne as well.

So 1483 was the happiest of his short reign. What did they do? What did they eat? What entertainments did they enjoy? How did they decorate everything? Here is an excellent Nerdalicious article that describes what might have gone on….

 

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Henry VII banned card-playing, except at Christmas….

According to Christmas: Its Origin and Associations by William Francis Dawson, playing cards was prohibited by a statue passed in the reign of Henry VII. The old kill-joy! Or maybe it was in defence of the royal purse, it being known that his queen, Elizabeth of York, was rather over-fond of gambling. Henry paid her debts, and his pips probably squeaked.Queen-of-HeartsIt is thought Elizabeth was the original ‘Queen of Hearts’ on playing cards, and that Henry had her commemorated in this way. Maybe he did. I don’t know. But see here for more of this theory.

However, much as I’d like to think that saving his spare cash was Henry’s real motive for banning cards, it seems he only forbade the lower ranks to play. Higher society could play as much as it liked! Whatever, cards were generally banned, except at Christmas, when the pastime was still allowed for one and all:-

“A Scotch [sic] writer1 referring to this prohibition, says: ‘A universal Christmas custom of the olden time was playing at cards; persons who never touched a card at any other season of the year felt bound to play a few games at Christmas. The practice had even the sanction of the law. A prohibitory statute of Henry VII.’s reign, forbade card-playing save during the Christmas holidays. Of course, this prohibition extended only to persons of humble rank; Henry’s daughter, the Princess Margaret, played cards with her suitor, James IV. Of Scotland; and James himself kept up the custom, receiving from his treasurer, at Melrose, on Christmas Night, 1496, thirty-five unicorns, eleven French crowns, a ducat, a ridare, and a leu, in all about equal to £42 of modern money, to use at the card-table.’”

King Henry VII - Pierre Marechal, Rouen, c.1567

Pierre Marechal, Rouen, c.1567

Now, as the Scottish king was not married to the English princess until 1503, it is quite clear that he had learned to play cards long before his courtship with Margaret; for in 1496, when he received so much card-money from his treasurer, the English princess was but seven years of age. James had evidently learned to play cards with the Scottish barons whop frequented his Father’s court, and whose lawlessness led to the revolt which ended in the defeat and melancholy fate of James III. (1488), and gave the succession to his son, James IV., at the early age of fifteen years.’ ”

1 Book of Days, Edinburgh.

 

 

 

I’ll Have What She’s Having: A Medieval Christmas Tasting Menu

beef

Spiced beef

“Let us consider some of our genuine English culinary assets.  Among the best of them are our cured and salted meats.  Hams, gammons, salt silversides…”

So begins one of Elizabeth David’s chapters in “Spices, Salts and Aromatics in The English Kitchen,” a charming book that takes us through centuries of English cookery with its yin and yang of salty and sweet, pungently bitter and honeyed agreeableness.  Her book is a lesson to those of us in the Americas and Europe who so disdain English food based on a bad meal in a chain restaurant or a hastily grabbed sandwich at Tesco Express.  David illuminates a vision of past glories and shows a way forward by trusting to an old cuisine based on freshness, seasonality and creativity.  With that in mind, here are some recipes that reach far back in time and yet are still appropriate on a modern table at the holidays:

Spiced Beef

While not quite medieval if The Forme of Cury (The Method of Cooking) is anything to go by, Spiced Beef has been a British and Irish Christmas season favorite since the Elizabethan era.  Given the luxurious amount of sweet and spicy elements that goes into the dish, and the availability of beef, it is hard to believe that it was completely unknown to someone of King Richard the III’s lifetime or status.  In any case, it is a delicious and interesting dish both for its unique flavor and unusual preserving technique that so intrigues the amateur chef:  the weighing down of a hunk of beef with a heavy plank and two large cans of refried beans.

harry and sally

Sally responds to a pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Deli in NYC.

According to Elizabeth David, this dish is particularly popular in the counties of Yorkshire, Cumberland and Sussex.  “The Harrods Book of Traditional English Cookery” claims it as a specialty of Leicestershire and since a very popular version of it was (and may still be) sold in its grand food halls, who are we to argue?  In New York City, of course, it is known as pastrami and sold, hand cut and served on rye, at the popular Katz’s Deli on the Lower East Side.  The word “pastrami” comes from the Turkish word “bastirma” meaning “pressed meat.”  In Pakistan, it is known as “Hunter’s Beef” which returns us to the thought of when this dish popped up in the West.   Could it or its preserving technique been brought back from the Middle East by the Crusaders?  It is certainly hard to believe that the Tudors had anything to teach us that wasn’t first known to generations of the Byzantine wars.

Here’s how to do it:  purchase four to six lbs of Silverside or the American cut called Bottom Round.  (Brisket is often used but it is very expensive and once cooked tends to shred like disintegrating rope.)  Rub it all over with soft brown sugar and place it in sterilized Tupperware and store in the crisper section of the refrigerator.  Do the same thing the next day  – you will see that water is drawn from the beef but that is how it should be.  On the third day, rub the meat with a substantial mix of crushed kosher or sea salt, juniper berries, allspice berries, black peppercorns, a pinch of clove and half a teaspoon of Prague Powder.  (Prague Powder will preserve the pink color of the meat and is available on Amazon.  It is optional.)  Continue to rub and turn the meat for the next 8-10 days.  Always return to the crisper or coldest part of the fridge.  After a few days, you will notice a very inviting smell.

On Day 8-10, take the roast out of the fridge and wipe clean.  Place in a tight-fitting dutch oven and pour in a cup or two of water so that it comes up half way up the roast.  Set the oven temperature between 250-290F/143C.  The water must simmer, never boil.  Roast it between 3-5 hours or until it registers 165F/74C on a meat thermometer.  Once cooked, let it cool in the pot and then wrap it in wax paper or tin foil.  Weigh it down with a cutting board and two large cans and place it overnight at the back of the fridge.  When ready to eat, bring it to room temperature and slice very thin.  Serve it with brown or rye bread and strong mustard or horseradish and some pickled vegetables or cole slaw.  It would be perfect the day after Christmas served as part of a cold collation.   As the week goes by, it will only improve in flavor.  Elizabeth David notes, “the beef will carve thinly and evenly, and has a rich, mellow, spicy flavor which does seem to convey to us some sort of idea of the food eaten by our forebears.”

Salat. XX.III.XVI

Take persel, sawge, garlect, chibolles, oynouns, leek, borage, myntes, porrectes, fell and ton tressis, rew, rosemarye, purslarye, laue and waische hem clene, pike hem, pluk hem small with thine hand and mix hem well with rawe oile, lay on vynegur and salt, and serve it forth.

This is a recipe directly from Richard the Second’s cookbook, The Forme of Cury.  While I would never contradict Clarissa Dickson Wright who has said that medieval salads were generally a vegetable mix and not greens, this clearly has much more in common with modern salads than Miss Dickson Wright would have us believe.  To my mind, this salad is definitely overkill but then again King Richard II was a kind of overkill guy.

Elizabeth David, in her cranky book “Christmas,” suggests salad as an appetizer but in European fashion, might well be served after the main course along with some nice cheese.  In her book “Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book,” Mrs. Grigson has an interesting chicory salad that she serves at Christmas.   Served with apples in a mayonnaise dressing, it suspiciously reminds one of a 20th century invention, the Waldorf Salad.

Chicory is a bitter green with a complicated history.  Medieval monks in Europe grew it but probably only used the tender leaves and blue flowers of the plant.  The most common form of it today, also known as endive to both the Americans and the French, is the forced white or yellowish chicon (bud/root) cultivated by the Belgians in the 1840s.  To the Italians, dressed in its pretty, ruffled red clothes, chicory is known as radicchio or treviso and is ludicrously expensive.   Because of its bitterness, it has been used as a coffee substitute seemingly throughout the world during hard times.  New Orleanians have made the coffee/chicory combination a classic at Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter along with the famed “beignets”. Medieval people would have simply strewn their “salats” with this precious herb.

chicory

Chicory

 

Mrs. Grigson’s Christmas Salad:

Mix equal quantities of diced cold poultry or game bird and diced, unpeeled eating apples and sliced chicory.  Dress with vinaigrette alone for guinea fowl or pheasant.  Mayonnaise can be added for light poultry, together with some cubed Gruyere cheese. An alternative dish using chicory is to cook it in cream and butter as the French do with the summer herb, savory.

My Simple but Delicious Salad Fit for a Medieval King:

Mix crisp lettuce along with baby spinach, arugula (rocket) or watercress or any herb on hand.  Make a dressing of 1/4 cup of virgin olive oil, a splash of good vinegar, a dash of Dijon mustard and salt and pepper.  Mix well and dress salad at the last possible moment before serving.  If you must, you may add some red onion or sweet pepper or herbed croutons.

alice

Alice B. Toklas at tea

Queen Elizabeth I Apples

I found this odd recipe while perusing Alice B. Toklas’s classic cookbook which is infamous for the recipe of hashish cakes she naively included in her chapter called “Recipes from Friends.”  The rock-ribbed Republican and Catholic convert was chagrined to find that she had been transformed into an early hippie (or belated beatnik) and drug eater.

This simple receipt, however, was submitted by the English painter and baronet, Sir Francis Rose, and suggests an early English pickling method.  Again, we see the Tudors being given credit for a dish that is not only easy to make but contains ingredients that were well known to medieval cooks years before Henry VIII was a gleam in his father’s eye.  It should be started several months before the holiday season when apples are just starting to ripen and fall from the trees:

“Cook in sugar water whole unpeeled very fine apples until transparent.  Then put the apples into jars filled with hot vinegar that has been boiled with honey, allspice and fresh rosemary.  Place into hermetically sealed jars (sterilized) and the apples not served for several months.”  This would make a very nice addition to a ham or pork dish served at Christmas as they do in the southern United States.

Mince Pye

This evergreen-favorite is also associated with the Elizabethans but came into its own with the Victorians.  I suspect mincemeat is much older than the Tudor era because so many medieval receipts  for pottage or “tartlettes” mix pork and mutton with honey, lemon and oranges, spices such as saffron and cinnamon, almonds and dried fruit.  Again, it demonstrates a sophisticated palate in its use of salty, sweet and acidic developed once the spice trade routes were established.  Elizabeth David traces both plum pudding and mincemeat to the Mediterranean.  As examples, she cites a fruity Greek pudding with the unappetizing name of “strepte”  and an ancient Breton dish called “le far” that resembles a plum and raisin-filled clafouti. Of course, as time passed, the meat disappeared from mince pie and became much more sweet and one-dimensional.

As an experiment, I made two batches of the pies – one using beef suet (from Atora) and one using the truly medieval ingredient of marzipan (marchpane).  I was reluctant to use the suet because my husband is still recovering from a beef suet Spotted Dick served at Rules in London.  It gave new meaning to the term “stick to the ribs.”   Still,  I was invested in my menu and could not be stopped.

Serve these mini-pies between Christmas Day and Twelfth Night to ensure good luck:

mince pies

Mincemeat:

Add a good handful each of currents, raisins, yellow raisins (sultanas), dried cranberries (optional), brown sugar, salt, apple cider vinegar, lemon/orange candied peel*, grated lemon zest and two grated apples to a saucepan.  Sprinkle two tablespoons of mixed spice (pumpkin pie spice) over it and stir.  Cover with cider or unsweetened apple juice and bring to a boil.  Lower heat, cover and cook it down until fruit is soft and sludgy. The salt and vinegar is unconventional but I prefer the chutney-like flavors which cut through all the sweetness.  Add a couple of tablespoons of brandy and spoon into sterilized jars.  Allow to cool.  These can now be stored in a dark, cool place until ready for use.

Pastry:

1 and 1/2 cups of flour, 1 stick/113 g diced cold unsalted butter, 1 t salt, 1/4 cup of cold water

In a food processor, pulse flour and salt.  Add butter and pulse until well-combined.  Add enough water until the dough comes together and tip out onto a well-chilled, floured board.  Bring it together until it forms a ball and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.  When ready to make the pies, roll it thin and cut circles that will fit small tart pans.  Place about a tablespoon of mincemeat, depending on the size of your tart pans, and the grated suet or marzipan and cover with a top crust.  Set the oven at 400F/200C  degrees and bake for approximately 20 minutes.

The freshness, bright flavor and lightness of these tarts bear no comparison to any store bought variety I have known.  The little pies using beef suet added a pleasing umami sensation – the “mouth feel” so prized by tv chefs and culinary instructors but can easily be omitted.  Just be sure not to use the nasty mixed peel that appears in supermarkets during the holiday season.  Amazon sells very good lemon and orange peel for minimum cost as well as crystallized ginger which would be a nice warm addition.

MEV-10200153 - © - Mary Evans Picture Li

No tasting menu for Christmas can exclude the ever-popular wassail and/or mulled wine that was once known as Lamb’s Wool when served during the harvest celebration of Lammas Day.  It is seemingly everywhere these days and even the tackiest grocery store or bodega knocks out a bag of tired spices for the holidays.  I picked up my assorted fresh spices at the gift shop at Valley Forge National Park in Pennsylvania and it certainly seems like something both the British and American armies would have enjoyed when heading into winter quarters.  Originally, mead was used in the preparation and then hard cider, generally using fermented apples or other fruits,  honey and spices such as ginger and cinnamon and whole cloves.   Now, more often than not, white or red wine is used.  I prepared it with a red wine “blend” following a easy recipe from the superb book “Fabulous Feasts Medieval Cookery and Ceremony” by Madeleine Pelner Cosman.  Interestingly, her menu offers mulled wine to be served directly after the starter which implies that it would work very well as an aperitif.

Simply pour the spices into a gallon of excellent wine or hard cider, add half a cup of sugar or honey, two quartered oranges and one lemon.  Bring it to a boil and then simmer for an hour or two.  Miss Cosman suggests a pinch of pepper or basil for a hit of sharpness.  Serve in mugs with a stick of cinnamon.  The result is a warming, spicy beverage perfect for a cold night before the wood fire.

You now have a starter, an entree, a side, a dessert and a beverage for your Christmas celebration.  Choosing to make one of them will bring you closer to understanding our medieval forefathers and their superb culture and enticing and exotic foods.  And God bless you and send you a happy New Year!

 

wassail 2.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The meaning of Michaelmas….

The following article is taken from this article by Ben Johnson:

St Michael

St Michael

“Michaelmas, or the Feast of Michael and All Angels, is celebrated on 29th September. As it falls near the equinox, the day is associated with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days; in England, it is one of the “quarter days”.

There are traditionally four “quarter days” in a year (Lady Day – 25th March), Midsummer (24th June), Michaelmas (29th September) and Christmas (25th December). They are spaced three months apart, on religious festivals, usually close to the solstices or equinoxes. They were the four dates on which servants were hired, rents due or leases begun. It used to be said that harvest had to be completed by Michaelmas, almost like the marking of the end of the productive season and the beginning of the new cycle of farming. It was the time at which new servants were hired or land was exchanged and debts were paid. This is how it came to be for Michaelmas to be the time for electing magistrates and also the beginning of legal and university terms.

“St Michael is one of the principal angelic warriors, protector against the dark of the night and the Archangel who fought against Satan and his evil angels. As Michaelmas is the time that the darker nights and colder days begin – the edge into winter – the celebration of Michaelmas is associated with encouraging protection during these dark months. It was believed that negative forces were stronger in darkness and so families would require stronger defences during the later months of the year.

“Traditionally, in the British Isles, a well fattened goose, fed on the stubble from the fields after the harvest, is eaten to protect against financial need in the family for the next year; and as the saying goes:

‘Eat a goose on Michaelmas Day,
Want not for money all the year.’

“Sometimes the day was also known as “Goose Day” and goose fairs were held. Even now, the famous Nottingham Goose Fair is still held on or around the 3rd of October. Part of the reason goose is eaten is that it was said that when Queen Elizabeth I heard of the defeat of the Armada, she was dining on goose and resolved to eat it on Michaelmas Day. Others followed suit. It could also have developed through the role of Michaelmas Day as the debts were due; tenants requiring a delay in payment may have tried to persuade their landlords with gifts of geese!

“In Scotland, St Michael’s Bannock, or Struan Micheil (a large scone-like cake) is also created. This used to be made from cereals grown on the family’s land during the year, representing the fruits of the fields, and is cooked on a lamb skin, representing the fruit of the flocks. The cereals are also moistened with sheep’s milk, as sheep are deemed the most sacred of animals. As the Struan is created by the eldest daughter of the family, the following is said:

‘Progeny and prosperity of family, Mystery of Michael, Protection of the Trinity.’

“Through the celebration of the day in this way, the prosperity and wealth of the family is supported for the coming year. The custom of celebrating Michaelmas Day as the last day of harvest was broken when Henry VIII split from the Catholic Church; instead, it is Harvest Festival that is celebrated now.

“St Michael is also the patron saint of horses and horsemen. This could explain one of the ancient Scottish traditions that used to be practiced on Michaelmas Day. Horse racing competitions in the local communities would be held and small prizes won. However, with a twist, it was the only time at which a neighbour’s horse could be taken lawfully the night before and ridden for the entirety of the day, as long as the animal was returned safely!

“In British folklore, Old Michaelmas Day, 10th October, is the last day that blackberries should be picked. It is said that on this day, when Lucifer was expelled from Heaven, he fell from the skies, straight onto a blackberry bush. He then cursed the fruit, scorched them with his fiery breath, spat and stamped on them and made them unfit for consumption! And so the Irish proverb goes:

‘On Michaelmas Day the devil puts his foot on blackberries’

Michaelmas Daisy

“The Michaelmas Daisy, which flowers late in the growing season between late August and early October, provides colour and warmth to gardens at a time when the majority of flowers are coming to an end. As suggested by the saying below, the daisy is probably associated with this celebration because, as mentioned previously, St Michael is celebrated as a protector from darkness and evil, just as the daisy fights against the advancing gloom of Autumn and Winter.

‘The Michaelmas Daisies, among dede weeds,
Bloom for St Michael’s valorous deeds.
And seems the last of flowers that stood,
Till the feast of St. Simon and St. Jude.’

(The Feast of St. Simon and Jude is 28 October)

“The act of giving a Michaelmas Daisy symbolises saying farewell, perhaps in the same way as Michaelmas Day is seen to say farewell to the productive year and welcome in the new cycle.”

 

Richard III, Henry VII and the City of York….

 

 

Richard III and Henry VII

York - medieval panorama

This is not my work, but has been lifted entirely from British History Online. My contribution is the illustrations. It is a sensible assessment of the relationship of both Richard and Henry Tudor with the great city of York. :- 

York, Richard of Gloucester, and Henry VII 

There was much that was new in the political situation in the north after 1471. Warwick, whom the citizens had so often courted with gifts, was dead; the Percies had been restored; and Edward IV began deliberately to make his brother Richard ‘the greatest landowner as well as the most important official north of the Trent’. (fn. 1) Richard came to play a part in the life of the city, and to exercise a hold upon its loyalty, which influenced the city’s political actions even after 1485.

There is evidence of Richard’s influence as early as 1475. The city made presents to him and his servants, the mayor wrote letters to him, and the Duchess of Gloucester wrote letters to the mayor. (fn. 2) Next year the city enlisted the duke’s support when its dismissed common clerk appealed to Percy for backing; and he also intervened with the king to recognize the right of the city freely to elect a successor. (fn. 3) He intervened, too, in the war of civic factions which had driven one old alderman, William Holbek, to sanctuary in the Dominican friary. Duke Richard, accompanied by Percy and a large following, appeared at Bootham Bar and solemnly warned the citizens to keep the peace. On the other hand, he persuaded the king not to withdraw the city’s liberties, and received an expression of gratitude in the form of a present of swans and pike when he visited York at Christmas time. (fn. 4)

York Castle - as it was

York Castle

 

The association thus begun became closer. In 1477 Richard and his wife became members of the Corpus Christi Guild; (fn. 5) and Richard vigorously supported the citizens in clearing the Yorkshire rivers of fishgarths. (fn. 6) In 1478, however, it was the king rather than the duke who was being courted: the citizens persuaded him to visit York while he was in the north and spent £35 on his entertainment. (fn. 7)

Medieval Christmas - 5

But the flow of letters between Gloucester and the city went on, (fn. 8) and in 1480 York and The Ainsty produced a contingent of troops to follow Richard on a punitive expedition against the Scots. (fn. 9) In 1481 a force of 120 archers, half to come from The Ainsty, was similarly promised in return for a remission of taxation, and it marched off under the command of Alderman Wrangwissh. The campaign was scarcely over before, in face of a threat of Scottish invasion, both Gloucester and Northumberland asked York for more troops. Again the city complied, and its contingent, under the command of John Brackenbury, the mayor’s esquire of the mace, was sent off to join Gloucester at Durham. (fn. 10)

Richard in Scotland

Invasion of Scotland

At this point Edward IV determined upon an invasion of Scotland under his own leadership in 1482. Energetic action by Gloucester was required to assuage another outbreak of civic faction in York, while at the same time he cemented good relations with the citizens by sending back one of their number who had been sheltered by a member of his household after committing some offence. The city reciprocated by taking prompt action against a saddler who was alleged to have slandered the duke, and by raising 80 men for his service in Scotland in June and a further 100 men in July. Their share in the campaign, however, was the subject of some scurrilous comment. John Lam was alleged to have said they deserved no wages, for they had done nothing but make whips of their bowstrings with which to drive carriages. This he denied, but told how some of the soldiers said that ‘they did nothing else but waited on the ordnance and carriage’, and one had been so weary ‘he was fain to take off the string of his bow to drive his horse with’. All the same it was no unsuccessful campaign which brought Berwick back into English hands. (fn. 11)

Berwick Castle in about 1300

Berwick Castle, circa 1300

The death of Edward IV on 9 April 1483 diverted attention to more domestic matters. Richard of Gloucester appeared in York towards the end of the month, exacted an oath to Edward V from the northern nobles and perhaps the city authorities, (fn. 12) and borrowed money for his journey to London from, among others, Miles Metcalfe, one of his councillors who was also recorder of York. (fn. 13) The city decided to take advantage of the situation and sent John Brackenbury to ask for a reduction of its farm. On 5 June Richard wrote urging patience in this connexion. Five days later, however, he wrote again asking for military aid against the queen mother and her adherents.

Shakespeare's version of Richard's confrontation with Elizabeth Woodville

Shakespeare’s imagined view of a confrontation between Richard and  the scheming Elizabeth Woodville

The letter reached York on Sunday 15 June, but the mayor called the council together at once and it was resolved to send 200 men from the city and 100 from The Ainsty to join the army Northumberland was levying for Richard at Pontefract. (fn. 14) Thus York helped to put Richard of Gloucester on the throne, and it was as king he next visited the city at the end of August 1483.

The crown is offered to Richard of Gloucester

Richard of Gloucester is offered the crown

For a month preparations for his reception had been going on. The wealthier citizens contributed nearly £450 to buy presents for Richard and the queen. On arrival, the sheriffs met the king at Tadcaster, the mayor and chief citizens at ‘Brekles mills’ (apparently not within the city), and the rest of the city at St. James’s Chapel on The Mount. The cavalcade entered by Micklegate Bar and was entertained by pageants as it passed through the streets. An official welcome was extended to the king by the mayor, and he was received by the dignitaries of the minster at its west door. Richard took up residence in the archbishop’s palace, and a week of feasting and entertainment followed. The Creed Play was performed in the king’s presence on 7 September and next day Richard’s son was invested as Prince of Wales.

York Minster - investiture of Edward of Middleham as Prince of Wales

Ten days later Richard gave practical expression of his gratitude to the city. He called the mayor, aldermen and others before him in the chapter house of the minster and promised a substantial reduction of their fee-farm. (fn. 15) Individuals, too, had their rewards. Nicholas Lancaster, city clerk 1477–80, was already a member of the king’s council; and Thomas Wrangwissh, who commanded the city’s forces in June 1483, received an annuity of 20 marks from the issues of Sheriff Hutton. (fn. 16)

York city wall

York continued to serve Richard. In October 1483 the city sent soldiers under Wrangwissh’s command to assist him against Buckingham; and Richard used it as a base while trying to come to an accord with Scotland in the early summer of 1484. (fn. 17) It was during this visit that his northern council took definite shape, and its instructions in July 1484 laid down that it was to sit at least once a quarter in York to hear bills of complaint. (fn. 18) Almost at once its president, the Earl of Lincoln, was called upon to cope with an inclosure riot in York and to deal with a forger of coin—though in the latter case the city suffered his action with some trepidation for its liberties. (fn. 19)

By April 1485, however, the king was writing about those who threatened the peace he had sought to establish; in June he reported rumours of invasion, and the city council ordered all defencible men to be arrayed on 8 July; and on 16 August news of Henry Tudor’s invasion reached York. Despite a plague which was raging, the city council sent to Richard at Nottingham for instructions and began to levy troops. Word came back from Richard on 19 August, and on the same afternoon 80 men went off to join his army. They failed to arrive in time for Bosworth; but the mayor’s serjeant of the mace, who did fight there, rode in on 23 August to report that ‘King Richard, late lawfully reigning over us, was through great treason . . . piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of this city’. (fn. 20) York’s loyalty to Richard of Gloucester remained firm to the end.

Battle of Bosworth

It had, nevertheless, to accommodate itself to the new situation. A letter was sent on 23 August to the Earl of Northumberland asking advice ‘how to dispose them at this woeful season’.

signature percy 4th earl of northumberland

Next day a deputation met the earl outside Walmgate Bar, and the mayor visited a royal emissary at his inn because ‘he durst not for fear of death come through the city’. On the 25th a deputation went to the king asking him to be a good lord to the city, and the proclamation recording his victory was read. Finally, on 4 September, the king’s recognition of the city’s rights and liberties was brought back to York. (fn. 21) But this expedient conduct did not exclude reservations.

Elizabeth-of-York-Henry-VII-Marriage-463978971-56aa23aa5f9b58b7d000fa08

Henry VII married Richard’s eldest niece, Elizabeth of York, in a display of uniting the opposing sides of the recent wars.

Two months after Bosworth, the city authorities still spoke of ‘the most famous prince of blessed memory, King Richard’; (fn. 22) and over the matter of their recorder they were almost truculent. Miles Metcalfe, who held the office, had been close to Richard; and Henry VII ordered his replacement by Richard Green, a servant of Northumberland’s. The city agreed, but only until such time as Metcalfe was received into the king’s grace. When Metcalfe did receive a pardon in October, it was blandly assumed that this settled the matter, Green being offered compensation in the form of membership of the twenty-four. Under pressure from Henry and Northumberland, the city council played a delaying game; and continued to do so when they produced rival candidates for the post on Metcalfe’s death in February 1486. In the end, moreover, they made their own choice of John Vavasour, formerly a servant of Richard III. (fn. 23) Doubtless the citizens were chiefly concerned to maintain their liberty of freely electing the recorder: in like manner they insisted on their right to choose their common clerk in November 1485 and resisted the king’s attempt to nominate to the office of sword-bearer in June 1486. Yet old Yorkist loyalties perhaps gave an edge to this defence of their freedom. As late as 1491, when a drunken schoolmaster abused King Richard, John Payntor denied him and told him that he lied. (fn. 24)

Medieval royal procession

Meanwhile Henry VII had been received in York in 1486, at a cost of £66 to civic funds and with pageants stressing the king’s wisdom and the city’s loyalty. (fn. 25) Within a year this loyalty was put to the test. In March 1487 the city heard of the Earl of Lincoln’s intention to ‘give the king’s grace a breakfast’ and at once informed Northumberland and the king’s secretary. (fn. 26) It also asked for aid to repair its walls, and the king sent artillery from Scarborough Castle and put certain knights under the mayor’s command in case of attack. When Lambert Simnel did appear, he was refused entry to the city, and an attack by Lord Scrope of Bolton on 11 June was beaten off at Bootham Bar. Five days later came the news of the king’s victory, for which the mayor and aldermen gave thanks in the minster. (fn. 27)

medieval banquet

Henry VII again came to York at the end of July and the Corpus Christi plays, postponed because of the rebellion, were performed before him on Lammas Day. Certain traitors were dealt with and William Todd and Richard York, mayor and alderman respectively, were knighted. The city was ‘dronkyn drye’, but new supplies were evidently available by 10 September when a gift of bucks from the Earl of Northumberland enabled the mayor, aldermen, councillors, and 600 citizens to sit down to a banquet in the Guildhall ‘with red wine sufficient without anything paying for the same’. (fn. 28)

 

Tribulations, however, were not quite over: 1489 saw the rising of the commons in the north and the murder of Northumberland. The mayor and council determined to hold the city for the king, but were frustrated by the ‘commonalty’, who would permit neither the Sheriff of Yorkshire nor Lord Clifford to enter the city to assist with its defence. The rebel leader, Sir John Egremont, on the other hand, was able to effect an entry in the course of which Fishergate Bar was burnt; and on 17 May the council advised the mayor to agree to Egremont’s demand for 20 horsemen to accompany him to Richmondshire for fear he should pillage the city. Even after he had gone the city authorities still went in fear that he would return; but they were no less afraid of the king’s anger, seeking to assuage it by deputations and presents to him, to the archbishops of Canterbury and York and to the king’s secretary. (fn. 29

In the event nothing disastrous happened, and after 1489 the city played a smaller part in national history. It provided troops to serve against the Scots in 1496–7; in 1501 it welcomed Scottish ambassadors negotiating a marriage alliance between the two kingdoms; and in July 1503 gave a royal reception to Princess Margaret as she travelled north to join her husband. (fn. 30) Despite a good deal of internal dissension, the men of York were for the most part ‘quiet, submissive and very good subjects during the rest of this king’s reign’. (fn. 31) To some extent this was probably due to Henry VII building up the Council of the North on the foundations laid by Richard III. (fn. 32) Direct royal intervention was never lacking when necessary, but both king and city expected some problems to be settled by the royal agents on the spot. At first the chief of these agents was Northumberland.

He was active in the matter of the recordership in 1485 and in disputes about common lands in 1486. He arbitrated in quarrels with the chapter in 1486–7 and between two aldermen in 1487. It was Northumberland the city informed of the Earl of Lincoln’s treachery and Northumberland who informed the city of Lambert Simnel’s landing. (fn. 33) After 1489 a similar part was played by the Earl of Surrey and the Abbot of St. Mary’s. (fn. 34) The city authorities did not always welcome such intervention, but it became firmer and more frequent as time passed and as the Tudors sought to bring the north parts under effective government.

Ambush

Not the death of Northumberland, but something similar. He was very unpopular for having been perceived to betray Richard III.

Among the circumstances which governed the part played by York in national politics in the later Middle Ages, the Anglo-Scottish conflict ranks first. It was this which, between 1298 and 1337, conferred on the city a prominence in national affairs greater than at any time before or since. After 1337, however, though York still from time to time provided troops and served as a base of operations against the Scots, the urgency had departed from this issue. At the same time, from the beginning of the 15th century, the city began to find itself involved in the political conflict in which the great noble families were the main contestants. It allowed itself to be drawn into the wake of Scrope and Percy in 1405; and though for long it avoided any such commitment again, it tried to purchase the benevolence of the great men without its walls by gifts and flattery. Individuals established even closer ties with the great families of the north. In 1446 the recorder was sent to Lord Clifford at Skipton-in-Craven (W.R.) about a fishmonger who had received livery from Clifford; (fn. 35) and Miles Metcalfe and John Vavasour both held civic office and were retainers of Richard of Gloucester. Such things could happen despite the fact that, in 1446, 1457, 1486, and 1503, citizens were forbidden to use the livery of any lord, knight or gentleman. (fn. 36)

York - Speed's Map of 1610-11

Yet this capitulation of the city to the forces of ‘bastard feudalism’ is inadequate to explain its loyalty to Richard III. He seems to have succeeded as no one else did—except perhaps Archbishop Scrope—in winning the hearts of the citizens; and Henry VII had some difficulty in reducing them to good, quiet, and submissive subjects. He had to forbid them to become the retainers of lords, though he may have established similar bonds with himself when he knighted Todd and York and gave them pensions from the Hull customs. (fn. 37) More important, however, were his peremptory demands for obedience and order, and the establishment of a group of royal agents in the north who backed those demands with detailed oversight and intervention at short range. In combination with economic difficulties and internal dissensions, these aspects of Tudor policy were to make 16th-century York less aggressively independent than it had been when it fought for King Richard and defied Henry VII and the Earl of Northumberland at one and the same time.

 

Footnotes

  1. 1. R. R. Reid, King’s Counc. in North, 42 sqq.
  2. 2. Davies, York Rec. 38–44.
  3. 3. Ibid. 53 sqq.; York Civ. Rec. i. 8–11, 15–16.
  4. 4. York Civ. Rec. i. 2–3, 11; Davies, York Rec. 50–52.
  5. 5. C.C. Guild, 101.
  6. 6. Davies, York Rec. 58 sqq., 80 sqq.
  7. 7. Ibid. 65, 69–70, 78–80; York Mem. Bk. ii. 240–1; York Civ. Rec. i. 27.
  8. 8. e.g. York Civ. Rec. i. 29, 33.
  9. 9. Ibid. 34–36; Davies, York Rec. 106–8; P. M. Kendall, Rich. III, 137–8.
  10. 10. York Civ. Rec. i. 38 sqq.
  11. 11. York Civ. Rec. i. 48 sqq., 54 sqq., 68.
  12. 12. Hist. Croylandensis Cont. 565.
  13. 13. Reid, King’s Counc. in North, 45.
  14. 14. York Civ. Rec. i. 71–76.
  15. 15. Ibid. 77 sqq.; Davies, York Rec. 159–75, 280–8; Minster Fab. R. 210 sqq.; Hist. Croylandensis Cont. 567.
  16. 16. C.C. Guild, 105; Test. Ebor. iv. 205 n.; Cal. Pat. 1476–85, 450.
  17. 17. York Civ. Rec. i. 83 sqq.; Kendall, Rich. III, 300.
  18. 18. Reid, King’s Counc. in North, 42 sqq.; Letters Rich. III and Hen. VII (Rolls Ser.), i. 56–59.
  19. 19. York Civ. Rec. i. 103–4, 106–9.
  20. 20. Ibid. 114–19; Drake, Ebor. 120; Kendall, Rich. III, 347 sqq.
  21. 21. Drake, Ebor. 120–3.
  22. 22. York Civ. Rec. i. 126–7.
  23. 23. Kendall, Rich. III, 385–7.
  24. 24. York Civ. Rec. i. 134–5, 159–60; ii. 71–73.
  25. 25. Ibid. i. 155–9; York Corp. Rec., Chamberlains’ Roll, 1486.
  26. 26. York Civ. Rec. ii. 3–7.
  27. 27. Ibid. 9–10, 12 sqq.
  28. 28. York Civ. Rec. ii. 24–28; Paston Letters, vi. 121.
  29. 29. A. Raine, Med. York, 19; York Civ. Rec. ii. 45–53.
  30. 30. York Civ. Rec. ii. 128–9, 133, 167–9, 184 sqq.; Drake, Ebor. 126–7.
  31. 31. Drake. Ebor. 126; see pp. 82–83.
  32. 32. Reid, King’s Counc. in North, 71 sqq.
  33. 33. York Civ. Rec. i. 177–80; ii. 2–7, 20.
  34. 34. e.g. ibid. ii. 97-100, 107-9, 112-13, 117.
  35. 35. York Corp. Rec., Chamberlains’ Bk. 1446, f. 34; York Freemen, i. 150.
  36. 36. York Mem. Bk. ii. 200–2; York Civ. Rec. i. 176; ii. 181.
  37. 37. Cal. Pat. 1485–94, 256–7, 303; Cal. Close, 1485–1500, 97.

 

 

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