Sunday, March 31, 2013

Summer Is Coming.

Today's research snippet. 

The sun is actually shining today and the last of the recent snow has melted out of the garden. Here in the English Midlands it is still very cold, but the hour has altered and tomorrow is April 1st. With this i
n mind I give you a very famous song that celebrates the season.
Somer is y-comen in (Summer has arrived) dates to circa 1260 and is a joyfyl celebration of that season. It's sung in the round and can be sung, according to the manuscript instructions by 4,3, or even 2 singers. The second singer begins when the first singer has sung the first line and so on. There is a debate as to whether the line about the stag is that he 'farts' or alternatively 'cavorts'. The latter would seem the more likely in the context of the song, but the original early Middle English could mean either. So your choice is does the stag leap for the joy of the summer season, or break wind because he's eating all that delicious lush grass!
Anyway, a delightful song to welcome in the warmer (I so hope so!) seasons.

Somer is y-comen in

Sing cuckóu, nou! Sing cuckóu!
Sing cuckóu! Sing cuckóu nou!

Somer is y-comen in,
Loudë sing, cuckóu!
Growëth sed and blowëth med
And springth the wodë nou
Sing cuckóu!

Ewë bletëth after lamb,
Lowth after cálve cóu;
Bullock stertëth, bukkë vertëth,
Merye sing, cuckóu

Cuckóu, cuckóu,
Wél singést thou, 
Ne swik thou never nou!

cuckoo now!
Summer has arrived
Sing loudly 
Seed grows, the meadow blossoms
The woods come into leaf now

The ewe bleats for the lamb
The cow lows for the calf
The bullock leaps, the stag cavorts (or farts)
Merrily sing 

Well sing you cuckoo
Do not ever stop.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Unveiled! The Cover for THE SUMMER QUEEN

I thought I'd post the gorgeously evocative cover for THE SUMMER QUEEN.  I think it's beautiful! :-)
You can read the opening chapter at my excerpts blog here THE SUMMER QUEEN

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Checking out the Exchequer part 1

This is the beginning of a document called the Dialogus de Scacario, which translates as the Course of the Exchequer. It explains how governmental money matters were handled in the 12th century and was written down in the last quarter of that century. It takes the form of a discourse between pupil and master and although an instructive text, is quite charming at times:

In the 23rd year of the reign of King Henry II, as I was sitting at a turret window overlooking the Thames, I was addressed by someone who said, very earnestly, ‘Master! Have you not read that “wisdom that is hid and treasure that is not seen are both profitless?”
‘Yes,’ said I; and he went on: ‘Why, then, do you not to teach others that knowledge of the Exchequer for which you are famous, and put it in writing lest it should die with you?’
I replied, ‘Why, brother, you have long sat at the exchequer yourself, and nothing is hidden from you, you are so precise. And the same is probably true of the others who sit there.’
‘But,’ said he, ‘as those who “grope in the dark without light” often stumble; so there are there many there who seeing do not see, and hearing do not understand.’
‘You speak profanely,’ I replied, ‘for my knowledge is not so great, nor of such importance; but perhaps those who, so to speak, hunt big game, have minds like eagle’s claws, which let slip small things and keep hold of big ones.’
‘Be it so!’ said he, ‘but though eagles fly high, they rest and refresh themselves on a lower level, and for that reason we beg to have these lower matters expanded to us, and the eagles may profit by them too.’
‘I was afraid,’ I replied, ‘to write a book about these matters, which are objects of sense, and of which familiarity breeds contempt, affording no scope for fine distinctions, or pleasing novelties.’
‘Those,’ said he, ‘who delight in novelties, or in hunting for fine distinctions, have Aristotle and Plato’s books. Let them hear them! Your book is not to be theoretical but practical.’
‘but,’ I objected, ‘what you want can only be expressed in vulgar and commonplace language.’
Then he almost lost his temper, for an eager heart brooks no delay, and said, ‘Writers on the liberal arts have compiled large treatises and wrapped them up in obscure language to conceal their ignorance and to make the arts more difficult. You are not undertaking a book on philosophy, but on the customs and laws of the exchequer, a commonplace subject in which you must needs to use appropriate and therefore commonplace language. Moreover, though it is generally permissible to invent new terms, I beg you not to be ashamed to employ the common and conventional words for the objects described, so that no additional difficulties may be created by the unusual language.’
‘I see you are vexed,’ said I, ‘but to be of good comfort; I shall take your advice. Get up, and sit down opposite me, and ask any questions which occur to you. If you ask anything out of the way, I am not ashamed to say, “I don’t know, but let us both consult wiser folk.”’
‘Just what I want,’ said he. ‘It may be disgraceful and laughable for an old man to be learning his alphabet, but I shall begin with my ABC.
Scholar. What is the Exchequer?
Master. The Exchequer (chessboard) is an oblong board measuring about ten feet by five, used as a table by those who sit at it, and with a rim around it about four finger breadths in height, to prevent anything set on it from falling off. Over the (upper) exchequer is spread a cloth, bought in Easter term, of a special pattern, black, ruled with lines a foot or a full span apart. In the spaces between them are placed the counters, in their ranks, as will be explained in another place. But thought such a board is called ‘exchequer,’ the name is transferred to the Court in session at it; so that if a litigant wins his case or a decision on any point is taken by common consent it is said to have happened ‘at the Exchequer’ of such a year. But where we know say ‘at the exchequer,’ they used to say ‘at the Tallies.’

Tally sticks
Scholar. Why is the court so called?
Master. I can think, for the moment, of no better reason than that it resembles a chessboard.
Scholar. Was its shape the only reason why our wise forefathers gave it a name? For they might equally well have called it a draught board.
Master. I was justified in calling you ‘precise.’ There is another less obvious reason. For as on the chess board the men are arranged in the ranks, and move or stand by definite rules and restrictions, some pieces in the foremost rank and others in the foremost position; here, too, some (the barons) preside, others assist ex officio, and nobody is free to overstep the appointed laws, as will appear later. Again, just as on a chess board, battle is joined between the Kings; here too the struggle takes place, and battle is joined, mainly between two persons, to wit, the Treasurer and the Sheriff who sits at his account, while the rest sit by as judges to see and decide.
Scholar. Does the Treasurer really take the account when there are many present who appear by their power to be more important?
Master. It is obvious that the treasurer takes the account from the Sheriff, because it is from him that an account is required when the King so pleases. Nor would that be demanded of him unless he had received it. Some say, however, that the Treasurer and Chamberlains are only accountable for those sums which are entered in the Roll as ‘in the treasury.’ But the more correct view is that they are answerable for all that is written in the Roll, as will appear later.
Scholar. Is the Exchequer where this conflict takes place the only Exchequer?
Master. No. For there is a lower exchequer also called the Receipt, where the money received is counted and entered on rolls and tallies, in order that the account may be made up from them in the Upper Exchequer. But both spring from the same root, because whatever is found in the Upper Exchequer to be due, is paid in the lower, and what is paid in the Lower is credited in the Upper.’

More to come another occasion! Interesting I thought that the word changed from ‘Tallies’ to the ‘Exchequer’ in the 12thC.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Bit of A Shambles

A glimpse via Winchester into the dealings of the medieval town butchers.

First of all obtain your meat. The butchers of Winchester would sometimes buy their meat on the hoof from local suppliers and see to it being brought into town. On other occasions they would await the drovers, who had purchased the beasts further afield and driven them to market. Sometimes the drovers would fatten the livestock in crofts and fields in the suburbs before taking them into the city for slaughter.
In Winchester, it’s not entirely clear where the meat was slaughtered, but circumstantial evidence and educated guesses suggest that it was done in the garden plots owned by the butchers in Fleshmonger street, and there is also the likelihood that some beasts were slaughtered in the busy High Street itself. By custom all the bulls in the city were to be baited before being slaughtered. This was for the purposes of popular entertainment and was echoed in towns throughout the country. Many places still have areas called The Bull Ring. At one stage the mayors of the city actually had the bulls baited outside their houses. On some feast occasions, daughters were required to lend their own dogs to bait the bulls of others. Butchers were often fined for allowing their dogs to wander and there seems to have been a fixed time of day when the dogs were allowed out. Before and after this fixed time, the dogs had to be kept indoors were chained up.
In the 14th century in Winchester, two meat inspectors were elected from among the town butchers. Their primary duty seems to have been to inspect pork, which was particularly liable to infestation. There is a record of one of their presentations, concerning the sale of a leprous pig. A century later, their brief had expanded to cover the inspection of all meat, including the foul and insanitary beef that had been sold by one William Sequence . They had also to see that all butchers took their pig carcasses to the scalding house. Great care was also taken to ensure that butchers sold their meat fresh and there was a time limit of three days after slaughtering, beyond which meat could not be sold. Which again is interesting. Did people take it home and hang it further to tenderise it?
There were frequent court cases concerned with the waste from the butchers’ trade. Butchers were often taken to court for throwing blood or bloody water onto the public ground in the High Street. In 1429 Henry Coupre and his servants washed tubs and bowls full of the blood of pigs and other beasts at the new common well, and caused the water to lie in the High Street.
Disposing of offal and entrails was another problem. They were supposed to be disposed of by running water and there was an appointed place in Colebrook Street where this had to be done. Entrails had to be cut up small to avoid impeding the flow of water. Offal being carried to the tipping place had to be covered. Many butchers could not be bothered to carry their offal the 600 yards to the stream (they were not allowed to take a shortcut through the cathedral cemetery) and dumped it either in the cathedral cemetery or a nearby stream.
In Winchester, beef, mutton, and pork were sold in considerable quantity, with the likelihood that pork and mutton were the most frequently consumed.
What excellent material for inspiration! I can just imagine a gruesome medieval mystery where the pile of remains in the cathedral cemetery turns out to be non animal!

Sources: A Survey of Medieval Winchester by Derek Keane

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Newcomers to Jerusalem

front of a reliquary altar cross c.1170
This is 12th century Syrian raconteur Usama Ibn Munquid talking about newly arrived pilgrims from Europe and their problematic attitudes to matters of faith in the Middle East.

Everyone who is a fresh emigrant from the Frankish lands is ruder in character than those who have become acclimatised and have had long associations with Muslims. Here is an illustration of their rude character.
Whenever I visited Jerusalem I always entered the Aqsa mosque, which was occupied by the Templars (al-dawiyyah), who were my friends, would evacuate the little adjoining mosque so that I might pray in it.  One day I entered this mosque, repeated the first formula, ‘Allah is great,’ and stood up in the act of praying, upon which one of the Franks rushed on me, caught hold of me and turned my face eastwards saying, ‘This is the way thou shouldst pray!’ A group of Templars hastened to him, seized him and repelled him from me.  I resumed my prayer.  This same man, while the others were otherwise busy, rushed once more on me and turned my faced eastwards saying, ‘This is the way thou shouldst pray!’ The Templars again came in and expelled him.  They apologised to me saying, ‘This is a stranger who has only recently arrived from the land of the Franks and he has never before seen anyone praying except eastwards.’ Thereupon I said to myself ‘I have heard enough of prayer.’ So I went out and have ever been surprised at the conduct of this devil of a man and, at the change in the colour of his face, his trembling and his sentiment at the sight of one praying towards the qiblah. (the direction of the Ka’bah in the holy city, Mecca).

I saw one of the Franks come to Al-Amnir Mu in-al-Din (may Allah’s mercy rest upon his soul!) When he was in the Dome of the rock and say to him, ‘Dost thou want to see God as a child?’ Mu in-al-Din said, ‘Yes.’ The Frank walked ahead of us until he showed us the picture of Mary with Christ (may peace be upon him!) as an infant in her lap.  He then said, ‘This is God as a child.’ But Allah is exalted far above what the infidels say about him!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Kenilworth Castle: A snapshot history

photo courtesy of Rosemary Watson

Today's research snippet: A brief history of Kenilworth Castle.

Originally Kenilworth castle was part of the royal manor of Stoneleigh. In the early 12th century, King Henry I granted it to his chamberlain Geoffrey de Clinton. Geoffrey divided the grant into two and gave one portion to endow an Augustinian Priory. On the other portion he built his castle, together with a park and chase for hunting. We don't know what that first castle looked like but it is presumed to be an earth and timber motte and bailey built on the site now occupied by the present inner court of the castle now standing.
The canons of the priory had Geoffrey's permission to fish on Thursdays with boats and nets in Geoffrey's pool which was probably a reference to the small version of the mere made by damming the valley to the south of Kenilworth at the time of its foundation.
In 1173-74 during the rebellion of the Young King against his father Henry II, the castle was garrisoned by royal troops. The castle was adjudged so important that Henry II decided to keep it and compensated for its loss by giving the Clintons land in Buckinghamshire. (I have yet to check, but any bets they had belonged to Eleanor!).
From 1184, costs for work to Kenilworth begin appearing in the pipe rolls. Over £1,100 was spent on it in the closing years of King John's reign, and as we've seen in King John's itinerary, he stayed at Kenilworth for more than 3 days in 1205. In his reign the moat of the original castle was filled in on the west side and the present curtain wall was constructed in front of it. This change came about because of the enlargement of the mere which became the main defence of the castle on the western side.
Henry III undertook minor works of construction and repair but did not live there for any length of time. He granted the castle to his brother in law the famous Simon de Montfort, who set about adding more defences including the Water Tower on the west side of the keep. When he was killed at the Battle of Evesham, it became a rallying point for his supporters. King Henry spent 6 months beseiging Kenilworth. Attempts to assault the walls from wooden bombard towers came to grief, and a water borne assault by barges was mooted but never came to fruition. The defenders were finally forced to surrender in December 1266 when they ran out of food.
Henry III left Kenilworth in the care of his younger son Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Lancaster. The main event recorded under his tenure was a Round Table event with tilting and tourneying for the entertainment of 100 knights and their ladies under the presidency of Roger Mortimer. Other spectaculars were likely devised, but have not made the historical record.
Edmund was succeeded by his eldest son, Thomas who erected a chapel dedicated to St Mary, but his plans for Kenilworth were cut short by his execution in 1322. For 4 years the castle returned to the crown and was the scene of King Edward's enforced acceptance of his deposition from the throne before his death in the following year.
Kenilworth was restored to Earl Thomas' brother, Henry, who was succeeded by his son, another Henry who was created first Duke of Lancaster. On his watch, the great hall was re-roofed at a cost of 250 marks and we know that its dimensions were 89ft by 45ft. Subsequently, post 1380, the great hall was entirely reconstructed and made into 2 stories by the insertion of a vaulted undercroft.

photo courtesy of Rosemary Watson
The inheritance passed by marriage to John of Gaunt and Kenilworth was further developed from castle to resplendant and comfortable palace.
The accession of Henry Bolinbroke to the throne in 1399 brought Kenilworth back to the Crown as part of the Duchy of Lancaster, which is still attached to the Crown today.
Bolinbroke's son Henry V undertook extensive reclamation works on the north side of the mere and creating a pleasure garden.
Later, Henry VIII took down the timber-framed buildings from the Pleasance and re-erected them in the outer court.
In the Elizabethan period, the castle was granted to Elizabeth I's favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Extensive building works were carried out including the construction of a new gatehouse, a 600ft long timber bridge, extensive reconstruction of the Gallery Tower and a tall block at the southeast corner of the Inner Court, which contained suites for the important guests. A wonderful description from 1575 says: '...rare beauty of building that His Honour hath advanced; all of the hard quarry stone; every room so spacious, so well belighted and so high roofed within; so seemly to sight by due proportion without; a daytime on every side so glittering by glasses; a nights, by continual brightness of candle, fire and torchlight transparent through the lightsome windows.' 

reconstruction of Robert Dudley's gardens
Photo author's own

Following Dudley's death and a couple of inheritance disputes, Kenilworth once more reverted to the Crown. In the Civil War it was taken and occupied by the Parliamentarians and circa 1656 was partially demolished. The north wall of the keep was destroyed and the north curtain wall too. At some point the tiltyard was breached to empty the mere too. The castle passed through various hands after that, eventually being sold to one John Davenport Siddeley, who handed the castle to the Office of Works in 1937 with a generous grant for its upkeep. Now it's in the care of English Heritage and well worth a visit should you be in the area. Even in ruination, it's a beautiful castle of distinctive red sandstone.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A hairy situation: A few depilatory recipes

Just this morning on a forum, a question arose about hair removal in the Middle ages - pertaining roughly to the 10th - 12th centuries in dateline.  I mentioned that I knew the Trotula had some information and that I'd write it up.  It's by no means the last word, but does show what was being done in some parts of the known world.

The Trotula - a compendium of women's medicine and cosmetic tips dating to the 11th/12th centuries and originating in Salerno, south of Naples.  Salerno was the leading centre for medical learning in Europe.  It's not a single treatise, but a collection of writings from the time.  It indicates the practices of Southern Italy at this point in history and reflects strong Arabic influences. It would disseminate throughout Europe and become an important and influentical medical treatise.  Here is what it has to say:

In order that a woman might become very soft and smooth, and without hairs from her head down, first of all let her go to the baths, and if she is not accustomed to do so, let there be made for her a steambath in this manner: Take burning hot tiles and stones and with those placed in the steambath, let the woman sit in it.  Or else take hot tiles or hot black stones and place them in the steambath or a pit made in the earth.  Then let hort water be poured in so that steam is produced, and let the woman sit upon it well covered with cloths so that she sweats.And when she has well sweated, let her enter hot water and wash herself very well, and then let her exit from the bath and wipe herself off well with a linen cloth.

Afterwards let her annoint herself all over with this depilatory which is made from well sifted quicklime.  Place 3 ounces of it in a potter's vase and cook it in the manner of a porridge.  Then take one ounce of orpiment (trisulfide of arsenic) and cook it again, and test it with a feather to see if it is sufficiently cooked.  Take care, however, that it is not cooked too much and that it not stay too long on the skin, because it causes intense heat.  But if it happens that the skin is burned from this depilatory, take populeon with rose or violet oil or with juice of houseleek, and mix them until the heat is sedated.  Then anoint the burned area with unguentum album until the heat is sedated.

Another depilatory.  Take quicklime and orpiment.  Place these in a small linen sack and put them to boil until they are cooked. And if the depilatory should be too thick, put in fresh water to thin it.  And note that the dried powder of this is good for abrading bad flesh and also for making hair grow again on the heads of people with tinea. But first the affected place ought to be anointed with oil or honey.  Then the powder is sprinkled on.

An ointment for noblewomen which removes hairs, refines the skin and takes away blemishes:  Take juice of the leaves of squirting cucumber and almond milk.  Then add pounded galbanum mixed with a small amount of wine for a day and a night and cook with this.  Once this has been well cooked, you should remove the substance of the galbanum and put in a little oil or wine.  Having made the decoction, you should remove it from the fire and add a powder of the following herbs.  Take an equal amount each of mastic, frankincense, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.  This ointment smells sweetly and it is gentle for softening the skin. Salernitan noblewomen are accustomed to use this depilatory.
When the woman has anointed herself with this depilatory, let her sit in a very hot steambath, but she should not rub herself because her limbs will be excoriated.  But when she has stayed there a little while, try to pull out the hairs from the pubic area.  If they do not fall out easily, let her have hot water be poured over her and let her wash herself all over, drawing her palm over her skin gently.  For if she should rub herself vigorously where the skin is tender, she will quickly be excoriated by this depilatory.  Having done this, let her enter lukewarm water and let her be washed well. Then let her exit and the  let her take bran mixed with hot water, and afterward, let her strain and pour it over herself. This cleanses the flesh and smooths it.  Then let her wash herself in warm water and let her stand a little while so that the skin can dry a little bit.  Then take henna with whites of eggs and let her annoint all her limbs.  This smooths the flesh, and if any burn should happen from the depilatory, this removes it and renders the skin clear and smooth.  And let her remain thus anointed a little while. Then let her rinse herself with warm water and finally with a very white linen cloth wrapped around her, let her go to bed.

One for the face:
Take Greek pitch and wax, and dissolve them in a clay vessel...add a small drop of galbanum.  Let them cook for a long time, stirring with a spatula.  Likewise take mastic, frankincense and gum arabic and let them be mixed with the rest.  Remove from the fire and when it is lukewarm let her smear her face but let her take care not to touch the eyebrows.  Let her leave it on for an hour until it becomes cold.  Then let her remove it.  This refines the skin and makes the face beautiful, and it removes hairs and renders every blemish well coloured and clear.

Take quicklime, leaving it in the sun for a month in water.  Let it be strained and dried in the manner for white lead, and let it be mixed with dialtea (compound mixture including marsh mallow root)  and butter.  And let her be anointed with this at night, but let her take care not to get it in the eyes.  And in the morning let her wash with warm water.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Where there's a will...

Today's research snippet. This is a will of Henry II written at Waltham in 1182. He didn't die until 1189, so there will be later versions knocking about, but here's this one.

‘Henry, King of England, duke of Normandy and Guienne and count of Anjou to Henry the King, Richard, Geoffrey, and John his sons; to all Archbishops, Bishops, abbots, Earls, barons, justices, and bailiffs, throughout the whole extent of his dominions, health and greeting.
‘I make known to you that at Waltham in the presence of Richard, Bishop of Winchester, John, Bishop of Norwich, Geoffrey the chancellor, my son, Master Walter de Constantiis, archdeacon of Oxford, and Godfrey De Lucy archdeacon of derby, Ralph De Glanville, Roger the son of Remfrid, Hugh of Morewic, Ralph the son of Stephen the Chamberlain and William Rufus, I have made my will as to the disposal of a certain portion of my money, according to the manner following.

‘To the military house of the temple at Jerusalem I give 5000 marks of silver; to the house of the hospital at Jerusalem, 5000 marks of silver; for the common defence of the holy land, 5000 marks of silver; to be received by the hand, and in the presence of the masters of the temple and the hospital at Jerusalem, except that money which I had before entrusted to be kept by the aforesaid houses, namely of the temple and hospital, which I give, in like manner, for the defence of the land of Jerusalem itself, unless I shall wish to revoke the same in my lifetime.
‘And to the other religious houses of the whole of the land of Jerusalem, to that of the lepers and of the anchorites and of the hermits, in the same land, I give 5000 marks of silver to be divided by the hand, and in the presence of the patriarch of Jerusalem, and of the Bishops of the holy land, and of the masters of the temple and of the hospital.
‘To the religious houses of England, of monks, canons, nuns, lepers, and anchorites, and hermits of the same land, 5000 marks of silver, to be divided by the hand and in the presence of Richard Archbishop of Canterbury, Richard Bishop of Winchester, Baldwin of Worcester, Geoffrey of Ely and John of Norwich, and of Ralph De Glanville, chief justice of England.  To the religious houses of Normandy, of monks, canons, nuns and anchorites, and hermits of the same land, 3000 marks of silver, to be divided by the hand, and in the presence of the Archbishop of Rouen, and of the Bishops of Bayeux, Avranches, Seez, and Evereux.
‘To the houses of the lepers of the same land 300 marks of silver to be divided by the hand and in the presence of the parties before named.  To the nuns of Mortagne, 100 marks of silver.  The nuns of Veileres outside Falaise, 100 marks of silver.
‘To the religious houses of the territory of the count of Anjou, my father, except the nuns of the order of Fontevraud, 1000 marks of silver to be divided by the hands of the bishops of Le Mans and Anjou; but to the nuns themselves of Fontevraud, and to the houses of the order, 2000 marks of silver to be divided by the hand and in the presence of the abbess of Fontevraud.
‘To the nuns of Saint Sulpicius in Brittany 100 marks of silver.
‘To the house and order of Grammont, 3000 marks of silver.
‘To the house and whole order of the Carthusians, 2000 marks of silver.
‘To the house of the Cistercians and to all houses of that order, except in the houses of the same order which are in my own land to which I have given a portion, 2000 marks of silver, to be distributed by the hand and in the person of the abbot of Citeaux and Clairveaux.
‘To the house of the Cluniacs, 1000 marks of silver besides that which I have lent to that house which I fully give to it, Unless I should wish to revoke that gift in my lifetime.
‘To the house of Marmontier, I entirely give 1000 marks of silver, which I lent to it, unless I should wish to require them again in my lifetime.
‘To the nuns near Camac,  100 marks of silver.
‘To the house of Premontre, and the whole order except the houses of the same order which are in my own territory, 200 marks of silver.
‘To the house of Aroes and to the whole order except the houses of the same order in my own land, 100 marks of silver.
‘Towards the marriage of poor and free women of England who want assistance, 300 marks of gold, to be distributed by the hand and in the presence of Richard Bishop of Winchester, Richard of Worcester, Geoffrey of Ely, and John of Norwich, and Ralph De Glanville.
‘For the marriage portions of poor and free women of Normandy who want assistance, 100 marks of gold, to be divided by the hand and in the presence of the Archbishop of Rouen, and the Bishops of Bayeux, Avranches, Seez and  Evereux.
‘For the marriage of poor and free women of the territory of the county of Anjou, which belonged to my father, 100 marks of gold, to be distributed by the hand and in the presence of the Bishops of Le Mans and Anjou.
‘Moreover I had made this will in the aforesaid place in the year of the incarnation of our lord 1182; which I command you, my sons, to cause to be firmly and inviolately kept, by the faith which you owe to me, and by the oath you have thereupon sworn to me, and that you will lay no hand upon those who have made the will, or who shall be the executors.  And whoever shall have presumed to contravene this let them incur the indignation and anger of almighty God, and the curse of God himself and mine.
‘But to you Archbishops and Bishops, I command, by the oath which you have sworn to me, and the faith which you owe to God and to myself, that, having solemnly lighted candles in your synods, you excommunicate, and cause to be excommunicated all those who shall have presumed to violate this my will; and know that our lord the pope has confirmed this my will by his hand and seal, under a threat of anathema.  The sum, 46,000 marks of silver, and 500 marks of gold.’

today's photo.  Manorbier Castle, home of Gerald of Wales who is the written source of this particular will.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Food For Thought. 2 medieval recipes for the weekend!

Today's research snippet: A couple of Medieval recipes today. The first uses rabbit, but I've made it with chicken and it works very well. It's a variation on the sweet and sour theme. The second is a form of medieval cheesecake that is rather yummy, especially when served with sharp flavoured mixed berries or cherries.

Egourdouce: Translated for the modern cook and to be found in the Medieval cookbook by Maggie Black. British Museum Press:
Serves 6
6 wild rabbit joints - or chicken joints.
3 medium onions
75g/3oz of lard or pork dripping
2oz of currants
10 fluid oz/275ml/1 and 1/4 cups red wine
25ml/1floz/1/3 cup red wine vinegar
15g/half ounce granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/3 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 teaspoon ground ginger
salt to taste
breadcrumbs for thickening - optional

Preheat the oven to 230/450/gas 8. Peel the onions and put them in a pan of cold water. Bring to the boil on top of the stove and cook for 3-4 minutes. Drain. Chop and set aside.
Arrange the joints in a roasting pan and smear with the lard. Put the pan in the oven and sear the meat for 15 mins until well browned. Or you could brown in a frying pan on top of the hob. Add the chopped onions and the currants for the last few minutes and turn them in the fat.
While browning the meat, mix together the wine and vinegar and stir in the salt, sugar and spices.
Pour off any excess fat in the pan and then pour the wine mixture over the meat and onions. Reduce the oven temperature to 180/350/gas 4. Cover the roasting pan with a lid or foil and cook for 35-40 mins until the meat is tender. Uncover and baste occasionally with the wine mixture. Shortly before serving, stir in breadcrumbs to thicken if you so desire.

Torta Bianca - written down by chef Maestro Martino
The recipe can be found in The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy (has some English ones too) by Odile Redon,Francoise Saban and Silvano Serventi - University of Chicago press

1 and 3/4 cups/250g/ 80z flour
9 tablespoons/125g/40z butter
1/3 cup of water - enough water to bind the pastry basically
Pinch of salt.

10 oz/300g of cream cheese softened
6 egg whites
scant 2/3 cup/125g/40z sugar
9 tablespoons/125g/40z of softened butter
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup of milk/quarter of a litre

2 tablespoons of sugar
1 teaspoon of rosewater.

Make the pastry by rubbing the fat into the flour until it looks like sawdust and then bind with water.
Preheat the oven to 425/220/gas 6
cream together the sugar, ginger, cream cheese and butter. Add a pinch of salt. Whip the egg whites briefly with a fork, just enough to break them up and beat into the cheese mixture. Beat in some milk until the mixture has the consistency of thick cream.
Roll out the dough and line a deep 8inch 20cm tart tin. Line the pastry with foil or greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans or beads and blind bake for 10 mins. Remove from oven, remove the lining and filling. Return to oven and bake for a further 5 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 375/190/gas 5. Pour the filling into the partially baked shell and bake for about an hour. Keep an eye on the top and if it is browning too fast, cover with a sheet of foil. When done, remove from oven and sprinkle with sugar and rosewater.

Today's photo - a 14th century flesh hook for lifting meat out of a cauldron.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday Likes

Here are three things at random that I like.

These gorgeous 12th century shoes from the SchatzKammer Museum in Austria.

Simon's Cat - always makes me smile.  One of my favourite episodes is Fly Guy

And while chocolate snobs afficionados may cringe in horror, I have a massive weakness for Cadbury's Dairy Milk - even looking at a photo does wonders for my endorphins!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A medieval queen who wore a hair shirt.

Today's research snippet comes from Chronicler William of Malmsbury. It's about Edith/Matlilda, mother of Empress Matilda and grandmother of Henry II. Malmsbury's assessment is interesting in that while songsters and hangers on are assumed by historians and biographers to be rife at the English court of Eleanor of Aquitaine (but are actually not mentioned), here's a different English queen encouraging them to the point of detriment. Not secular, but religious it's true, but 'novelty' songs nevertheless.

Henry’s queen, Matilda, descended from an ancient and illustrious race of Kings, daughter of the King of Scotland, as I have said before, had also given her attention to literature being educated from her infancy among the nuns at Wilton and Romsey. Wherefore, in order to have a cover for refusing an ignoble alliance, which was more than once offered by her father, she wore the garb indicative of the holy profession. This, when the King was about to advance her to his bed, became a matter of controversy; nor could the Archbishop be induced to consent to a marriage but by the production of lawful witnesses, who swore that she had worn the veil on account of the suitors, but had never made her vow.
Satisfied with a child of either sex, she ceased having issue and enduring with complacency, when the King was elsewhere employed, the absence of the court, she continued many years at Westminster: yet was no part of royal magnificence wanting to her; but at all times crowds of visitants and news bearers were, in endless multitudes, entering and departing from her superb dwelling: for this the King’s liberality commanded; this her own kindness and affability attracted. She was singularly holy; by no means a despicable in point of beauty; a rival of her mother’s piety; never committing any impropriety, as far as herself was concerned; and, with the exception of the King’s bed, completely chaste and uncontaminated even by suspicion. Clad in hair cloth beneath her royal habit, she
 was accustomed, in Lent, to visit the churches barefoot: nor was she disgusted at washing the feet of the diseased; handling their ulcers dripping with corruption, and finally pressing their hands for a long time together to her lips, and decking their table.

She had a singular pleasure in hearing the service of God; and on this account was thoughtlessly prodigal towards clerks of melodious voice; addressed them kindly, gave to them liberally, and promised still more abundantly. Her generosity becoming universally known, crowds of scholars, equally famed for verse and for singing, came over; and happy did he account himself who could attract the queen’s notice by the novelty of his song. Nor on those only did she lavish money, but on all sorts of men, especially foreigners; that through her presents they might proclaim her celebrity abroad: for the desire of fame is so rooted in the human mind, that scarcely is anyone contented with the precious fruits of a good conscience, but is fondly anxious, if he does anything laudable to have it generally known. Hence it was justly observed, the disposition crept upon the queen to reward all the foreigners she could while the others were kept in suspense, sometimes with effectual, but oftener with empty promises. Hence too, it arose that she fell into the error of prodigal givers; bringing many claims on her tenantry, if exposing them to injuries, and TAKING away their property: but obtaining the credit of a liberal benefactress, she little regarded the sarcasms of her own people. But a correct judgement will impute this to the designs of her servants; who, harpy- like, conveyed everything they could gripe into their purses, or wasted it in riotous living; her ears being infected with the base insinuations of these people, she induced this stain on her noble mind; holy and meritorious in every other respect. 
Amid these concerns, she was snatched away from her country to the great loss of the people but to her own advantage (May 1, 1118): for her funeral being splendidly celebrated at Westminster, she entered into rest; and her spirit manifested by no trivial indications, that she was a resident in heaven. She died, willingly leaving the throne, after a reign of 

seventeen years and six months; experiencing the fate of her family, to depart in the flower of their age. To her bed, but not immediately succeeded (AD 1121) Adala (Adeliza), daughter of the duke of Louvain, which is the principal town of Lorraine.

Today's photo.  The hair shirt of St Louis of France. 1214-1270

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Ridding oneself of fleas, mosquitos and flies 14th century style

Today's research snippet:
On the matter of dealing with fleas, mosquitos and flies in the late 14th century. The Menagier de Paris explains all to his 15 year old bride to be.

‘In summer take care that there are no fleas in your bedroom or bed. This you can remedy in six ways as I have heard tell. I have been informed that if you scatter alder leaves throughout he room, the fleas will get caught in them. 
Item, if you set in the room one or two slices of bread smeared with glue or turpentine with a lighted candle in the middle of each slice, the fleas will come and get stuck and trapped. And the other way which I have tried and it works: take a rough cloth and spread it in your room and on your bed, and all the fleas that land there will be caught and you’ll be able to carry them away with the cloth wherever you wish.
Item it works the same with sheepskin.
Item, I have seen white blankets placed on the straw mattress and on the bed, and when the black fleas landed on them, they were quickly spotted on the white background and killed. But the most difficult part is to safeguard oneself from those within the coverlet, the furs and clothing that covers us. I have tried this: if the furs and robes that are infested with fleas are closed up and shut away, as inside a chest tightly strapped, or in a bag tied up securely and squeezed, or enclosed and pressed in some other way, depriving them of light and air and imprisoning them, the fleas will quickly perish.
Item, I have witnessed often in different places that once people go to bed, the rooms fill with mosquitoes, attracted by the breath of the sleepers. The insects land on their faces and sting them so hard that they have to get up to make a fire of hay in order to create enough smoke so that the creatures must fly away or die. And this remedy can also be used by day, one would imagine, and anyone who has a mosquito net can protect himself just as well by using it.
If you have a room or a floor in your dwelling infested with flies, take little sprigs of fern, tie them together with threads like tassels, hang them up, and all the flies will settle on them in the evening. Then take down the tassels and throw them outside.
Item, close up your room firmly in the evening, leaving just one small opening in the eastern wall. At dawn all the flies will exit through 
this opening and then you seal it up.

Item take a bowl of milk and a hare’s gall bladder and mix them together. Put out two or three bowls of the mixture in places where the flies gather, and all that taste it will die. 
Item, Otherwise tie a linen stocking to the bottom of a pierced pot and set the pot in a place where the flies gather and smear the inside with honey, or apples, or pears. When it is full of flies, place a platter over the opening, then shake it. 
Item alternatively, grind raw red onions, squeeze the juice into a bowl, and set it where the flies gather; all that taste it will die. 
Item: Use little paddles with which to kill them by hand. (fly swatter).
Item: Place twigs covered with glue over a basin of water.
Item: Cover your windows with oiled cloth, parchment or something else, so firmly that no fly can enter. Kill the flies that are inside, using a swatter or other suggestion from above, and no others will come in.
Item: Hang a string that has been soaked in honey, and when in the evening the flies land on it, trap them in a bag. 
Finally, it seems to me that flies will not settle in a room in which there are no tables, benches, sideboards, or other things on which they can land to rest. For if there are only straight walls for them to cling to and rest on, they will not linger there. Nor will they remain in a shady or damp place. Therefore it seems to me that if the
room is kept moist and tightly closed and shut up, and nothing is left lying on the floor, no fly will land there.’

Today's photo. Two combs and a comb case: Museum of London

Friday, March 08, 2013

Friday Likes: Three things that I really like.

Today it's Friday and I post three things at random that I love/enjoy/brighten my life.

1. The resin replica carvings from Oak Apple designs.  I have several of their church carvings round the house including dragons and knights.

I LOVE this sticky stem ginger cake with lemon icing

And I also LOVE this film of the Luttrell Psalter.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Constantinople is a very big word

Today's research snippet: This is a description of Constantinople from Odo of Deuil who whas chaplain to Louis VII on the 2nd crusade. I used this source extensively when writing THE SUMMER QUEEN. It certainly must have made a dramatic impression on the crusaders.

Constantinople, the glory of the Greeks, rich in renown and richer still in possessions, is laid out in a triangle shaped like a ship’s sail. In the gates in the angle stand Santa Sophia and Constantine’s palace, in which there is a chapel that is revered for its exceedingly holy relics. (among the most precious relics were those of the Passion: the Holy Lance, the Holy Cross, Crown of Thorns, the Nail of the Crucifixion, the Shroud, and the Stone from the tomb). Moreover, Constantinople is girt on two sides by the sea; when approaching the city we had the Arm of Saint George on the right and on the left of us an estuary, which, after branching from the Arm, flows on for about four miles. In that place the Palace of Blachernae, although having foundations laid on low ground, achieves eminence through excellent construction and elegance and, because of its surroundings on three sides, affords its inhabitants the triple pleasure of looking out upon sea, fields, and city. Its exterior is of almost matchless beauty, but its interior surpasses anything I can say about it. Throughout it is decorated elaborately with gold and a great variety of colours, and the floor is marble, paved with cunning workmanship; and I do not know whether the exquisite art or the exceedingly valuable stuffs endows it with more beauty or value.
The third side of the city’s triangle includes fields, but it is fortified by towers and a double wall which extends for about two miles from the sea to the palace. The wall is not very strong, and it possesses no lofty towers; but the city puts its trust, I think, in the size of its population and the long period of peace which it has enjoyed. Below the walls lies open land, cultivated by plough and harrow, which contains gardens that furnish the citizens all kinds of vegetables. From the outside underground conduits flow in, all bringing the city an abundance of sweet water.
The city itself is squalid and fetid and in many places harmed by permanent darkness, for the wealthy overshadow the streets with buildings and leave these dirty, dark places to the poor and the travellers; there murders and robberies and other crimes which love the darkness are committed. Moreover, since people live lawlessly in the city, which has as many lords as rich men and almost as many thieves as poor men, a criminal knows neither fear nor shame, because crime is not punished by law and never entirely comes to light. In every respect she exceeds moderation; for just as she surpasses other cities in wealth, so too, does she surpass them in vice. Also she possesses many churches unequal to Santa Sophia in size but but equal to it in beauty, which are to be marvelled at for their beauty and their many saintly relics. Those who had the opportunity entered these places, some to see the sights and others to worship faithfully.

Reliquary of the Crown of Thorns, today housed in Notre Dame de Paris.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Gerald of Wales on the benefits of Kingfisher mothballs

Another offering from Gerald of Wales. First his his famous barnacle goose excerpt from his History and Topography of Ireland, which gives the reader part of the bird's natural life cycle. And then another on kingfishers and how useful they are to keep in your clothes cupboards when deceased.

The Barnacle Goose
There are many birds here that are called barnacles, which nature, acting against her own laws, produces in a wonderful way. They are like marsh geese, but smaller. At first they appear as excrescences on a fir logs carried down upon the waters. Then they hang by their beaks from what seems like seaweed clinging to the log, while their bodies, to allow for their more unimpeded development, are enclosed in shells. And so in the course of time having put on a stout covering of feathers, they either slip into the water, or take themselves in flight to the freedom of the air. They take their food and nourishment from the juice of wood and water during their mysterious and remarkable generation. I myself have seen many times and with my own eyes more than a thousand of the small bird like creatures hanging from a single log on the seashore. They were in their shells and already formed. No eggs are laid as is usual as a result of mating. No bird ever sits upon the eggs to hatch them and in no corner of the land will you see them breeding or building nests. Accordingly in some parts of Ireland bishops and religious men eat them without sin during a fasting time, regarding them as not being flesh, since they were not born of flesh.

Kingfishers and their natures.
Here are found also those little birds which they call kingfishers. They are smaller than the blackbird, are rare, and are found on rivers. They are short to like quails. They dive into the water in pursuit of very small fish on which they feed. While in all other respects they follow the nature of their type, here there are different in colour, but in that only. For they have a white belly and a black back. Elsewhere they are conspicuous in having a red belly, red beak and claws and with bright shining green wings and back like a parrot or peacock. There is a remarkable thing about these birds: if, when dead, they are kept in a dry place, they never putrefy; and if they are placed between clothes or anything else, they keep them free from the moth, and impart a pleasant perfume to them. And a thing even more amazing: if they are hung by the beak in a dry place, they change their coat of feathers each year, as if by virtue of a vital spirit that survives and continues to persist in some hidden part.

Today's photo:
The beach at Manorbier where Gerald of Wales played as a child.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Today's research snippet. Boy or Girl? Powdered hare will decide.

Determining the sex of a child - the medieval theory

One of the questions asked by medieval thinkers was how did the sex of a baby come about? Why did couples sometimes produce a boy and sometimes a girl?
There were lengthy discussions on the matter such as the 'questiones' analyzing Avicenna's chapter 'On the Generation of the Embryo' and then there were short recipes in folk lore and other medical treates that didn't have a detailed explanation. The Trotula suggest one way of conceiving a male child was  for a woman to have her husband take the womb and vagina of a hare, dry them to a powder, mix with wine and drink. The woman should take the testicles of a hare and do the same thing, and as soon as she had finished menstruating, lie with her husband, after which they would conceive a male child...
Boys were seen as the more desireable gender to be conceived and some writers of the time, thought that a girl was in fact a failed boy and that the father's seed was defective in that it had failed to form the mother's contribution to the pregnancy into a boy. There was also the idea that if a girl was born, then the mother's influence had won out over the man's because she had a 'masculine heart.' One wonders if Louis VII thought this about Alienor of Aquitaine!
Factors influencing conception included the nature and humours of the parents, their relationship to each other, the circumstances of intercourse and the astrological situation at the time of conception including the phase of the moon.

Giles of Rome, a late 13thC scholar and promoter of the theories of Aristotle made this ten point tick list for determining what sex a child would be.

1. Quality of male sperm: warm produces a male child
2. Quantity of male sperm: more produces male child
3. Age of father: a man just past his youth produces a male child
4. Place and disposition of testicles: a warm right testicle produces a male child.
5. Fetus's place in the womb. The right side produces a male child
6. Complexion of menstruum: warm produces a male child
7. Food and drink (of father or of both parents) before intercourse: warm produces a male child
8. Air: cold season or region produces a male child.
9. Winds - the north wind produces a male child.
10. Celestial influence will determine whether the child is male or not.

There are a variety of systems at work here. While warmth in the body produces a male child, cold seasons and strong north winds were seen as favouring the masculine, but men with 'cold and dry' testicles...rarely or never generate because their seed is useless for generation.' (Trotula).

The right side of the womb was viewed as the warmer side and better for producing a male child because of the heat of the nearby liver, while the left side, closer to the colder spleen (in the way medievals understood the humours and composition of the body) would produce a female child.
There was a theory, promulgated by the medical schools at Salerno that the womb was divided into 7 cells. Three on the left, three on the right. Any fetus occupying one of the left cells would be female, any to the right would be male. The one in the middle would produce a hermaphrodite.
You could tell what sex a child was going to be at birth by observing a pregnant woman. More swollen on the right meant a boy, and also if she started walking by using her right foot the same.
Where sheep were concerned, if they faced north when mating, then the lamb would be a male, if south, female. One supposes that shepherds, intent on increasing their flocks, would be hoping for the latter!

Today's resarch photo. Nef from Ramsey Abbey.  Mid 13thC gilded silver.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Today's research snippet The myth about spicing rotten meat.

There is a myth sadly still doing the rounds (for example you will find Alison Weir stating in her biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine on the section about medieval life. 'Stuffings, marinades and rich sauces often flavoured with garlic were used to disguise the taste and smell of rancid meat which had in many cases gone green) that spices were used to cover up the taint of meat that had gone off or to preserve the meat. Why, if you could afford the highly expensive ingredients for said stuffings, marinades and rich sauces, you would then want to squander them on tainted meat isn't explained. And if you had to eat tainted meat because you would starve if you didn't, you certainly weren't in a position to be able to afford the cost of the spices.

Professor Paul Freedman in Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination says 'This compelling but false idea constitutes something of an urban legend, a story so instinctively attractive that mere fact seems unable to wipe it out.' He goes on to say that spices are pretty useless for preserving food when compared to methods such as pickling, smoking and drying, and that they won't do much to mask the taste of bad meat anyway, only compound it.

Professor Terence Scully in The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages says rather optimistically given the Weir statement: 'With our increased knowledge about medieval cookery it is no longer necessary to refute that tired old, utterly groundless statement that spices were used to mask the flavour of spoiled meat. The kitchens of late medieval European potentates had absolutely no reason to handle tainted meat in the first place...nor would the potentates themselves, who had reason to pride themselves on a certain gastronomic sensitivity, have tolerated being presented with dishes whose objectional base taste was compounded by the adjunction of seasonings that were even stronger.'

Although there was no refrigeration in the Middle Ages, meat didn't tend to hang around for any length of time. It was slaughtered on site and sold on site, and purchasers had noses to detect what they were getting. And if they bought spoiled meat for a bargain price at the end of the day, they weren't the sort of people who were going to be able to afford to buy spices anyway!

In the early 14th century, a pig cost the same price as a pound of pepper, which was the cheapest spice. John Munro, an economics historian at the University of Toronto calculated the price of spices in England in 1439 and used a skilled craftsman's wages of that date as a yardstick.

The craftsman earned 8 pence a day. One penny bought him a gallon of milk, a pint of butter of lard, or quarter bushel of coal.
7 yards of good quality wool cloth would cost him 7 shillings, about 10 days' wages, but the same quantity of velvet would cost him between 200 and 300 days' wages. (note, only put your highest status characters in velvet if writing about this period!). A pound of sugar cost 16pence, so equivalent to 2 days' wages. Pepper cost slightly more and ginger slightly less. A pound of cloves would cost four and a half days' wages and the same of cinnamon 3 days'. He would have to work for a month to earn enough to buy a pound of saffron.

So there you have it. If you find a historian saying that people disguised their tainted food with spices, take it with a large pinch of salt!

Today's photo: A jug late 1200's The Museum of London.