If, like me, you become puzzled or just downright confused by all the different offices, posts, departments and so on of English medieval government (many of which still exist today), then the site below is very helpful for clearing the confusion. After all, is it not bewildering to find that ‘in the king’s presence’ doesn’t mean he was present at all? “From the reign of Edward I, a Chief Justice of Common Pleas headed the panel of judges. Common Pleas was known contemporarily as ‘the Bench’ (banc), while King’s Bench was called ‘Coram rege’ (in the presence of the King – although the King was not actually present.)”
I recommend a dip into Medieval English Government by J.P. Somerville.
How did St Valentine become the patron saint of lovers? The answer to that is the stuff of legends. One story has it that he was a peaceful man, as well as a great peacemaker, and while tending the roses in his garden, he heard a couple quarrelling violently. He cut a rose and went to mediate between them. When he gave them the rose, their love for each other returned.
Another story is that he was chosen to be the patron saint of lovers because his day is close to the pagan feast of Lupercalia, a Roman festival of fertility. One thing is certain, by the time of Richard III, the giving of loving kisses and gifts was in full swing.
Ford Madox Brown, 1845-1851
I think we should credit Geoffrey Chaucer with a large part in the promoting 14th February as ‘St Valentine’s Day’ as the ‘day of love’. There is a widespread tradition that on St Valentine’s Day all the birds chose their mates. “…for this was on St Valentine’s Day, when every fowl cometh there to choose his mate.”
The Parliament of Birds by Carl Wilhelm de Hamilton (1668-1754)
Chaucer wrote a poem to celebrate the occasion, and called it ‘The Parlement of Foules’, or ‘Parliament of Fowls’. It was meant to be read out on St Valentine’s Day, and is believed to date from the year fifteen-year-old Richard II married Anne of Bohemia, also fifteen. Maybe it was written for the royal couple.
The illustration above is of Richard and Anne’s coronation – he seems a little old for fifteen!
Dante Gabriel Rossetti as Geoffrey Chaucer reading.
Whatever the truth, Chaucer created a symbol of spring love, with birds singing and twittering joyfully. Quarrelling too, with the royal and aristocratic birds of prey lording it over lesser birds. A full translation can be read at http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/English/Fowls.htm
Danish love poems for Valentine’s Day
To know how medieval lovers celebrated St Valentine’s Day, look at http://uk.businessinsider.com/medieval-valentines-day-celebrations-2016-2?r=US&IR=T.
And to learn of ten great royal romances of the medieval period, try https://e-royalty.com/articles/the-ten-great-medieval-royal-romances/
Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville
The oldest existing medieval Valentine love letter, from teenaged Margery Brews to John Paston, is revealed at http://www.historytoday.com/rachel-moss/medieval-valentine (and it is included in a very informative and interesting article about medieval Valentines by Professor Sarah Peverley at https://sarahpeverley.com/tag/medieval-valentine/
And finally, if you fancy something light-hearted and a little silly, go to https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/?s=right+royal
As we take down our Christmas trees and put away our recordings of “Santa Baby,” perhaps some of the readers of the Murrey and Blue are preparing to stroll forth on Twelfth Night to sing the charming “Gloucestershire Wassail” song for friends and neighbors this January 5th of the new year 2017. This is the traditional day in which folks raise the wassail bowl and wish good health and happiness to all of mankind. And it is followed the next day by the Epiphany when the son of God, Jesus Christ, is proclaimed to all the world.
I had never heard this particular carol until I purchased a cd several years ago called “An English Country Christmas” which included choral groups from The Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford to The Choir of Queens College Cambridge to The Oxford Girls’ Choir. It also featured two soloists: the folk singer Ian Giles and the sweet-voiced English soprano, Sara Stowe. Her lilting rendition of the “Gloucestershire Wassail” – a carol of medieval origin but taken up by the Victorians – is sung acapella while punctuated by bells and Mathew Spring’s zitherlike hurdy-gurdy. It is so strikingly ethereal that I soon floated away on a magic carpet of music to the medieval court of Richard the Third on that last Christmas of 1484 before tragic circumstances brutally ended his reign and swept in the harsh, modern age of wolfish Tudors. Surely, it was such a splendid Christmas of costume and dancing and thrilling music that scandalized the pious priests who either witnessed it or cattily reported upon it.
From what little research on the carol that I could find, the composition is a traditional one that was collected by the great composer Vaughan Williams in 1912. Its lyrics were a delightful mystery to me but this stanza provided a clue:
And here is to Dobbin and to his right eye
Pray God send our master a good Christmas pie
And a good Christmas pie that we may all see
with the wassailing bowl we’ll drink to thee.
Even a urbanite like me could surmise that Dobbin refers to a working horse and that perhaps all the other living creatures named are horses as well. But then I came across the beautiful illumination above which clearly shows that the carol mixes horses with cattle. Each of the animals’ body parts are wittily toasted – Colly and her long tail, Fillpail and her left ear and Broad May and her horns – which shows, even in medieval times, the English love and reverence towards all the beasts of the field. And the song also pays tribute to the lord of the castle who receives gifts of beef, pie, corn and beer from his devoted people.
Returning once more to our favorite King, I’d like to think of him during a very different time – at home on a snowy evening in Middleham during the Christmas season, surrounded by family and friends like Francis Lovell, when he was still the beloved Duke of Gloucester and before the death of an errant brother would send his life into a tailspin. A muffled knock comes to the door and he turns from his pretty wife and calls to his young servant to answer it:
Then here’s to the maid in the lily white smock
Who tripped to the door and slipped back the lock
Who tripped to the door and pulled back the pin
For to let these jolly wassailers in
For those who would like to hear Miss Stowe’s version, I include a You Tube link. I hope it works but sometimes copyright laws intrude on our enjoyment. If it doesn’t work, I encourage everyone to go to You Tube and simply type in “Gloucestershire Wassail”. It should come up like this:
Sometimes one comes across fascinating nuggets of information, and I have just happened upon the following:-
“This barbour shall haue every satyrday at night if it please the Kinge to cleanse his head, legges or feet, and fort his shaving, two loves, one picher wine. And the ussher of chambre ought to testyfye if this is necessaryly dispended or not.”
So, unless I am misinterpreting this, the king should be washed once a week, whether he needed it or not!
The book in which I found this is titled “Medieval Man” by Frederick Harrison (who was canon, chancellor and librarian of York Minster), published 1947. It is a fascinating little volume, packed with all sorts of information about mediaeval life and beliefs, and chapters on education, meals, stars, chronology, strange ideas (!), medicine, great households, play-acting, boy bishops, geography and maps, and history.
I suppose we should be thankful the above king was cornered once a week, for it could have been a lot worse. Once a month? Once a year? Now then, which king do you think the quoted passage refers to? Richard? Henry VII? Henry VI? No, it’s Edward IV!