I came across a carpet of these the other day whilst walking the dog, and having my camera to hand, took a snapshot. A few years ago, these delightful little flowers, harbinger of true spring, were in danger of extincition and in fact I confess to never having seen one until recently. However, now at least, there's a field in Nottinghamshire that's positively exuberant with their blooms. Medieval folk would have been entirely familiar with them.
It makes me chuckle that the common name for this pretty little plant derives from the fact that it frequently inhabits cow fields. It used to be known as a 'cow slop' - kuhscheisse in German. That set me to thinking about our medieval ancestors and how in some ways they were much less prudish than us. Lower down the slope where I took this photo, there are masses of dandelions (also known as piss-a-beds) for their diuretic qualities. In the woods there are cuckoo pints - cuckoo penises if you happen to be Anglo Saxon. Orchids, should any be around would have been known as sweet ballocks or dogstones (dog's testicles). Should a bird now called a wheatear fly past, I should remember that it used to be known as a 'white-arse.' It's not just plants and animals that receive this treatment either. There are folk with recorded surnames such as Gildenballocks, Blakeballocs, Fartere and Wydecunthe. Hmmm...can't see those starring in polite society today no matter how appropriate. And should you happen to walk down Grape street in London, it has nothing at all to do with the fruit of the vine. In the fourteenth century it was known as Gropecontelane and had its counterparts in York, Bristol and Oxford. Of course, some Grope Lanes were a reference to how dark it was, rather than a comment on the proclivities of its denizens!
My thanks for the above enlightenment to Wordly Wise by James McDonald/Constable 1984 and The Street names of England by Adrian room/Paul Watkins 1992