Category Archives: Fourteenth Century

A Bed Is Not Just For Sleeping

Athelstan

A few weeks ago I read Beds and Chambers in Late Medieval England by Hollie L.S. Morgan. It was illuminating on many counts, especially on the, sometimes unexpected, uses of a bed and bedchamber.

Religion affected everything in the fourteenth century, despite the perceived failure of the church during the Black Death. It’s not surprising, therefore, that there should be a religious aspect to the bed, to waking and sleeping, and to the bedchamber.

For many, the bed was a place where one meditated and encountered God. The chamber was not necessarily a private place, nor, for that matter, was the bed. Few people had bedchambers and those who did rarely occupied them alone. In rooms like the solar we visited last week the lord would sleep with his family. This might not just be his wife and his children, but possibly a widowed mother or an unmarried sister, or more. Despite this, it was here that people expected to meet God as individuals.  It’s not clear what those without a bed or a bedchamber were supposed to do.

Apart from active meditation, there was also the expectation that God could and would speak to someone who was sleeping. The Bible is full of stories of God speaking through dreams or to sleepers. There was another side to sleeping, however. God was not the only one who could come to you while you slept. When you were asleep you were no longer in control of your thoughts and that might open you up to the devil’s influence. On the whole, the night was more to be feared than welcomed. It was a dangerous time.

It was the part of the day beloved of ghosts and demons, who could do harm to anyone coming across them. Then, as now, Christian teaching spoke of the contrast between light (good) and dark (bad). Beings and people who were abroad in the dark, who might even consider the darkness their natural environment, were not usually out to do good.

The night was not only full of spiritual dangers, there were physical dangers too. Your enemy, or a criminal, could creep into your chamber at night and harm you or kill you, since you would not know they were there if you were asleep and you would not be able to protect yourself. Even if you woke, there was probably little you could do. Unless your attacker brought a light with him, or a fire still burned in the bedchamber, you were in darkness. You couldn’t just flick a light switch or strike a match to see him. You had to find or make fire in order to light a candle. The odds were not in your favour.

There was a very real fear that you could go to sleep at night and not wake up in the morning. It was, therefore, sensible to pray for protection before you slept and to give thanks when you woke.

 

Since the bed was a place for praying and meeting God, it was also a place where other devotional activities took place. It is probable that those who were wealthy enough to own devotional books read them in the bedchamber, although they could also read them aloud to the household in the hall. Devotional reading included commentaries on the Bible, sermons, psalters (books of Psalms), works of the Church Fathers and breviaries. A breviary is a book containing all the readings from the Bible and prayers for each liturgical season and each part of the day. It could be used in communal worship in a chapel or a church, but also in private worship in the bedchamber.

 

Sources:

Beds and Chambers in Late Medieval England by Hollie L.S. Morgan

The Time Traveller’s Guide to the Medieval England by Ian Mortimer

 

 

 

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The Solar Revisited

The solar, Stokesay Castle (2)

The solar, Stokesay Castle

Some time ago I wrote about medieval solars in a rather general way, but I visited Stokesay Castle in Shropshire during the summer and now have a few photographs of a medieval solar. Stokesay is really a house with ideas above its station, but it shows, in many ways, how the living spaces of the wealthy functioned in the fourteenth century.

Although a seventeenth-century owner of the house covered the room with the wood panelling that was fashionable at the time, the elements of the medieval room can still be seen.

The solar was designed to be a comfortable room. There’s a fireplace to keep it warm and windows to let in light. The fireplace in the photograph is also from the seventeenth century, but there was a fireplace there in the fourteenth century. It was here that the lord of the manor and his family spent most of their time. The lord’s bed would be here and he would conduct his business here.

Whilst most people slept on the floor or on sacks filled with straw, the bed of the lord of the manor would be something that we would recognise as a bed today. A fairly substantial mattress would have rested on a wooden bed frame. He would have had pillows and sheets and blankets. A canopy would have hung from the ceiling and the curtains attached to it would be drawn around the bed to provide both privacy and warmth.

The solar, Stokesay Castle

The solar, Stokesay Castle

Chairs were almost as rare as beds, but the lord of the manor probably had one in his solar. Cushions would have made it comfortable, and it would have been brightly painted.

Solars were built at the opposite end of the hall to the kitchens so that they were out of the way of any unpleasant odours. Bear in mind that there were no fridges to preserve food and whole animals might be used for a meal. In the summer the kitchen was probably not a good place to be. Being at the other end of the house also meant that there was less risk to the solar and its inhabitants if the kitchen burned down, which was not an unusual occurrence.

They were also built on the first floor as a sign of the status of their occupants. In addition, it enabled the inhabitants of the room to look down into the hall to see what was going on there.  Here’s one of the windows looking from the solar.

Window from solar to hall Stokesay Castle

View from the solar into the hall, Stokesay Castle

Here are both windows seen from the hall.

Windows at the rear of the hall, Stokesay Castle

Windows from the solar, Stokesay Castle

The rest of the household spent a lot of their time in the hall, even sleeping there, so the windows provided a means of seeing or hearing what was going on.

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The Battle of Poitiers – what happened next?

Schlacht bei Poitiers / aus: Froissart - Battle of Poitiers / from: Froissart - Bataille de Poitiers / De: Froissart

The battle of Poitiers is the event which changes everything for the four Montfort brothers in The Soldiers of Fortune series, especially for Ancelin in The Heir’s Tale. I’ve written about the battle itself before, but today I want to look at some of the after-effects of the battle.

It took place on 19th September 1356, so the anniversary was just a few days ago.

The battle established Edward of Woodstock, also known as the Black Prince, as a great soldier. His reputation began ten years earlier at Crécy, where he was in nominal command of one of the sections of Edward III’s army. Whether the command was nominal or not, he proved his skill as a soldier as well as his bravery on that occasion.

By the time he fought the battle outside the town of Poitiers in Aquitaine, he had been leading raids against France for a little over a year. The raids had formed a cohesive unit out of various English and Gascon retinues and Edward led a tired and hungry, but effective, army against a greater French force. In this battle he also showed his skill as a strategist. Thereafter he was known as one of the greatest soldiers in Europe.

During the battle, the king of France, Jean II, was captured and many French nobles and their allies were killed or taken prisoner.  Jean II was not much of a soldier and had little control over his army, wasting the advantages he had of a fresher and larger army. He was taken to England, where he was held hostage for ransom by Edward III. Interestingly, at this time, Edward III had another king as hostage, his brother-in-law, David II of Scotland.

The ransom demanded for Jean II and other French prisoners was £500,000, an incredible amount. It was five or six times more than Edward III’s annual income. France was the wealthier country of the two, but this amount would still be several times Jean II’s own income.

The capture of Jean II left his son Charles in charge of France. Charles was the first heir to the French crown to have the title ‘Dauphin’. He inherited the province of the Dauphiné in south-east France from his grandfather and this included the title, which means dolphin. It was originally a nickname, because the coat of arms of the province depicted a dolphin. Just in case you’re thinking it was a strange thing to have on a coat of arms, animals had meaning in heraldry and the dolphin symbolises swiftness, diligence, salvation, charity, and love.  After 1350 each heir to the French crown was given the title ‘Dauphin’. At the time of the battle Charles was 18. As Charles V, he later earned the sobriquet ‘the Wise’, but he showed very little wisdom in his youth.

After 1356 there was, in theory, peace, but the cessation of hostilities meant that there were many soldiers on both sides with nothing to do. A large number of them carried on doing what they did best and they roamed the French countryside demanding protection money from towns and villages, wreaking havoc where they were denied.

By 1358 the French peasantry had had enough. The French nobility had failed spectacularly at Poitiers, increasing the threat of an invasion from England. The Dauphin’s government couldn’t protect them from marauding mercenaries. Taxes and grain prices were increasing. The final straw came when the Dauphin’s soldiers blockaded Paris and commandeered food and supplies without payment. The peasants were being robbed by the very people who were supposed to protect them and they rose up against them.

The revolt began on 28th May in different parts of the country and spread quickly. From an English point of view, this was a vindication of Edward III’s policy of conducting raids from Gascony in 1355 and 1356, the aim of which was to demonstrate that the French king could not protect his people and to cause as much destruction as possible in order to increase the financial burden on Jean II by reducing tax revenues available to him. The Dauphin was increasingly unpopular, as he failed to bring order to the chaos into which France was descending. The revolt (the Jacquerie) was brief, only lasting a fortnight, but it was very violent.

The ransom for Jean II was agreed in the Treaty of Brétigny, sealed on 8th May 1360, and the king was allowed to return to France. Several French nobles took his place as hostages, including his second son, Louis d’Anjou. In the treaty Edward III agreed to give up his claim to the French crown. In return he would receive the king’s ransom as well as complete sovereignty over the French territories he had inherited (instead of being a vassal of the king of France) and any territories he had conquered.

Little of the ransom was paid and, when it looked as if he was going to be in captivity for longer than he had thought, Louis d’Anjou escaped in July 1363. As soon as he heard what his son had done, Jean II returned to England, where he died less than a year later, thus depriving Edward III of his ransom.

Hostilities broke out again in 1369.

 

Sources:

The Hundred Years War: A People’s History – David Green

Trial by Fire: The Hundred Years War, Volume 2 – Jonathan Sumption

TheHeirsTale-WEB

Available from Amazon

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Papal Dispensations

220px-Étienne_Aubert_Innocent_VI

In one of the Soldiers of Fortune stories a couple needs a papal dispensation in order to marry. This is because they’re too closely related to marry in the normal course of things. There were rules about consanguinity which were fairly closely observed by monarchs and the nobility, who would not want anyone to question the validity of a marriage and, by implication, the legitimacy of any heirs. These rules were probably more or less ignored by everyone else.

A papal dispensation is permission from the pope for someone to do something contrary to canon law. Its best-known use relates to marriage, where it can permit a marriage which would not otherwise be allowed or dissolve a marriage.

Probably the most famous papal dispensation was one that wasn’t granted. Henry VIII requested one to enable him to put aside his wife, Katherine of Aragon, and marry Anne Boleyn. Since he had already requested, and received, one in order to marry Katherine, he was on a bit of a losing wicket from the start. Henry had needed a dispensation to marry Katherine because she was his brother’s widow, which meant that their marriage would be incestuous. Katherine said that her marriage to Prince Arthur had not been consummated and the pope allowed Henry and Katherine to marry.

There were prohibitions against marriages considered incestuous and the rules of consanguinity also covered people who were only related by marriage. Hence, if Katherine’s marriage to Arthur had been ruled valid, Katherine and Henry would have been related to the first degree, that is, they would have been considered brother and sister.

The prohibited degrees of consanguinity varied throughout the Middle Ages. Before 1215, when the Fourth Lateran Council clarified the issue, marriage between sixth cousins was prohibited. Who is your sixth cousin? It’s someone who shares a great-great-great-great-great-grandparent with you, or someone who was married to someone who shared a great-great-great-great-great-grandparent with you. You can see how it might be difficult to know who your sixth cousin was. If you lived in a small village, you could almost guarantee that you were related to everyone else more closely than that.

In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council decreed that the fourth degree of consanguinity was the closest at which a marriage could be permitted. This meant that marriage between a couple who shared a great-grandparent was not permitted. Brother and sister are related in the first degree, first cousins in the second, second cousins in the third and so on. An infringement of this rule was considered incest.

If you were a noble, however, you might be able to persuade the pope that your close relationship to your intended wife was not such an impediment. Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince, needed a papal dispensation to marry Joan of Kent. His great-grandfather, Edward I, was her grandfather, which meant that they were first cousins once removed. They married secretly some weeks before the dispensation was requested in the hope of forcing the pope’s hand. The pope gave his permission and Joan’s third marriage reinforced her reputation of marital irregularity.

 

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Medieval marriage

Bologna_marriage_women

In many romance novels there is a wedding near the end and, spoiler alert, mine tend not to be any different. The weddings in my novels, however, are not big affairs with the bride in white attended by bridesmaids, and the groom attended by his best friend. They don’t even take place inside a church.

One of the things I learned early in my reading about life in the Middle Ages is that a wedding wasn’t always what I thought it should be. I wrote a short post a few weeks ago about church porches, where weddings often took place. They were, however, just as likely to take place in a house or in a wood. Most of the weddings in my novels take place in church porches, but one takes place in a wood and one inside a solar.

What constituted a marriage in the Middle Ages? It was a civil contract between the two people involved. This didn’t mean that there couldn’t be affection or even romantic love between them, but that was rarely the reason for marrying. Marriage was often about property or security.

There were two ways to achieve a valid marriage. We looked at the future intent way last week. If a couple meant to be married immediately they only had to say to one another “I take you, name, as my husband/wife”, or something similar. Regardless of whether the marriage was immediate or deferred, the consent of both parties was necessary.

The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 decreed that a wedding must be in public and that the bride must have a dowry, but there did not need to be any witnesses, nor did there need to be clergy present. Often even these simple requirements were not met. Once again, Joan of Kent is our example. She married in secret without the knowledge of her mother or anyone else who was responsible for her, which obviously meant she had no dowry. Yet this marriage was, eventually, declared valid by the pope. All that was really necessary for a marriage to take place were the words spoken by the man and the woman.

According to a fascinating book I read recently, Beds and Chambers in Late Medieval England by Hollie L. S. Morgan, marriage vows were often made in bed. You can see how easy it would be for either party to deny that such a wedding had taken place, or for one of them to claim that it had when it had not.

Marriages without witnesses did not always end well. It would often turn out that one or other party was already married, or had pretended to marry the other party, in order to entice them into bed. Sometimes a woman who became pregnant would claim that the father had married her when he had not.

Clandestine marriages, i.e. those without witnesses, were forbidden by the Fourth Lateran Council. The prohibition was widely ignored. Despite its best efforts, the church found it impossible to control where and how couples made their vows.

If you were a villein getting married would often involve paying a fee (or merchet) to the lord of the manor. It was only payable if the bride had a dowry.

Weddings were supposed to take place at the door of the church or in the church porch, because it was the most public place in the village. The man often gave the woman a ring as a token of the dower that he would provide for her. The dower was the property he gave to his wife to provide for her after his death, but she would only have it for her lifetime. Her children could not inherit it. Sometimes there was a nuptial mass after the exchange of vows. Then there was usually a feast.

Premarital sex was condemned in public, but accepted in private. Many marriages, in villages at least, did not take place until the woman was pregnant, thus demonstrating the couple’s fertility.

The church had a struggle as it tried to control marriage. The New Testament declared that marriage is second-best to celibacy and turning it into a sacrament was an uphill task. It wasn’t until the sixteenth century that the Catholic Church required its members to be married by a priest in front of witnesses. In Protestant England the law changed at the beginning of the seventeenth century, so that a priest or a magistrate was required to make a marriage legal.

 

 

 

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Medieval Betrothals

1300_1320ManesseCodex_hawking

In this second post relating to the Soldiers of Fortune series of novels I’m looking at betrothals. A betrothal was sometimes a precursor to marriage, but it was not necessary to enable a marriage to take place. What did and did not constitute a marriage in the fourteenth century is a different topic, but they could be secret or public. A betrothal was always a public act.

There were, generally speaking, two ways to marry. One was by present consent and the other by future consent. The latter was a betrothal. The vows made in a betrothal were such that the couple said that they intended to marry and would be married if they consummated that intention physically. When that consummation took place (weeks, months, years later) they were married. Sometimes there was another ceremony after the betrothal and before the consummation, but that was rare.

A betrothal was not a religious ceremony.

Both children and adults could be betrothed. Although it was more usual for a child to be betrothed to another child, a child was sometimes betrothed to an adult.

Children became adults at a much younger age than they do today. We saw last week that men were not considered too young to lead an army at fifteen and sixteen, and boys and girls came of age much younger than they do now.

A marriage was not supposed to be consummated until the woman was capable of bearing a child and the couple might wait for some time after that. Some did not. Joan of Kent maintained that she consummated her clandestine marriage to Thomas Holland at the age of twelve. When she was married to William Montague later that year, the unwilling bride and her new husband lived apart, because she was considered too young to consummate the marriage. It’s believed that Edward II, who married Isabella of France when she was 12, waited two or three years before consummating their marriage.

Fourteen was the acceptable age for cohabitation for a woman.  She was considered to be in her prime child-bearing years in her late teens and early twenties.

Marriages were often used by aristocratic families to cement alliances as parents betrothed their children to one another. Betrothals could be, and were, broken. Loyalties changed and someone who was seen as an ally one day could be an enemy the next.

 

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How to become a squire

The_Squire_-_Ellesmere_Chaucer

Chaucer’s squire

The first of my new series of books will be published shortly and posts for the next few weeks will relate to those books. The Soldiers of Fortune series is about four brothers whose lives are changed at the battle of Poitiers.

All four brothers were squires under their uncle William. It was perfectly normal for aristocratic boys to be sent to a relative or a friend of their parents to learn the skills necessary for adulthood.

In the twelfth century, when William Marshal was sent from his home in Wiltshire to live with his uncle in Normandy, there was little difference between squires and servants. Some went on to become knights and others remained servants. William clearly received a good education for he was close to four kings of England and served one as regent. In addition, he found fame and fortune as a competitor in tournaments.

Going away to another noble household to be taught how to be a squire was like a mixture of boarding school and an apprenticeship. The boys’ education was broad and learning how to fight, with the aim of becoming a knight, was only part of it.

They began as pages, waiting on their lord and looking after his horses and armour. These were not considered demeaning tasks, but an honour. The boys were also learning about how to put armour on, which parts of the body it protected and how to look after it. Horses were expensive and a knight was expected to have a few, so knowing how to look after them was vital.

The pages learned from the knights in the household. They listened to tales of past battles and learned to tell which coats of arms belonged to which knights. Although there were usually heralds on campaign who trained specifically to identify knights by their coats of arms, it was always useful if you could tell your friends from your enemies yourself.

The first part of their military training was probably wrestling. The boys had to learn how to move, how to balance and when to attack an opponent. This would all be very important when they moved on to training with weapons.

They learned to use a lance against a quintain, which might be no more than a target on a post, but might be a length of wood with a target at one end and a weight at the other. It would swivel when the target was hit and the rider had to keep going so that he wasn’t hit by the weight from behind.

Quintain_and_Crocuses

Not at all medieval, but illustrates how a quintain worked.

They practised riding as well as using a lance and a sword, both on foot and on horseback. They learned to hunt and to use a bow and crossbow. Neither of these was a weapon really used by knights, except when hunting, but some nobles were very accomplished with them. Richard I was a very good shot with a crossbow.

Sometimes one team of boys would fight another as they learned to fight as part of a unit. They could also attend tournaments. Edward III was fond of tournaments and used them to celebrate important events.

The boys were supposed to learn to read, but not all did. There were usually clerics around who could read for them.

Once they were trained they were squires. Some squires never became knights, particularly towards the end of the fourteenth century, when there was increasingly little difference between the two.

A squire could go on campaign at a very young age. Edward III was 14 when he first led troops (unsuccessfully) against the Scots. His son, Edward of Woodstock, was 16 when he fought at Crécy.

One of the pilgrims on the way to Canterbury in The Canterbury Tales was a squire. Chaucer’s squire was about 20 years old and the son of the knight, the highest-ranking pilgrim in the group. The young man was well-dressed and was asked to tell a tale of love, about which he was supposed to know a great deal. His tale promised to be of epic proportions, but was interrupted by another pilgrim and never finished. Chaucer had been a page and a squire and might have used himself as the model for the knight’s son.

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The Hall of a Medieval Manor House

20170807_115000

Sokesay Castle

Last week I was on holiday and I visited Stokesay Castle in Shropshire. Despite its name, it isn’t a castle, but a fortified manor house. Eight miles north of Ludlow, the house is in the Marches, where fortifying everything against the Welsh was a good idea in the thirteenth century.

Despite this, it was built more for show than anything else. The house was not built by a wealthy noble, but by a merchant, Laurence of Ludlow, in the 1280s. I thought it would be interesting to compare his hall with that of the Southampton merchant, whose house I visited back in May. Both houses were built about the same time, one in the middle of a town, the other in the middle of the countryside. Their locations reflect the sources of their owners’ wealth. The Southampton merchant made his money from wine, mostly imported from Gascony. His house, with its shop, was located only a few yards from the quay where the ships bringing the wine from France moored. Lawrence of Ludlow was a wool merchant, making his money from the sheep on the Shropshire hills he could see from the windows of his country house. He was one of the richest men in England, even lending money to Edward I, and his house was built to demonstrate his wealth. Its decorative, rather than defensive, nature was to show that he was not a threat to the more powerful lords nearby, English and Welsh. All it had to do was protect his wealth from robbers. The house is on the road between Shrewsbury and Ludlow, which would have seen a lot of commercial traffic in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. It would also have been travelled by outlaws and thieves.

The hall, Stokesay Castle 1

The hall, Stokesay Castle

Both houses are run by English Heritage, but they show two different approaches in how such properties can be presented to visitors. The merchant’s house in Southampton has been restored and its rooms filled with copies of fourteenth-century furnishings. Stokesay has not. With one exception, the walls are bare and the only furniture is a bench and a table in the solar. Even though it’s not in the hall, I thought you’d like to see the bit of wall which retains its fourteenth-century decoration.

Decorated wall, North Tower, Stokesay Castle

Decorated wall, Stokesay Castle

The most obvious difference between the hall at Stokesay and the hall at Southampton is size. I estimated that three or four Southampton halls could fit inside Stokesay.

In one thing they’re the same, both are open to the roof. Stokesay has a wonderful cruck roof.

Cruck beams, the hall, Stokesay Castle 2

Cruck roof, Stokesay Castle

Unlike the Medieval Merchant’s house, Stokesay Castle has a solar. It’s a first-floor room at the southern end of the hall. In this photograph you can see the small windows from which Laurence and his family could look down into the hall to see what the household was doing.

Windows at the rear of the hall, Stokesay Castle

Windows from the solar, Stokesay Castle

The hall at Stokesay Castle is also different in the size and number of its windows, the upper parts of which were glazed. There is plenty of light in this hall.

Windows of the hall, Stokesay Castle

Windows of the hall, Stokesay Castle

There was a fire in the middle of the hall, its location marked by an octagon of stones on the floor.

Location of the fire, the hall, Stokesay Castle

Location of the fire, the hall, Stokesay Castle

Everyone except Laurence, his family and visitors would have slept in the hall. Excluding servants, it’s estimated that his household numbered about 25 people, about the same as a knight’s household. Very few people slept in bedchambers and even fewer slept in beds. Most people slept on a mattress on the floor.

Laurence did not live to enjoy his new house for very long. He drowned at sea in 1294.

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The south tower, Stokesay Castle

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Spinning

spindle.jpg

Spindle and thread

In last week’s post I mentioned the woman at the medieval event I went to who was spinning. I was very interested in what she was doing and, after a short lesson from her, decided to buy a spindle so that I could have a go myself. I’ve been a knitter since my teens and the processes involved in getting wool from the back of a sheep onto my knitting needles has interested me for a while.

In the fourteenth century, as today, sheep were shorn in late spring and the fleeces were washed. If you’ve ever seen a sheep, you’ll know why the fleeces have to be washed. Everything sticks to them. The debris in the fleece is referred to as ‘vegetable matter’. Just remember that sheep eat grass and you’ll understand what some of that matter is. The fleeces were washed in lye, a very strong cleaning agent made by pouring water through ashes. Once they were clean, the fleeces would be carded and combed to remove any remaining debris and to make the fibres run in the same direction.  This makes it easier to spin.

Although fragments of knitted hats and gloves from the fourteenth century have been discovered, wool was mostly used to make cloth. This means that it was spun and then woven. It took about 19 women to keep a single loom going. Spun thread was also used to make braids and belts on much smaller looms. Wool wasn’t the only substance to be spun. Fibres were spun from flax to make linen.

Spinning required a spindle and a distaff.  The spindle was a short, thin stick with a whorl at the bottom. The whorl is the circular bit which weights the spindle. This was usually a stone or a piece of clay with a hole in the middle. The distaff is a pole or stick onto which the prepared fleece is attached. Unsurprisingly, since they were made of wood, very few spindles and distaffs have survived.

Distaff

A non-medieval spinner with distaff

It doesn’t take long to learn how to spin. After three hours I was making a thread that didn’t snap, although it was on the thick side. With someone to teach her, rather than relying on an instruction sheet and YouTube videos, a young girl could probably learn quite quickly how to make a decent thread.  It would not take her long to make a consistently thin thread, which could then be plied and woven into bolts from which clothes could be made. Plying is the joining together of two or more strands of thread. This is done in the opposite direction to which the thread was spun. For instance, I spin in an anti-clockwise direction. When I come to ply the threads, I’ll spin them in a clockwise direction.

Women who span were called spinsters and this eventually became the word denoting unmarried women. Married women had many domestic tasks, so spent less time spinning. Unmarried women had fewer tasks and were able to give more time to spinning.

Making thread by hand is not as slow as you might expect (although it is slow) and you can do it anywhere. You could be sitting, standing or walking. When you’re standing or walking, the distaff can be put through your belt to hold it in place.

Whilst spinning was very much women’s work, some historians believe that men also span. Why wouldn’t a shepherd spin while he was watching his sheep, or a cowherd when he was taking the cows to and from the fields? The looms needed miles of thread and it seems sensible that anyone who didn’t literally have their hands full all day would spin at least part of the time.

The importance of spinning in the fourteenth century is illustrated by its use in the ditty attributed to John Ball, one of the leaders of the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, as the activity representing womankind:

When Adam delved and Eve span
Who was then the gentleman?

Here is a video of Kathalyne Aaradyn who has researched spinning in the fifteenth century and spins in that style.

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Sugar

800px-27-alimenti,_miele,_Taccuino_Sanitatis,_Casanatense_4182.

Sugar was an expensive foodstuff. Like cinnamon, cloves and saffron it was considered, and used, as a spice, but it did not travel quite as far as they did to reach England.

Sugar first came into Europe from Egypt and Syria. Crusaders brought it with them when they returned home. This was the beginning of Europe’s addiction to sugar. In the thirteenth century the Venetians and Genoese were able to set up cane plantations on Mediterranean islands, which enabled them to control the whole process of sugar production and distribution.

Once refined, sugar was formed into cone-shaped loaves. It is still sold in this way in some parts of Europe. Sugar loaves were white and brown. If the sugar was refined and pure, it was white. If it was unrefined, it was brown.

Sugar was used in sauces for what we would consider savoury food, but it was also used to make sweet confections to follow it.

Sugar was very versatile and soon came to be preferred to honey by those who could afford it. Honey could be produced anywhere in England by anyone who had a skep and the necessary skills to manage the bees. For those who had to buy their sweeteners, a pound of sugar would have cost a skilled labourer a day’s wages, four times more than a pound of honey.

In the fourteenth century some large towns in Europe had sweet shops selling expensive sweets made from melted and crystallised sugar. These were sold by weight. Again, they were something only the wealthy could afford.

Venice, as it did with spices, controlled the refining and distribution of sugar across Europe for centuries. Sugar only became affordable for the masses in the eighteenth century, when sugar cane started to be grown in the West Indies, using slave labour. In the sixteenth century it was possible to extract sugar from beetroot, but this was not done on a commercial scale until the nineteenth century.

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