Thursday, January 31, 2013

Marshal Thursday Episode One


I've been asked by a reader on Facebook if I'll post more pieces from the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal.  So I've decided that as well as Akashic Friday, (exclusive to Facebook)  I'll have a Marshal Thursday where I'll do just that on Facebook and my blog.  So as not to get confused, I'll start at the beginning and work my way through, leaving out the parts where the author rambles on forever.  The original text is written in Old French, but an English translation is now available, although hard to come by!  Enquiries to the Anglo Norman Text Society, which you can Google should you wish.

The Histoire was a work in praise of William Marshal and the Marshal family, so sometimes needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.  Sometimes the history is inaccurate and the author uses the literary conceits of the period to gloss over what he doesn't know.  However the basic narrative is true to life and gives a fascinating glimpse into the world of the late 12th and early 13th centuries. It's also very useful for anyone wanting to step into the the mindset of the period. This is a world that comes to life under the pen of an early 13thC writer who was commissioned by the Marshal family to craft the Histoire.  It celebrates and commemorates the life of William Marshal and his family and uses what at the time were eye witness reports and personal memories. What you are seeing are people of their time and through their own eyes:
Without further ado apart from a little aside from the Histoire author, here is the chronological story of William Marshal in weekly parts, although you won't actually meet him quite yet.  First there was his father...

"A writer with a worthy subject in mind should so arrange matters that, from the fine start he gives his story it is brought to a fitting conclusion... My tale is of the worthiest man who ever lived in our times. May God, by his grace, give me the ability to handle it in such a way that all who come to hear it and listen to it attentively shall find their joy and delight in it."

In the reign of King Stephen, who ruled over England with difficulty, and Normandy weakly until he was foolish enough to lose it, there was a brave and trustworthy Knight called John the Marshal; he was so enterprising, his affairs on such a scale, that he surrounded himself with many worthy men. And yet he was no Earl, no baron with fabulous wealth, yet his generosity so increased that all were amazed by it. Even those who had no love for him, who were very jealous of him, often could not help speak well of him.
He was seneschal of England, but in his day there was great strife between the Empress and the King, and disorder reigned until in the end - and this is our opinion- King Stephen had the worst of it, for, indeed, the worthy Marshal tied his lot iwith the rightful heir, I mean of course the Empress Matilda. (EC Here referred to as Maheut). There was many a combat and trial for him, many a trial and tribulation he suffered on her behalf, many a hardship too, before things were settled. 300 knights in his retinue the noble knight had, all wearing livery supplied by him, in his pay, with their horseshoes, nails, livery, their fine appearance paid for by him, and the expensive gifts; he was well able to do this, he knew how to attract and hold onto valiant knights...
This courtly, wise and worthy man, married a lady of high birth, beautiful, noble with a cheerful disposition, and well educated to boot. (EC authorial license here re John's first wife. When wives of heroes appear in the sources these are typical tropes). They enjoyed a very happy life together for a long time - as I understand - and in the end he had two sons by the lady: nowhere between here and the shrine of St James at Compostela could you find such handsome boys as these. (EC there follows an omitted paragraph about how wonderful they were). the one was called Gilbert the other Walter the Marshal; they're great handsomeness was equally shared. They prospered so much as they grew up together that they became knights. The start they made in life was good - if only it had been longer!- But Death envies the life of the worthy and could not tolerate or endure that they should have a long life... One of them took ill, or so I am told, in Salisbury. Physicians were of no use at all, nothing could save him from death. The other brother was playing chess when he saw a young lad approaching him; he asked him without further ado: 'Have you news of my brother?'
With heavy heart and an expression on his face that was gloomier than anything could be, he replied 'If God is willing he will get well.'
'Oh!' the brother said. 'Then my brother is dead! He was my delight, he was my comfort, the only joy in life I had; nevermore shall happiness be mine.' These words spoken, he gave way to his grief; he neither ate nor drank after that but died out of grief for his brother. Their father and mother were grief stricken. Quite rightly as nature dictates: what you love you grieve over. But I would like to tell you this, and mark my words, that no grief should be the subject of too much grieving and no joy calls too much rejoicing.  (EC the above scenario is again a literary trope.  By the time Gilbert and Walter Marshall died their parents had long been separated, and while the cause of their deaths is unknown, expiring dramatically from grief is a little suspect).
Meanwhile, the Civil War continued to rage in England. 'No peace, truce, or agreement was kept, and the law of the land was disregarded... At this time so I have heard say, Earl Patrick of Salisbury made frequent war on the Marshal, causing him much harm and damage. The Marshal in his turn often inflicted great damage on him, for that is the way with such business: someone has to lose someone else has to win. In the conflict many a lance was shattered, many a shield smashed in pieces, many a hauberk drenched with blood; many a soul was made part from its body, many a prized and valiant knight was wounded, killed or taken prisoner; many a lady was left a hapless widow, many a maiden was orphaned, who eventually went and sold their bodies, failing to find husbands. (EC interesting comment).
The Empress besieged Winchester. With her was the Marshal, who remained ever loyal to her, and many of the other barons in serried ranks around the town that they expected to take. But the defence inside the walls consisted of doughty knights and brave soldiers who, to show their prowess, sallied forth daily to engage with those outside. The King lost no time at all in assembling a big army to go and relieve Winchester and rescue his loyal subjects. (EC historically wrong here as the relief army was led by Stephen's Queen and the mercenary captain William D'Ypres).  When the Empress heard that the King was coming in his glory with such a mighty force to overcome her, either to kill her or take her  prisoner, and she was told, in a word, that she had not in her Army one 10th the number of his troops, things did not look good for her. Nor had she any prominent enough adviser to give her council, except, of course, the Marshal, who had her set off forthwith straight for Ludgershall.
That day was a very difficult one, for the King and his entire army were behind them in hot pursuit, and those riding with the lady often had to turn and face to fight them; I can tell you that in these engagements many a saddle was seen slipping to the ground, many a knight knocked to the ground and captured. Those who were with the Empress could no longer stand and resist; they fled as best they could spurring on without drawing rain until they came below the town of Wherwell.
 But a great hindrance to them was the Empress, because she was riding as women do, sidesaddle. This did not seem wise or appropriate to the Marshal, so he said to her: 'My lady, so help me Christ, you cannot get a move on riding sidesaddle (en seant) . You must put your legs apart and sit over the saddle bows.' Whether she liked it or not, this she did, since their enemies, hot on their heels and closing in, were inflicting much damage on them. The Marshal did not know what to say or do about her situation; he could see no means  of rescue, no source of help. Brian of Wallingford he entrusted with the task of riding off in charge of the lady, and said that, on peril of his losing his soul, they should not stop anywhere, what ever need might arise and whether the way was good or bad, until they reached Ludgershall. Brian lost no time at all in doing as he was ordered. (EC A bit of artistic licence here I think, since Brian FitzCount was strictly speaking John's overlord and boss. However John was probably the better soldier).
The Marshall made his stand by the ford and offered what resistance he could. The whole army fell on him in such a mighty charge that he could no longer withstand it; so he rushed off into a church, a single knight in his company. When the King's men saw that they had run into the church, they said 'Come on, come on, bring the fire! There will be no escape there for that traitor!'
When the fire had got a hold in the church, he took refuge in the staircase of the tower. The Knight with him said 'My lord, we'll meet a cruel end in the fire here. That would be a great misfortune. Let us surrender, that would be wise.'
The Marshal made his savage replied:'never another word on those lines, I forbid it. If you utter just one word like that again, I'll kill you with my own hands.'
And because of the intense heat all around the lead melted and came off the tower and fell on the Marshal's face with horrible consequences: he lost one eye, which threw him into great dismay, but thank God he did not die there. The King's men immediately assumed that he had burnt to death and set off back to Winchester, but his life had not been extinguished. Once the fire had died down somewhat, he left the building as best he could, but he had suffered serious injury. The two of them made an effort to walk, each making the best effort he could muster. They made their way throughout the night until they came to Marlborough. When those inside the Castle saw them, they were overjoyed and did great honour to them.

More next Thursday!

Today's photo.  Effigy of William Marshal at the Temple Church



Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Today's research snippet. The Miller who stole the nuts


This is an English medieval comic tale. This telling dates to the 16thC but there are much earlier versions of the same from the 13thC. It was also known in France. Millers and tailors often come in for ridicule and are cast as almost pantomime villains and dupes. Priests too. The tales always have morals.

The Miller who stole the nuts.
There was a certain rich farmer who had a great love of nuts. He planted trees of filberts and other nut trees in his orchard and looked after them well all his life. When he died he made his executors promise to bury a bag of nuts with him in his grave, and they carried out his intentions and faithfully did so.
The same night after he was buried, a miller in a white coat came to the man's garden intending to steal a bag of nuts. On the way he met a tailor in a black coat, who was one of his shiftless friends, and told him what he was up to. The tailor revealed to him in return that he intended to steal a sheep and so they both agreed each to carry on with his own project and afterwards to meet up and celebrate in the church porch. Whoever came first would wait for the other.
The Miller got his nuts, and was the first to get to the church porch and waited there for the tailor, occupying his time by sitting and cracking and eating nuts.
it happened that the sexton of the church came to ring the curfew evening Bell. When he looked in the porch and saw someone all in white cracking nuts he thought it was the dead man risen out of his grave cracking the nuts that were buried with him, and he rushed home again and told a cripple who was in his house what he had seen. The cripple when he heard it scolded the sexton, and said that if he could walk he would go there and exhort the spirit.
'By my truth' said the sexton 'if you dare do it, I'll carry you on my shoulders.' So they both agreed. The sexton took the cripple on his shoulders and came into the churchyard again. The Miller in the porch saw someone coming carrying something on his back and thought it was the tailor coming with the sheep. He got up to meet them, and as he came toward them he said, 'Is he fat? Is he fat?'
When the sexton heard him speak so, in a fright he threw the cripple down and said,`Fat or lean, take him there for me!' And he ran away, and the cripple by a miracle was cured and ran away as fast as the sexton, or faster.
This Miller when he saw that there were two and not one, thought someone had seen the tailor stealing the sheep, and were running after him to catch him. He was also afraid that someone had seen him stealing nuts. In a fright he left his nuts behind him and secretly as he could ran home to his mill.
Just after he had gone the tailir came with the stolen sheep on his shoulders to the church porch to look for the miller.And when he found there the nutshells, he supposed that his friend had been there and gone home, as he had indeed. So he took up the sheep again on his shoulders and went toward the mill.
But while this was going on the sexton had run away not to his own house but to the parish priest and explained to him how the spirit of the man had risen out of his grave, and was cracking nuts. So the priest said that he would go and exorcise him if the sexton would go with him. And so they both agreed. The priest put on his surplice and stole about his neck, and took holy water with him, and went with the sexton to the church. As soon as he entered the churchyard, the tailor with the white sheep on his shoulders intending, to go down to the mill, met them and thought that the priest in his surplice was the Miller in his white coat and he said to him,
'By God, I have him! I have him!' Meaning the sheep that he had stolen.
The priest, seeing the tailor all in black, and a white thing on his shoulders, thought it was the devil carrying away the spirit of the dead man that was buried, and ran away as fast as he could, taking the way down to the mill, and the sexton running after him. The tailor seeing the man following thought that someone was following the miller to do him some harm, and thought he would follow in case there was any need to help the miller; and he carried on until he came to the mill and knocked on its door. The miller, who was inside, asked who was there. The Taylor answered and said,
'By God, I have caught one of them, and made sure of him, and tied him fast by the legs.' Meaning the sheep that he had stolen and at that moment had on his shoulders tied fast by the legs. But the miller hearing him say that he had caught him tied fast by the legs, thought it was the constable who had caught the Tailor stealing the sheep, and tied him fast by the legs, and the miller was afraid that the constable had come to take him also for stealing the nuts. So he opened the back door and ran away as fast as he could.
When the Taylor heard the back door open, he went round the other side of the mill and there he saw the Miller running away. He stood there for a little while puzzled, with the sheep on his shoulders. The parish priest and the sexton who were standing near, just by the Millhouse, hiding themselves for fear, saw the tailor again with the sheep on the shoulders, and still thought it was the devil with the spirit of the dead man on his shoulders, and they ran away for fear. But because he did not know the ground well the priest jumped into a ditch, and was in almost over the head, and was almost drowned so that he shouted top of his voice 'Help! Help!'
Then the Taylor looked round and saw the Miller run one way and the sexton in another way, and heard the priest shout for help, and thought it was the constable with a lot of people shouting to help catch him and take him to prison for stealing the sheep. So he threw down the sheep and ran away in another direction as fast as he could.
And so everyone was frightened of the other for no reason.
By this you can easily see that it is ridiculous for anybody to be too frightened other thing before he sees some proof or cause.


Today's research photo from my archive: Medieval fish trap circa 1400-1500 but known throughout the Middle Ages on rivers and streams.   Museum of London


  

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Today's research snippet. Speaking the Language:

Languages in 12th century England.

There were three main spoken languages in England in the 12th century. English, French and Latin. The latter was a language learned by an educated minority and spoken in the spheres of the church, of law, of administration and education. 
English was the language spoken by most of the population from birth - the 'mother tongue.' French was spoken in England in a dialect we now call Anglo Norman. it was used by the King, the barons, and the great churchmen. Most of the aristocracy, both high and low had been born and brought up in northern France in the period immediately following  the Conquest. Two generations later, both King Stephen and Henry II had lived more in ( what is now) France than in England before becoming King. Henry's children grew up in a French-speaking environment. In 1192 Eleanor of Aquitaine needed an interpreter when dealing with the local English population. French was a language of prestige used by the wealthy and powerful, but over the decades and centuries would gradually lose ground to English, which was itself changing, absorbing new words with influences from the French.
Being literate in the 12th century meant being able to understand Latin. It was a universal language. Those who learned it could communicate across continents with other Latin speakers and have access to written information inaccessible to the majority, so in that way it was creating an elite. It was the language of papal authority.
Those educated in Latin were often disparaging of the native tongue. Benedict of Peterborough, when writing down the miracles that had happened at the tomb of Thomas Becket writes of a knight who had been cured. 'He was called Robert, the son of a Surrey knight - the barbarous name of the village has not stuck firmly in my memory.' The chronicler of Ramsey Abbey speaks of translating into Latin documents 'written in the barbarism of English.' Gerald of Wales also called the English-language barbaric. after the Norman Conquest, Latin replaced English in official documentation. some documentation was written in French, although Latin dominated. French was used to write romances and histories for the consumption of the aristocracy.
Nevertheless, English not only retained its foothold but gained ground. Waltheof Abbot of Melrose spoke both French and English 'eloquently and fluently'. he was the brother of Simon de Senlis, Earl of Huntingdon, and had been born in the early 12th century. So here is evidence that children of the high aristocracy were imbibing English along with French.
English, unlike so much the French and Latin was spoken in dialects. William of Malmesbury remarks that 'The whole language of the Northumbrians, especially in York, is so grating and uncouth that we Southerners cannot understand a word of it.' And when Abbott Samson of Bury St Edmunds preached in English, he spoke in a Norfolk dialect.
I would love to go back, stand in the marketplace, and listen!

Today's photograph from my archive: This is a photo of The Milton Brooch in the Victoria and Albert Museum.  More about it here: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O111113/the-milton-brooch-disc-brooch-unknown/




Monday, January 28, 2013

Today's research snippet. The tools of a medieval scribe

More from Alexander Nequam, milk brother of Richard the Lionheart. This time he talks about the requirements of a scribe. Very interesting about the window cover.

"Let him have a razor or knife for scraping pages of parchment or skin; let him have a " biting" pumice for cleaning the sheets, and a little scraper for making equal the surface of the skin. He should have a piece of lead and a ruler with which he may rule the margins on both sides - on the back and on the side from which the flesh has been removed.

There should be a fold of four sheets (a quaternion). I do not use the word 'quaternio' because that means "a squad in the army." let these leaves be held together at top and bottom by a strip of parchment threaded through. The scribe should have a bookmark cord and a pointed tool about which he can say 'I have pricked (punxi) not pinked (pupigi) my quaternion.' 
Let him sit in a chair with both arms high, reinforcing the back rest, and with a stool at the feet. Let the writer have a heating basin covered with a cap; he should have a knife with which he can shape the quill pen; let this be prepared for writing with the inside fuzzy scale scraped out, and let there be a boar's or goat's tooth for polishing the parchment, so that the ink of a letter may not run; he should have something with which letters can be cancelled. Let him have an indicator or line marker (speculum) in order that he may not make costly delay from error.
There should be hot coals in the heating container so that the ink may dry more quickly on the parchment in foggy or wet weather. 

Let there be a small window through which light can enter; if perchance the blowing of the north wind attacks the principal window, let this be supplied with a screen of linen or parchment distinct in colour; green and black offer more comfort to the eyes. Whiteness, when too intense, disturbs the sight and throws it into disorder. There should be red lead for forming red Phoenician or Punic letters or capitals. Let there be dark powder and blue which was discovered by Solomon that is ultramarine."

Today's photo is of a Gothic English window in the V&A museum.  No dateline, but a rare survivor from the Middle Ages.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Today's research snippet. Beery Me!

Beer and ale (both words known to the Anglo Saxons) were regular table beverages in Northern Europe in the high Middle Ages. Physicians viewed the drinks as better than consuming plain water, even spring water, but not as good as wine. The Regimen sanitatis Salernitanum says that beer must be drunk in moderation because the intoxication it induces lasts for longer than that produced by wine and is worse. However, the author admits that it is better to drink beer at the beginning of a meal than wine because beer will not attract the body's corrupt and putrescent superfluities to the empty stomach, which wine might just do. Wine also makes a 'false thirst' caused by the natural warmth furnished by wine. This doesn't happen with beer.
The above remarks are caused by the medieval science that all foods have properties that will affect the digestion. Fish for example, are seen as cold and moist because they swim in water and need to be balanced by something warm and dry. Wine was viewed as being warm and dry. So lampreys, seen as being extremely dangerous fish because of the degree of their coldness and moistness, were often killed in a bucket of wine to negate the effects. (This brings a whole new slant to the death of Henry I by surfeit of lampreys, when one considers the medical theory behind the statement).  Pears too were seen as dangerous fruit having a high rating on the coldness/moistness scale, so they too were cooked in wine. We still eat them like that today!
I digress. The point was that wine, being warm and dry, might cause you to become thirstier the more you drank. Beer didn't have this property.
Not everyone agreed that beer was wonderful. Aldobrandino of Siena declared that:
beer is a sort of beverage that is made from oats and wheat and barley, though that which is made from oats and wheat is better because it does not cause as much wind or gas. But from which ever it is made, whether from oats and barley or wheat, it harms the head and the stomach, it causes bad breath and ruins the teeth, it fills the stomach with bad fumes, and as a result anyone who drinks it along with wine becomes drunk quickly; but it does have the property of facilitating urination and makes one's flesh white and smooth. And the beer that is made from rye, or from rye bread in which there is mint and wild celery, is far better than any other type of beer.'

However, in northern Europe, beer drinking proliferated. By the 14th century there were 350 breweries in Amersfoort. A bit like the proliferation of microbreweries today! In the late 1150s, Thomas Becket's cavalcade to Paris on the eve of the betrothal of Henry II's son Henry to Louis VII's daughter Marguerite, included several casks of fine English ale for royal consumption. In 1420, King Henry V of England married Catherine de Valois, daughter of King Charles VI of France. He gave his father-in-law a fine beer mug. This suggested that Henry rejected contempt for English tastes, and that still 300 years later, the beverage was a drink fit for royalty. It also tells us that by the early 15th century there were specific mugs for drinking beer. The French actually had a drink called 'godale' which seems to be a derivation of 'good ale' and was a strong beer made without hops from barley and spelt.
In the early 16th century and Englishman called Andrew Boorde wrote down the distinction between ale and beer. (Historians now still debate the early history and differences that of the brews) He said ale was made from malt and water and yeast. He said that barley malt was better than oat malt 'or any other corne.' He said it engendered 'grosse humours' but it also made a man strong. Beer on the other hand was made using hops and was a natural drink for a Dutchman. However, hops had lately come to England 'to the detriment of many English men.'
Boorde also says that beer is a cold drink which 'doth make a man fat, and doth inflate the belly as it doth appere by the Dutch mens' faces & belyes.'
Boorde describes a 'poset ale' which is made from hot milk and cold ale. this apparently is particularly good for someone who has a 'hot liver.' It should have cold herbs sodden in it. ( these would be herbs with cold properties that would help to balance the perceived heat of the liver).
Ale might also sometimes be made with honey and herbs such as ground pepper and ground cloves and this particular brew came to be known as braggot.

So there you have it. A small corner of beerdom explored. Cheers!

Today's photo.  A 14thC chamber pot - sort of relevant!  


click to enlarge



Saturday, January 26, 2013

Today's research snippet. Jolly japes at a tournament.


Today I'm back with the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal and a spot of entertainment before the tourney.

"They dismounted in front of their lists, and every man armed, they waited the arrival of the others.
The Countess came out of the Castle. She was in her face and body beautifully formed, so I have heard say, as only Nature could contrive her. With her were married ladies and the younger girls, so beautiful and adorned that as regards their beauty there was no room for criticism, nor had they anything to learn about courtliness or good sense.
The knights rose up from the ranks to meet them, as was fit and proper. They were convinced that they had become better men as a result of the ladies' arrival, and so they had, for all those there felt a doubling of strength in mind and body, and of their boldness and courage.
One of them said:'Come on, let us dance while we are waiting, we will be less bored.' So they took one another by the hand.
One man asked: 'Who will be kind enough to sing for us?'
The Marshal, who had a good voice but who in no way boasted about it, then began to sing a song in a pure, sweet tone. He gave much pleasure to those present, and they willingly joined in his song. And when he had finished his song, which gave them much pleasure and delight, a young singer, recently made a herald at arms began to sing a new song. I do not know what was the subject of it, but the refrain contained the words: 'Marshal, come on, give me a trusty steed!'
When the Marshall heard it, he stayed there not a minute longer, but left the dance without saying a word to anyone. A squire brought him his horse, and he beckoned to the young herald. The Herald saw the gesture and ran after him as fast as he could.
At this point the jousters rode up, those who were in the front rank of the initial contests. The Marshal, who had no wish to bandy words, wrote straight up to one of them. He had such faith in his prowess and in his firm and sturdy lance, that he knocked him off his horse without further ado. Then he had the young harald mount the horse, and the young man, without uttering a word, galloped back into the dance, and said to all: 'Look what are fine horse! The Marshal gave it to me.'
Many were greatly surprised by this, because they were under the impression that the Marshall was still at the dance, and they spoke much of it. The knights and the maidens, and married ladies and the young girls, said that never had such a fine feat been performed at a tournament.
When the knights saw their companions approaching, they immediately laced up there ventails and helms and mounted their horses. Because of the ladies present, the least bold amongst them was emboldened to be the victor at the tournament that day, but all the same, they rode along at a measured tread in close formation, not one of them advancing in front of another.
One man on the other side lowered his lance and launched himself into the fray, but he did not get away because he was taken immediately by his horse's bridle. Every man wishing to increase his standing prepared and strove to deal fine blows, and the tournament got off to such a fine start, being fought at such close quarters. And those who had been at the dance with the ladies put their bodies, hearts, and minds into performing well; and so they did, to the extent that the other side were dismayed.
There was a great clamour, and much dust was raised, for just as lightning strikes down and flattens anything in its path, leaving nothing untouched, so those were left the company of the ladies were just as impetuous. There was a hand-to-hand battle and there were many feats of arms that day but the fact of the matter is that those who had been in the company of the ladies continually got the better of the other side.

NB: It was a marshal's duty to make sure that the men in his charge were well mounted. He was in charge of horses and horse equipment, and this probably, just as much as his prowess as a tourney knight, made William Marshal the recipient of the young Herald's request.


Today's medieval photo from my archive:  Typical example of horse harness decoration pendants circa 1300.  Once heraldry got going, pendants like this would decorate bridles, breast straps etc as identifiers of the rider and a mark of rank or belonging. "


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Today's research snippet. Trial By Ordeal


Until the 12th century when trial by jury began to take off in the reign of Henry II,  ancient modes of proof were still frequently utilised in English courts.
For example, the ordeal of cold water.  The person submitted to this examination (usually the accused) was lowered into sufficient cold water to come over the top of his or her head.  If the person sank, it meant that the pure element of water accepted him and he was innocent.  If not, then he was removed and taken away to be punished - often by mutiliation.
In some areas there were special ordeal pits for this. These are mentioned in charters as a source of monastic income and were mentioned as part of the patrimony of churches.  Ordeal pits are mentioned in the pipe roll for 1166 as being blessed by the clergy.  A water ordeal-pit near Bury St. Edmunds was blessed by two priests at a cost of ten shillings.  This is at a time when a labourer might earn a penny a day.  There are 12 pennies in a shilling.  The blessing of the pits was ordered by itinerant royal justices Geoffrey de Mandeville and Richard de Lucy.
The ordeal of cold water might also be organised from a bridge over a stream.  The ceremony was accompanied by the chanting of the clergy, a sermon and mass.

Another judgement of God was that of the hot iron. Here the accused had to briefly carry a hot iron.  His hand was then bandaged and sealed and when later examined, if it was clean and healed, or healing again, he was innocent.  This ordeal was common in England both in criminal and civil pleas.  King William Rufus was a very unhappy man when 50 people accused of crimes in his forest took the ordeal of hot iron en masse and all came through it unmarked! Rufus swore he would never be taken in again.  At the assize of Clarendon in 1166, Henry II chose not to believe the innocents who had come through trial by water and survived, and banished them from England anyway.

There was also the ordeal of trial by combat, which was viewed as a Norman innovation by the English.  William the Conqueror expressly ordered that it was not to be enforced on English litigants who were to stick to their own forms of ordeals.  The two co-existed until trial by jury took over in the mid to late reign of Henry II.  The clergy got in on the act of Trial by Combat by blessing the weapons and imploring God's mercy.  While trials by combat were sometimes fought by the accused themselves, as in the case of Henry II's standard bearer Henry of Essex (who lost, was spared and took the tonsure),  or William Marshal  when accused of fornicating with the Young King's wife (no one was stupid enough to go up against him), people would employ champions to fight in their stead.  

The other, less drastic form was compurgation and was the primary mode of proof. Here, the party would swear to his own good right or innocence under oath and would produce a number of oath-helpers' who would add their oaths to support his. They weren't witnesses, just people confirming their belief in the person under trial. 

All theses ancient systems of justice were swept away during and beyond the reign of Henry II and replaced by the trial by jury system, which has served us ever since.

Source: The Birth of the English Common Law by R.C. Van Canegem: Cambridge University Press.


Today's research photo
Tomb effigy in The Temple Church: The mailed hand of William Marshal on his sword hilt.  Circa 1220's.




Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Today's research snippet: Do you take this woman?

Rituals of Betrothal and Marriage in the 12th and early 13thC.

In a letter to the Archbishop of York, Pope Alexander III (pope from 1159-1181), ordered that there should be no espousal or marriage before the age of 7. In a later ruling, he changed it to 12. Of course there were dispensations. Henry II obtained one for his son Henry, and his bride Marguerite, both being under 7 at the time.

The Church said that for a marriage to exist in their eyes, both parties had to consent. 'Marriage is contracted by consent alone.' But this led to a worry that marriages might be conducted in secret and upset the apple cart of wider family plans and compromise safeguards. Responsibilities needed to be recognised before all, so it became common useage for marriages to be made in front of the church in a public ceremony before witnesses with the blessing of a priest.
At the Council of Westminster in 1076, it was ruled that 'No one should give his daughter or other relative to anyone without priestly blessing, otherwise it will be judged not a legitimate marriage but a fornicator's marriage.' This was reiterated at the Council of Westminster in 1200. 'publicly in front of the church and in the presence of a priest.'
It is in 1200 that banns first appear in England. 'No marriage should be contracted without a public announcement in church on three occasions.' Gerald of Wales tells us that these 3 occasions should be the 3 Sundays preceding the wedding. The idea of a formal announcement before the wedding is also found in France at this time and became a universal requirement by 1215.
The wedding service at this time has some similarities with the one in the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer. The priest began by asking if there was any reason why the couple could not be legitimately married. The heart of the ceremony was the priest's questions to the bride and groom.
'Do you take this woman...to keep in sickness and in health? If both couples said 'I do' (Volo) then the priest and the man giving the woman away would hand her to the groom. The latter would put a ring on her hand saying: 'With this ring I honour you...with my body I wed you.'
This had all taken place outside. Now everyone entered the church to hear mass. The husband was expected to give his wife her dower at the church door (a dower being land or cash she could live on should he predecease her). The bride would also bring her part of the bargain to the marriage in the form of a marriage portion - property or cash to increase the size of the husband's estate. He might do this by handing over a symbolic object such as a knife. During the mass, the couple would lie prostrate before the altar and the altar cloth would be held over them. The husband would kiss the bride, but first he had to give the priest the kiss of peace during the communion.
We know the above from lawsuits dating from this period that arose concerning whether marriages had taken place or not.
Following the ceremony, there was usually a celebration - a 'party' in modern terms. A church document warns however that marriages should be celebrated: 'With reverence and honour and not with laughing and joking, in taverns or at public feasts or drinking parties. Nor should anyone put a ring made of rushes or some other material, cheap or precious on some girl's hand in fun, to be able to fornicate with her more freely, for he may find that, although he thinks he is joking, he has in fact bound himself in the obligations of matrimony.'



Today's research photo
13th century Bishop's rings from St.David's Abbey Pembrokeshire.  The stones are Amethysts. 



click to enlarge


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Today's research snippet. Foreign nuts and wandering 'N's

There is an Anglo Saxon word 'wealh' which means 'foreign' and which the Anglo Saxons specifically applied to the folk of the Celtic fringe. The land to the west of England became known as the land of the wealas, or foreigners, what we now know as Wales. The Welsh know their own land as Cymru.
Cornwall was originally known as West Wales, but because
 the land was shaped like a horn - also called a 'corn' in old language, it became Cornwall. Individuals from Wales sometimes took the surnames Welsh and Walsh. If they were north of the border that surname then became Wallace.
Some Welsh remained in England and gave their name to settlements such as Walcot (Welsh cottage) Walton (Welsh town) Walford (Welsh ford) and Saffron Walden (A dene or valley of the Welsh where saffron was grown).
On the continent, the Saxons encountered other foreigners to name in their language. So there are the 'Walloons' of southern Belgium and the Walachians of Romania. And then of course there foreign food. The 'waelh hnutu' which became the walnut.

And on nicknames:
A nickname was once 'an eke name' which literally means 'an also name.' Over time the 'eke' has become 'ick' and the initial 'n' has been transferred to the previous word.' The migrating 'n' is found all over the place. 'an ewte' has become 'a newt'. 'An otch' has become 'a notch.' Other words have transferred the 'n' to the 'a'. So instead of 'a napron' we now have 'an apron.' Instead of 'a norange' we now have 'an orange.' 'A numpire' became 'an umpire'. The old Saxon word 'nadra' for a viper has become 'adder' in modern English. An earlier form was 'natter' hence the saying 'As mad as a natter' i.e. an angry snake. Over time and down to Lewis Carroll and the effects of mercury on hat makers, the phrase changed to 'Mad as a hatter.' 


Today's photo from my archive.
Late Anglo Saxon knife with the owner's name Osmund on the blade.



Monday, January 21, 2013

Today's research snippet. Having the builders in: Ailnoth the Engineer


 A short biography today of one of King Henry II's servants.
Ailnoth Ingeniator (the engineer) worked for Henry II from at least 1157, possibily earlier, until Henry's death in 1189 and seems to have retired around that time.
His'job title' and main area of work was as 'Keeper of the Palace of Westminster' for which he drew a salary of 7pence a day - working out to 10 pounds, 12 shillings and 11 pence a year.

 At Westminster his duties included repairs to the fabric of the buildings that composed the royal palace. He was also responsible for overseeing their cleaning and furbishing. If they required fresh rushes for the floor or needed a broken window repairing, then Ailnoth saw that it was done. (there is written proof for the broken window repair, and is early evidence for domestic glazing in royal houses). 

On his watch, a cloister was built to link the king's various chambers to provide shelter in bad weather. A new wharf and landing stair was planned and constructed too. At Westminster abbey the refectory was repairned in 1175 and it is very possible that Ailnoth designed the Chapel of St. Catherine in 1160. 
Ailnoth also supervised the building of the Fleet Gaol in the 1170's and 80's. He oversaw work at the Tower of London, purchasing lead for the chapel roof in 1176. 

Outside of London he worked on Windsor, Woodstock and Rayleigh. He had a hand in building and designing Orford Castle in East Anglia between 1165 and 1173. In 1175-76 he led a team of royal carpenters and masons who razed the rebellious Hugh Bigod's castle of Framlingham to the ground, leaving only the stone great hall.

Following his busy career, Ailnoth retired from service around 1190 and had died by 1197 when his wife, Maud, is mentioned as a widow. His son Roger continued in his father's trade and was active at Westminster from 1177-1216.

Ailnoth Ingeniator: One of the ordinary people literally holding together the fabric of  Angevin England.

Today's research photo is of a Norman fireplace at the Tower of London, which Ailnoth would have known, and where Henry II and Alienor of Aquitaine among others would have warmed themselves on occasion.   I love the modern placement of a fire extinguisher!  Click to enlarge.


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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Today's research snippet. The Lionheart loses his temper:


Today's research snippet comes from the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal.
Richard, while speaking to a cardinal from Rome is asked to release his prisoner the Bishop of Beauvais, who is his sworn enemy. Richard is not best pleased:

The cardinal tells Richard...
'It is wrong to hold such a man, an anointed and sacred Bishop.'


'Upon my soul he's not! He's been deconsecrated,' said the King, 'and is a false Christian. From now on I shall never believe a word you say. It was not as a bishop that he was taken captive but as a knight of great reputation, fully armed and with his helmet laced. Is this what you've thought up in Rome Sir hypocrite? You're not wise! I can tell you that, were it not for your role as envoy, Rome would not prevent me from giving you such a hiding to take back to the Pope as would engrave my deeds on his mind. 


The Pope thinks me a fool; I know full well that he made a fool of me when I sent a message to him from a distant land to seek his help in my predicament, as a prisoner in the service of God. I begged and beseeched him to help me in my hour of need or to do his duty. Not for a moment what he willing to involve himself, not for a moment did he deign to go to any trouble over it. And now there he is asking me to release a robber, a tyrant and an arsonist, who so loved waging war that he devastated the whole of my land and pillaged it night and day. 

Get out of here you traitor, you liar and cheat, you deceiver, you simoniac! Take care that I never see you before me on the field or on the open road!'
At this the legate left, impatient to be out of there. He would not even return to collect his cross, reckoning that he would lose his genitals if he did. Instead he mounted his horse and never reined it in until he reached the King of France, in a state of utter dejection and torment and more scared than a deer. When the French saw him arrive so gripped by fear, they were dismayed.


He said to the King: 'He is not a gracious man, this King you're doing business with; he is no lamb, indeed he is fiercer than a lion... When I asked him about the Bishop of Beauvais, he was so incensed that he immediately quarrelled with me. He raised his eyebrows in my direction and turned as red as a blazing fire, so much so that I fully expected him to assault me.'


Some of the French present laughed at this, and said to one another in private: 'He's nearly caught a fever from this experience. King Richard is no nanny goat to be scared easily; he still thinks he can take revenge for the harm done him.'


King Richard was still so furious that he was unable to utter a single word; instead he huffed and puffed in his anger. Like a wild boar wounded by the Huntsman he retired huffing and puffing into his chamber and ordered the doors to be closed; no monk or novice passed through them. He lay on his back on a bed, and nobody was so bold as to dare to knock on the door, until the Marshall arrived, holding a staff in his hand. He knocked loudly at the door which was opened for him forthwith. He found the King lying down in his great anger and began to address him:


'Sire it is not right or reasonable for you to be angry without cause, for, so help me God, my dear Lord, what I see making you angry should actually make you laugh, since you have come away winning everything. You can see that the King of France can go no further; all he can do is approach you and sue for peace or a truce. So you take your land and leave him the castles in pledge until another occasion. Since he will not be taking an inch of land, he will find out it's a real war he is engaged in just to hold on to and maintain the castles, if the cost of fortification has to come from his purse. That is how things will be, I vouch for it; I am certain they will come here tomorrow.'

The Histoire then moves on to other things, so one assumes that Richard was calmed by William Marshal's words. This has the real ring of a robust and true exchance and gives a great insight into Richard I's character!

Today's research photo:  First half of the 13th century. A bishop's crosier with Limoges enamel work.  Victoria and Albert Museum.




Saturday, January 19, 2013

Today's research snippet. 12th century Londoners in Winter


Given the state of the UK weather at the moment, I thought I'd quote from William FitzStephen's Norman London, written in the 12th century before 1183. This is what Londoners did for fun in icy weather!

In winter on almost every feast-day before dinner either foaming boars and hogs, armed with tusks lightning-swift, themselves soon to be bacon, fight for their lives, or fat Bulls with butting horns, or huge bears, do combat the death against hounds let loose upon them.

When the great Marsh that washes the Northern walls of the city is frozen, dense throngs of youths go forth to disport themselves upon the ice. Some gathering speed by a run, glide sidelong, with feet set well apart, over a vast space of ice. Others make themselves seats of ice like millstones and are dragged along by a number who run before them holding hands. Sometimes they slip owing to the greatness of their speed and fall, every one of them, upon their faces. 


Others there are, more skilled to sport upon the ice, who fit to their feet the shin bones of beasts, lashing them beneath their ankles, and with iron-shod poles in their hands they strike ever and anon against the ice and are born along as swift as a bird in flight or a bolt shot from a mangonel.


But sometimes two by agreement run against one another from a great distance and raising their poles, strike one another. One or both fall, not without bodily hurt, since in falling they are born a long way in opposite directions by the force of their own motion; and where ever the ice touches the head, it scrapes and skins it entirely. Often he that falls breaks shin or arm, if he fall upon it. But youth is an age greedy of renown, yearning for victory, and exercises itself in mimic battles that it may bear itself more boldly in true combats.


Today's photo - shin bone ice skates as mentioned above.  Museum of London.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Today's research snippet. A description of Henry II

Chronicler Gerald of Wales always has to be read with a pinch of salt as he often has agendas and can be full of praise or bile about a person because either he wants to curry their favour or they have displeased him.  Yet his writings are vibrant, colourful, and show the workings of a busy, enquiring mind, and in that aspect they are quite delightful.
Here is Gerald's description of Henry II. 



Gerald of Wales on Henry II.
Henry II king of England, was a man, then, having her hair somewhat red, grey eyes, and an ample and Round head: his bluish eyes were fierce, and suffused with the redness when in a passion; his face  fiery, his voice broken, his neck in a slight degree depressed from his shoulders, his breast square, his arms strong; his body fleshy, rather by nature than by indulgence of appetite;his belly was large, and yet there was no unusual Rutan ditty, no laziness what ever: and he was moderate even in his excesses: for he was sparing and sober both in meat and drink and addicted in parsimony as far as was practicable in a Prince; and that he might repress and mitigate this misfortune of nature by industry, and might alleviate the sins of the flesh by the bigger of his mind, he was accustomed to torment his body by a moderately harassing it by waging against it and more than intestine war - conspiring as it were against himself. For, besides the times of war is which pressed upon him, what remained when these matters were accomplished, that little space even he scarcely gave to rest. In time of peace he never indulged himself in any peace and quiet; for being immoderately given to hunting, he mounted his swift horse at break of dawn, and passed the day in a state of restless activities; at one time wandering through the groves at another penetrating into the woods, and at another traversing the tops of the mountains; and when he arrived at home in the evening, you would scarcely ever see him sitting down, either before supper or after; for after so great fatigue, it was his habit to weary the whole court by standing continually. But since this maxim is especially useful in life ,'that there should be no extremes in things, and that no remedy is good if it occasions frequent swelling of the feet and ankles' ( for the injury is increased if the beasts of burden kick against you) he hastened on his old age to his other bodily inconveniences which itself may be called a second nurse and Minister of many evils."

Today's research photo.  It's actually a link because I don't have a copyright original of this, but it's a mural painting of Henry II (with his four sons not shown here) on the wall of the chapel of St. Radegonde in Chinon. http://www.flickr.com/photos/christof/5979361405/

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Today's research snippet. A Close Shave in the Bath House!

Today's research snippet.

 This comes from the book posted below. Usama Ibn Munqidh was a 12th century gentleman, scholar, poet and Syrian nobleman, born at the castle of Shayzar in Northern Syria in 1095. He's an eye witness raconteur of the crusader colonists in the Middle East, although rather like Gerald of Wales. A great story teller who sometimes embroiders with an eye to the political ag
enda. Here's a piece from his memoirs, making an observation on bathing habits as told to him by his bath keeper Salim: (one suspects a little exaggerating of the truth, but even so, it's an entertaining tale, and a pointer to a Muslim's view of European Christian incomers.

"I once opened up a bath in Al-Ma'arrah in order to earn my living. To this bath there came a Frankish knight. The Franks disapprove of girding a cover around one's waist while in the bath. so this Frank stretched out his arm and pulled off my cover from my waist and threw it away. He looked and saw that I had recently shaved off my pubes. so he shouted 'Salim!' as I drew near him he stretched his hand over my pubes and said, 'Salim, good! By the truth of my religion, do the same for me.' Saying this, he lay on his back and I found that in that place the hair was like his beard. so I shaved it off. Then he passed his hand over the place and, finding it smooth, he said, 'Salim, by the truth of my religion, do the same to Madam, referring to his wife. He then said to a servant of his, 'Tell Madam to come here.'
Accordingly the servant went and brought her and made her enter the bath. She also lay on her back. The knight repeated, 'Do what thou hast done to me.' So I shaved all that hair while her husband was sitting looking at me. At last he thanked me and handed me the pay for my service.'



Today's picture from my research archive.
Pectoral cross made sometime between 1000 and 1200 and hailing from Byzantium or possibly Turkey.  Gold and precious gems including emeralds. Click to enlarge.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Today's research snippet. Letters from King John

Today's research snippet. Here are two business letters of King John. They show him protecting the interests of the Jewish population in London and being strong worded about it. The second concerns the release of prisoners as a gesture of honour and respect to mark his mother's passing.  The photo from my archive is of a 

The King to the mayor and barons of London,
we have always loved you much, and have caused your rights and liberties to be well served; hence we infer that you especially love us, and voluntarily desire to do those things which tend to our honour, and to the peace and tranquillity of our kingdom. But, when you know that the Jews are under our special protection, we indeed marvel that you have allowed mischief to be done to the Jews dwelling in the city of London, such being manifestly against the peace and tranquillity of our realm; and we are so much the more astonished and concerned thereat, because the other Jews throughout England, wheresoever they dwell, excepting those in your city, are in perfect peace. Nor do we notice this on account of the Jews only, but also for our own quiet, because if we had granted our protection to a dog, it ought to be inviolably observed. Henceforth, however we commit the Jews dwelling in London to your custody; and if any one shall attempt to harm them, you may always defend and assist them; for in future at your hands will we require their blood, if perchance, by your default, any evil happen to them, for we well know that things of this sort do occur throughout the foolish people of the town, and not to the discreet, by whom the folly of the foolish ought to be restrained. Witness ourself at Montfort, on the 29th day of July.

GENERAL PARDON
The King to the Sheriff of Dorsetshire,
Know ye, that, for the love of God and safety of the soul of our very dear mother who is recently dead, we have liberated and quitted claim on the Wednesday next before Palm Sunday, viz., the 14th day of April, in the fifth year of our reign, all prisoners, whatever the cause for which they may have been detained, whether for murder, felony, or larceny, or breaking the forest laws, or for any other misdemeanour whatsoever, except the prisoners taken in our late war, those also whom we sent over from Normandy into England to be there kept and imprisoned, and the Jews who are now our prisoners.
And therefore we command you, immediately on sight of these letters, to liberate all the aforesaid prisoners, except as above excepted, so that those prisoners who are to be liberated find security in full county court, to be hereafter faithful, and then they may remain in our territories. Otherwise make them, in full County Court, abjure our realm, on condition that they confess their guilt, and depart within 40 days after such abjuration. Those, however, who had been imprisoned for homicide are to find bail, either to stand their trial or to make peace with the parents, which if they be unwilling or unable to do, they must also abjure our realm, and depart therefrom within the term aforesaid, unless they prefer to return into prison and stand their trial,.
As for those who are arrained for breach of forest laws, and are detained in prison, we will that they be altogether liberated, excepting those who are found with venison, and were convicted thereof, concerning whom we will they find bail not to commit trespass in our forests in future. But if they shall be unwilling or unable to find security, let them, like the others aforesaid in our mercy, abjure our realm, and depart therefrom within the aforesaid term.
Witness our self at Fremantle, on the 15th day of April



Today's photo - King John's hand on his sword hilt from the tomb effigy set at the Cast Court: Victoria and Albert Museum.



Sunday, January 13, 2013

Today's research snippet - shiver me timbers!


Today's research snippet: 
Today it's back to Alexander Nequam, milk brother of Richard the Lionheart, and his descriptions of daily life in the 12th Century: Here he talks about aspects of a ship:
If anyone wishes to fit out a ship let him have an asbestos stone, in order that the benefit of fire may not be lacking. If such hearthstone is once lit it is unquenchable. He should have a needle placed on a pivot; the needle will rotate a
nd revolve until the point looks toward the east, and thus sailors understand where they should steer when the Little Bear constellation is hidden in the storm, although this constellation never sets because of the brevity of its circle.
it is necessary also to be supplied with grain and wine, also with arms and with an axe by which the mast can be cut down when a storm comes up, which is the greatest of evils, and so that the traps of pirates can be avoided.
Side planking should be fastened with cords and nails, and, when fitted together, let them be daubed with pitch mixed with wax on the inside, or with paint and let them be smoothed on the outside, sparing the use of too much paint. Cross weaving and wattling are required, in order that the swift and frequent jarring is may not and fasten or loosen the joints. It is needful to join the boards proportionally, with the fore castle and after castle separated.
Let the mast be raised in a socket on the flooring, then let the sail be fastened to the mast, and have the cordage extend from side to side; the lowest part of the sail is fastened to a spar carried cross-wise. The swelling of the sail is its belly. Yard braces are needed; May these be placed almost before the water of which the upper ends are called horns. The sail yard is at the peak of the mast and in French is called a cochet.
Let there also be openings through which oars can run, if rowing is required when a wind is lacking. Let stays be extended,
Let the skipper have a transverse seat or thwart. Near this let there be a windlass that the lines may be bound more firmly and that the sail may be raised according to the shift of wind. An anchor is needed. Have a mallet by which the sailor gives signals to his comrades.


Today's research photo: These are ship's timbers from the mid 13th century.  They ended their life as a lining for a fish tank on the south bank of the Thames. The upper plank has holes for oars to pass through. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Today's research snippet. Medieval sexual sins

Today's research snippet. It's a bit rude today. This is from the Penitential of Burchard of Worms written in the early 11th century. Burchard was a bishop who wrote a 20 volume manual of sins that priests might come across when hearing confessions. Volume 19 Chapter 5 covers 194 of the sexual variety and here a few of them. I wonder if bishop Burchard got hot under his cassock writing all this down?!:

For Men:
Have you committed fornication with a nun, that is to say, a bride of Christ? if you have done this, you shall do penance for 40 days on bread and water, which they call a 'carina', and repeat it for the next seven years; and as long as you live, you shall observe all six holy days on bread and water.

Have you had sex with your wife or with another woman from behind, doggy style, (retro canino). if you have done this, you shall do penance for 10 days on bread and water.

Have you had sex with your wife on a Sunday? You shall do penance for four days on bread and water.

If in your wife's absence, without your or your wife's knowledge, your wife's sister entered your bed and you thought that she was your wife and you had sex with her, if you have done this, then if you complete the penance you can keep your lawful wife, but the adulterous sister must suffer the appropriate punishment and be deprived of a husband for all time.

Have you fornicated with your mother? if you have done this, you shall do penance for 15 years on the legitimate holy days, and one of these years on bread and water, and you shall remain without hope of marriage, and you shall never be without penitence. But your mother, if she was not consenting, shall do penance according to the decision of the priest; and if she cannot live chastely may marry in the Lord.

Have you kissed some woman due to foul desire and thus polluted yourself? If you have done this, you shall do penance for three days on bread and water. But if this happened in a church, you shall do penance for 20 days on bread and water.

The penance for male masturbation was 20 days on bread and water.

For Women:
Have you done what certain women are accustomed to do, that is, to make some sort of device or implement in the shape of the male member, of the size to match your desire, and you have fastened it to the area of your genitals or those of another with some form of fastenings and you have fornicated with other women or others have done with a similar instrument or another sort with you? If you have done this you shall do penance for five years on legitimate holy days.

Have you done what certain women are accustomed to do, that is, you have fornicated with yourself with the aforementioned device or some other device? If you have done this, you shall do penance for one year on legitimate holy days.

Have you tasted your husband's semen in the hope that because of your diabolical deed he might burn the more with love for you? If you have done this, you shall do penance for seven years on the legitimate holy days.

Have you done what certain women are accustomed to do? They prostrate themselves face-down and uncover their buttocks, then they order that bread be prepared on their naked buttocks; when it's baked, they give to their husbands to eat so that they will burn the more for love of them. If you have done this, you shall do penance for two years on legitimate holy days

Today's research photo shows a shield with two lovers.  British Museum.  You can read the details about it here: http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/pe_mla/s/shield_of_parade.aspx


Friday, January 11, 2013

Today's research snippet. Frumenty and spoons.

The dish known as Frumenty was a favourite medieval staple food, traditionally eaten with venison and porpoise.  It takes its name from frumentum, the latin word for corn (and corn in the UK refers to any cereal crop). It was made from whole threshed wheat from which the outer layer of bran had been removed and was then gently stewed until it became gelatinous.  Same thing happens to porridge these days. It's first mentioned as a dish in the medieval cookbook The Form of Cury  written in the late 14th century, but is thought to be much older, as in going back thousands of years.  Even  now it is still made in parts of Yorkshire at Christmas time.  It's a good method of turning hard, wild grain into easily digested comfort food.
The Medieval method of preparation was to put the grains in a stone mortar, sprinkle with a little water and pound with a wooden pestle to remove the bran but leave the grains intact. Once prepared, the wheat was rinsed, boiled slowly until the individual grains burst.  Then they were gently simmered in milk or light stock flavoured and coloured with saffron and finally thickened with egg yolks.  If being served with fish, the milk and stock was replaced with almond milk or hazelnut milk, and the eggs were omitted.
If cooking it today you need 150g of whole wheat grains, 150ml of milk or almont milk, half a teaspoon of salt and a large pinch of saffron.  Add other or different flavourings to suit.

Of the spoons in the picture below, only the middle one is likely to have been dipped in frumenty. Those to right and left were more likely used for display purposes.  The middle spoon is a very early example of pewter work being dated circa 1250.  Pewter objects don't begin appearing on the scene until around this time.   Click to enlarge