Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Items required to make life pleasant for a peasant!

Medieval farming implements including a spade and
This comes from Alexander Nequam, Richard I’s milk brother, and he tells us about the daily living needs of a medieval peasant. His notions of what a peasant should own are somewhat grandiose, but the work is a grammatical treatise, and Alexander himself was not exactly of peasant status and is probably looking on from an idealised distance, and I suspect the wild asses are something of a literary conceit!

A peasant spending his life in the country, wishing to provide for poverty and old age, should have many kinds of baskets and beehives of willow wands. He should have also a fishing fork shape like a hook that he may get himself fish. Nor should he be without a willow basket for pressing clabber (cottage cheese) in which milk saved from the milking, pressed frequently, may be transformed into cheese with the whey well extracted. The whey should then be kept for young children to drink.
Afterwards the cheese in its fresh state should be kept in a cheese box of paper or of marsh reeds wrapped in leaves and covered against the attacks of flies, mice, stinging flies, locusts and such. Also he should have straw and coarse grains, which are fed to hens, ducks, geese, and birds of the kitchen yard. He must have also bolting cloth and a strainer, so that he can sift flour with them; he can clarify beer with them too. He must possess a sword, guisearme, a spade, a threshing sledge, a seed bucket for sowing, a wine strainer basket, a wheelbarrow, a moustrap for mice, and a wolf trap. He should have also stakes or pales, frequently sharpened and tested in the fire. He should have a two- headed axe for removing thorns, thistles, brambles, spines, and bad shoots, and holly wood for tying and reneweing hedges in order that, taking advantage of carelessness, no thieves may enter into the livestock enclosure and take animals. He should have a large knife also by which he may cut grafts and insert them into trees are shall be needed. He may have hoes for removing tares, chicory and bennett grass, vetch, darnell, thistles and avens. Some of these, however, are eradicated better with a curved implement than with a hoe.
He needs a herdsmen and a shepherd because of the treachery of wolves, and he must be provided with a fold in order that the sheep placed there may render richer the land with the wealth of their dung. The shepherd must have a hut in which a faithful dog shall pass the night with him. The sheepfold ought to be moved frequently in order that all the area of the field can feel the benefit of the urine as well as of the dung of these animals. Our peasant should also have a cow barn and mangers: one manger for horses, one for cattle, and if prosperity smiles a bit and Fortune is kind, he should get an ass and a stallion for a stud. He will need also sheep, goats, oxen, cows, heifers, bullocks, wild oxen, wild asses, rams, ewes, wethers, bull calves, and mules. He must have boxes, nets and long lines to trap hares, does, kids, stags, hinds, and young mules. This is the equipment of a peasant. He will require also bratchet hounds, levriers (greyhounds) and mastiffs.
He should have a plough which can produce the necessities of life, in the middle of which is a huge piece of oak which we call the beam or the pole. This widening into two prongs, forms twin ears or earthboards whereby the furrow is made wider. A certain kind of plough has only one ear. This oaken beam curves into the back end which is known as the tale of the plough.
The plough handle to which grips are fixed and by which the plough is directed should go up obliquely. There are three kinds of grips: that in the handle of a sword, the kind attached to a funeral bier, and the kind which a ploughman holds with his hands. But a plough is difficult to control when it is opposed by hard earth and rough or clay soil, where the yoke of the draught animals or the willow bands are broken. A share beam should be added, to which a ploughshare is inset. I Pass over willingly the hedge, harrow, nails, bars, cords, and knife. I leave to those who understand such things to develop and elucidate how the fields should be manured, cleared off, or renovated when Sirrius and Procyon is in the ascendant, or when houses are falling, (astrology refs) also how to burn off when the stalks have been left, or level off with a cylinder, or cover the sown land with a drag, or put the seed in the ground in order that the inert seed may burst into green; how it is necessary to reap, to beat on a threshing floor, to send the bundles or stacks to the granary, to clean with a rake, to clean with the winnowing fan, afterwards to grind with a millstone, to sift the flour through the holes of a sieve, and by the art of baking transform it into bread. I omit for the present, a goad, a drag, a scarecrow, and a lecherous representation of Priapus, not from ignorance but because I do not recall them precisely.

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