Sunday, February 10, 2013

Todays research snippet. English binge drinkers of the 12th century

Drinks all round
After yesterday's discussion of fast food establishments in London, it's now the turn of english drinking habits.
The English love their alcohol and their reputation for being irresponsible consumers of the same goes back over a thousand years. John of Salisbury who was writing at the time of Henry II and was an Englishman working at the papal curia said that the 'English are noted among foreigners for their persistent drinking.'
Richard FitzNigel in his explanation of how the Exchequer works (written in the last quarter of the 12thc) tells his apprentice that 'the untold riches of the kingdom and the natural drunkenness of its inhabitants with its invariable concomitant lust, bring about a multiplicity of thefts, robberies as well as larcenies, besides manslaughter and other crimes, and the evildoers are so urged on by their women, that there is nothing they will not venture under their influence.'
The Countess of Leicester made a comment that the English were better drinkers than fighters and the English chronicler Geoffrey de Vinsauf comments in a chronicle about 'that drinker, England.' (Anglia Potatrix)
Chronicler Richard of Devizes, speaking of the 3rd crusade says that even in the midst of the blare of the war trumpets, the English would stick to their old custom and 'open their mouths wide with proper devotions to drain their goblets to the dregs.'
Communal drinking houses seem to have been a firm part of English culture. Walter Map noted that every parish has a drinking house, called the 'guildhouse'. Contemporaries viewed the word 'guildhouse' as meaning an assembly of drinkers. In the village of Stoke near Hartland in North Devon, there was a house called the 'hubernum' where the locals celebrated drinking parties every year. And of course the ale house, where one could go and purchase ale if the ale-wife had a fresh brewing.
Parties were referred to as 'Ales'. A 'bride-ale' was a wedding party. A 'scot-ale' was where you went for a drink and paid your dues. (from the word escutage, originally 
 a form of military tax coming from the Latin word for shield. 

Part of these drink fests - binges even, was the toast. 'Wesheil' or 'wassail' ws the standard toast and 'Drincheil' the reply as you glugged down your ale. As well as a salute, it was a drinking game challenge. Gerald of Wales tells how Henry II once turned up at a Cistercian monastery after a day's hunting, bedraggled and unrecognised, and the abbot 'caused him to be brought many goblets of fine drink in the English manner.' The toast though, the abbot informed him was a secret one. 'Pril' instead of 'wesheil' and 'Ril' instead of 'drincheil.' Henry manfully accepted the challenge. When the Abbot happened to turn up at court, Henry mischievously greeted him with the words of the secret toast!
Today's research photo:
The Edenhall Cup.  Syrian circa 1350, thought to be a souvenir from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

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