Category Archives: Fourteenth Century

Anatomy of a Castle – Furniture

Table in hall 2

One of the things that has always struck me about castles is how small the rooms are.  There are two main reasons for this. The first, and most obvious, is that building a castle was incredibly expensive. The reasons for the cost were that it took time, sometimes more than a decade, and sometimes imported stone was used. The masons who built castles were very skilled and demanded a higher rate of pay than ordinary labourers, who were also required.

The second reason is that castles didn’t have to be large. Even a small castle put awe and fear into the hearts of the local populace. The largest building many people knew was their parish church. Even a small castle would dwarf a church.

Another reason why they didn’t need to be large was because there wasn’t very much, apart from people and stores of food and fuel, to put into it.

People in the Middle Ages had few possessions, unless they were fabulously rich.  If you could afford to build a castle, you fell into that category. The things that you might have, however, wouldn’t necessarily take up a lot of space. An expensive horse, for instance, wouldn’t need any more space than an ordinary horse. Tapestries were a good way for a man to show his wealth, but they hung from a wall, at least while the lord was in residence.  He might own a few jewels, a few gold or silver chalices and good quality knives, but none of these needed much more space than cheaper versions of the same thing. A wealthy man probably had a few books. They would need to be kept securely in a locked chest to prevent theft.

Apart from tapestries and jewels, the main thing that a wealthy man had that most others in a castle (or anywhere else) didn’t have was a bed and a chair. At the top of the post I’ve put a photograph of the reproduction furniture in the hall of the Medieval Merchant’s House in Southampton. It’s not a castle by any means, but it will give you an idea about medieval furniture. There’s one chair. At mealtimes everyone sat on benches like the one you can see in front of the table. The table was a trestle table, which could be taken down and stacked against a wall when it wasn’t in use at meal times. The same thing applied to the bench. Unless they were sitting as part of their employment or at meal times, people mostly stood. If they were allowed to sit, they probably sat on a stool like this.

Stool in front bedroom 3

The stools could also be folded and put away when not in use.

Few people in a castle had beds. Most of the household slept in the hall. The lord had a bed in his solar and there might have been another bed for important visitors. When the lord moved on after spending two or three weeks in his castle, the bed would be dismantled, put on a cart and taken to the next place.

There were cupboards to store the lord’s gold and silver cups, if he had any, and clothes were kept in chests or on rails along walls. There wasn’t much need for interior space in a society that didn’t even know what privacy was and lived, for the most part, communally.

There are many things that still baffle me about castles, though, not least the question about where knights and soldiers kept their armour. They slept in the great hall, or some other communal space. Their armour and their weapons were expensive and couldn’t be folded up out of the way. Nothing that I’ve read or seen gives any indication about where these were stored. If anyone knows, please tell me.

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Anatomy of a Castle – The Bailey

Outer bailey and Roman wall from keep

Outer Bailey and Roman wall from the Keep, Portchester Castle

The grassed area that you can see in the photograph of Portchester Castle above is about a third of the outer bailey.  The original Roman fort was built in a square and the medieval castle retained the Roman walls. The castle itself is built in one corner of the site. A church and a graveyard occupy the corner diagonally opposite.

By comparison, the inner bailey is very small.

Richard II's Palace 2

Richard II’s Palace, Portchester Castle

The word ‘bailey’ derives from a very similar Old French word meaning ‘enclosure’. A bailey is simply an enclosed space within the walls of a castle. The original castles built by the Normans were ‘motte and bailey’ castles. The motte was a hill, sometimes man-made, on which a wooden tower was built. The space around it was the bailey, which was enclosed by a wooden palisade.

The outer bailey at Old Sarum is also huge. Old Sarum’s foundations are much older than Portchester’s. The castle was built on the location of an Iron Age hillfort. There are indications that people lived in the outer bailey there.

The only photograph that would give you a true idea of its size is an aerial one, but I don’t have a drone. The best I can do is to tell you that a cathedral, along with its attendant monastery,  was built in a small part of it.

Moat and outer bailey, Old Sarum

Moat and outer bailey, Old Sarum

Whereas Portchester Castle is a square, Old Sarum is a circle and the outer bailey forms a circle around the walled part of the castle.

The outer bailey was used for ceremonial occasions. In 1086 William the Conqueror had all the land-owning men in England come to Old Sarum and swear an oath of fealty to him. This meant that if their overlord rebelled against William, their loyalty would be to William rather than to their overlord.

When I took this photograph at Kenilworth Castle, I didn’t know that I was standing in what had been the tiltyard. Jousting took place here, although that was in the later Middle Ages.  This particular stretch isn’t very wide, but it’s wider behind me.  Earlier tournaments and jousts needed much more space. The former, in particular, were more like mini battles.

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The Gatehouse at Kenilworth Castle

During the early Middle Ages there was a fair amount of open space within the walls of Kenilworth Castle. When the Earl of Leicester took it over in the sixteenth century, however, he went on a bit of a building spree. He is responsible for one of the more memorable features of the castle. At least, I found it memorable. It was the thing that stuck in my mind from my first visit twenty years ago. His Elizabethan garden has been recreated by English Heritage, but on my recent visit, it wasn’t at its best after a long, hot summer.

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Elizabethan Garden, Kenilworth Castle

You might be wondering by now why castles needed so much outside space. Even allowing for the churches, stables, kitchens, bakehouses, mews and other buildings, there was a lot of empty space.

I mentioned last week that castles were garrisons. They were full of soldiers. The soldiers didn’t just spend all their time standing guard at various entrances or exits, or looking out for possible trouble from the tops of towers. They had to be able to cope with any trouble that arrived. That meant training.

They fought one another outside to improve their technique, and thus their chances of surviving. They learned how to scale ladders in a siege situation. They practised archery. They learned how to work together when under attack. The knights and squires practised fighting on horseback. All of this took up a lot of space.

Sources:

Old Sarum – John McNeill

Kenilworth Castle – Richard K. Morris

Portchester Castle – John Goodall

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Anatomy of a Castle – The Hall

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In many ways, a castle is just like any other medieval house with more than a couple of rooms. Houses and castles usually have a hall: a large room for meals and receiving visitors. As a result, they were the largest enclosed space in the building. They were also where the servants slept.

In a castle, a hall is obviously much larger than it would be in a house and more grandly decorated. There are some other differences. John of Gaunt’s Great Hall at Kenilworth Castle, pictured above, is very large. It also has huge and intricate windows. The hall was so impressive that it’s the only part of the castle left untouched by the Earl of Leicester when he took over Kenilworth two hundred years later.

Somewhat unusually, the hall had six fireplaces. You can see one of them in the photograph below, which also shows the vaulting of the cellars below the hall.  The wall above the fireplace was probably covered by a tapestry. These were very expensive and displaying them was a way of showing how wealthy someone was.

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Fireplace in the Great Hall, Kenilworth Castle

The walls would also have been painted and would have been colourful even when the tapestries were taken down.

Halls were usually on the first floors of castles, unlike in houses, where they were at ground level.

Richard II's Hall diagram

King Richard’s Great Hall, Portchester Castle

As you can see from the photograph of Richard II’s Great Hall at Portchester Castle above, the hall is close to the kitchen, allowing food to be served easily. This hall also had large windows in the wall facing the inner bailey. The wall facing the outer bailey has no windows at all for reasons of security. Halls in houses rarely had large windows. When your only source of heat was a fire in the middle of the floor and windows were usually unglazed, your windows would be quite small in order to retain as much heat as possible during the long, dark winter nights.

Richard II’s windows at Portchester were glazed. It’s recorded that the glass was decorated with coats of arms and heraldic devices. Richard also had a large collection of tapestries, some of which would have been hung on the walls when he visited the palace.

When a visitor to either of these halls entered the door at the top of the steps, they were still not in the hall. They would find themselves in a screened area, mainly used by the servants. An invitation to enter the hall itself was a great honour.

This is a photograph of one of the two halls at Wolvesey Castle, one of the palaces of the medieval bishops of Winchester.

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East Hall, Wolvesey Castle, Winchester

The palace had a private hall and a larger, more public hall. The latter (the one in the photograph) was used for ceremonial occasions or when more space was needed. Originally the hall was on ground level, but it was remodelled and raised to the first floor about twenty years later.

Like the rest of the castle, the hall was used to impress upon the visitor the importance, wealth and power of the man who owned it.

Sources:

Kenilworth Castle –  Richard K. Morris

Portchester Castle –  John Goodall

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

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The Anatomy of a Castle – The Tower

Ashton's Tower from keep, Portchester Castle

Ashton’s Tower from the keep, Portchester Castle

A tower was a tall structure on the outer wall of a castle and most castles had more than one. None of them was as tall as the keep. Despite that, they were very much a sign of dominion in the early, Norman, castles. They were called donjons, from the Latin ‘dominor’ – to master, to rule over.

Originally towers were square. This made them fairly easy to build. Square towers were, however, vulnerable to mining. If the besieging army could send miners underground, they could cause a tower to collapse by setting fire to the wood that had been supporting the tunnel under a corner of the tower. The corners were weak spots.

Round towers were less vulnerable to undermining. In addition, it was more difficult to rest a ladder against a round tower, which meant that castles with round towers were less easy to storm.

When Edward I built his showpiece castle at Caernarfon, he built polygonal towers inspired by the towers of Constantinople.

Towers had arrow loops built into them allowing the defenders to shoot arrows or crossbow bolts at attackers whilst having some form of protection. The shape of the arrow loop allows the archer, or crossbowman, to cover quite a lot of the ground below the tower. There is room for them to move from side to side and up and down, but the part of the arrow loop presented on the outside is so narrow that opposing archers or crossbowmen would need a lot of skill to get an arrow through it.

arrow-slit-arundel-tower-southampton

Arrow Loop, Arundel Tower, Southampton

This is the same tower from the outside. You can see how narrow the arrow loops are. Any soldiers attacking this tower would have to shoot upwards as well.  In this particular instance, they’d probably have to do it from a ship, as the water used to come up to the walls.

Arundel Tower, Southampton

Arundel Tower, Southampton

Ideally a castle would have enough towers around its curtain wall to allow archers and crossbowmen to cover all of the ground outside and inside.

Archers and crossbowmen were not the towers only means of defence. Mangonels and other forms of catapult could be used from the tops of towers. This would give them a greater throwing distance than similarly sized catapults used by the besiegers.

This last tower is from a bishop’s palace. Despite its name, Wolvesey Castle isn’t a castle, although it was fortified. It was built by Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester, in the mid-twelfth century. He was the brother of King Stephen, whose reign was mostly taken up with the civil war known as the Anarchy.  Somewhat surprisingly, given that he was the king’s brother, Henry changed sides more than once, necessitating the fortification of his palace in Winchester.

Wymond's Tower, Wolvesey Castle, Winchester

Wymond’s Tower, Wolvesey Castle, Winchester

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

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Anatomy of a Castle – The Household

Richard II's Palace 2

Richard II’s Palace, Portchester Castle

Before I get on to the physical structures of a castle, I wanted to touch on something that most of us forget when we see or visit one.  Apart from tourists, most castles are empty ruins these days. When they were built, however, they were home to many people. They didn’t just house soldiers. It took lots of servants to run and  maintain a castle, especially when the family of the man who had charge of it was in residence.

Castles were expensive and took a long time to build. At Guédelon in France there is a construction project in which a castle designed in a thirteenth-century style is being built using medieval methods. It’s a modest castle, but they’ve already been building for 20 years and it’s not finished. Partly that’s due to the number of people working on it. A medieval building-site would have had many more. They would only have worked a few months each year, though, covering the walls against the winter weather from September to May.

A castle was, therefore, the ultimate medieval home. It was a luxury residence for the fabulously wealthy. When you visit a castle, try to imagine it with paintings and designs on the interior walls. People of the fourteenth century loved colour and their taste often seems garish to our eyes, so think about colours so bright that they hurt.

Some walls would have been covered with tapestries, another luxury item. They served not just to show the wealth of the man who owned them, but also as decoration and insulation.

As well as having a military purpose, castles were often administrative centres. This meant that the households were large and included:

  • The lord and his family
  • Knights (usually young)
  • The lord’s domestic servants
  • Clerks (both priests and administrators)
  • Soldiers
  • Cooks
  • Carters
  • Huntsmen
  • Falconers
  • Artisans
  • Stable lads
  • Men for general labouring work

Such a large number of people would get through the resources of the surrounding area fairly quickly. This meant that the lord rarely spent more than a few weeks in one place. He would move between his estates with about 50 people, leaving a garrison of soldiers behind in the castle together with a few servants.

The next time you visit a castle see the soldiers training in the bailey; watch servants carrying water from the well to the kitchens; hear the dogs barking and the horses neighing; and smell the bread being baked in the bakery.

Sources:

Castle – Marc Morris

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

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Anatomy of a Castle

Anatomy of a castle

I’ve been thinking about, and visiting, castles recently. There’s nothing like going to a medieval building to give you ideas to put into a novel. When I went to Old Sarum on a very wet day, I almost slipped over in the mud. On the drive home I thought about how dangerous a medieval castle could be in the rain. There are slippery external staircases without handrails; uncovered wells surrounded by mud; and bridges across moats. I could picture one of my characters being held prisoner in a castle, his long-planned escape attempt thwarted by rain and mud.

I thought it would be useful to get to grips with some of the terms used about parts of a castle and the structures that might be found within the walls.

Castles were introduced into England by the Normans. Although some Norman allies of Edward the Confessor, the last Saxon king of England, built three or four castles in England in the middle of the eleventh century, it was William the Conqueror who had castles built all over the country to subdue his new subjects.

Early castles were of the motte and bailey type. The motte was a (usually man-made) mound of earth upon which a wooden tower was built. Typically there was a wooden palisade around the tower and another around the base of the mound. The area encompassed by the palisade was the bailey. A castle provided protection for the people within it, but also gave them a base from which they could go out and subjugate the local population.

It wasn’t long before castles and walls were being built in stone. The exterior walls of most castles were whitewashed. Instead of seeing grey stone looming on the horizon, you should picture something white and impressive. The idea of a castle was to demonstrate to the Saxons that they were a defeated people. Over time, however, castles were used less to oppress the people living around them and more to protect them.

Castle and outer bailey

Portchester Castle and Outer Bailey

In my diagram above, I’ve included most of the things that you’d expect to see in a castle. Some buildings are missing, such as kitchens, bakeries and stables, but we’ll come to these later. Not all castles have all the parts, as it were. Some castles don’t have moats and some don’t have keeps. Some have complicated defences, others are more straightforward.

Castles vary greatly in size and some buildings that call themselves castles aren’t, being fortified houses. Stokesay Castle, for example, which I visited last year, is a fortified manor house.

I’ll go into more detail in future posts, but these are the bare bones of a castle:

Keep

Early castles were more or less wooden keeps on a hill surrounded by a tall fence. By the fourteenth century they were made of stone and were the last line of defence within a castle.

Moat

Moats were deep ditches, some filled with water, some not. They could go round the outer walls, as in the diagram above, or they could be within the outer bailey.

Outer Bailey

Not all castles had an outer bailey. It was the area outside the inner walls, but within the outer walls.

Inner Bailey

The open area inside the inner walls.

Barbican

An external defence.

Great Hall

The largest enclosed space in a castle, where the household ate and, for the most part, slept.

Tower

A defensive feature on the outermost walls.

Postern Gate

A small side door to the castle.

Curtain wall

Outside wall of a castle between two towers.

Over the next few weeks we’ll look at each feature to see how important, or otherwise, they were to a castle.

 

Sources:

Castle – Marc Morris

Capture the Castle – Sam Smiles, Tim Craven, Steve Marshall, Anne Anderson, Andy King

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

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August Pottage

leeks-and-beetroot.jpg

The Vegetarian Society tells me that August is the month for :Aubergine, Beetroot, Blackberries, Blackcurrants, Broad Beans, Broccoli, Carrots, Cauliflower, Cherries, Chicory, Chillies, Courgettes, Cucumber, Damsons, Fennel, French Beans, Garlic, Greengages, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Lettuce, Loganberries, Mangetout, Marrow, Mushrooms, Parsnips, Peas, Peppers, Potatoes, Plums, Pumpkin, Radishes, Raspberries, Redcurrants, Rhubarb, Rocket, Runner Beans, Samphire, Sorrel, Spring Greens, Spring Onions, Strawberries, Summer Squash, Sweetcorn, Swiss Chard, Tomatoes, Watercress.

I’ve crossed out the many things that have come to England since the fourteenth century to show you how much more choice we have now in our own gardens before we even need think of imported food.  In my own garden I’m overrun with courgettes (zucchinis) and my aubergines (eggplants) are filling out very nicely. Unfortunately, neither was available 700 years ago. My beetroots are doing well and I’m trying for a second crop of peas while it’s still very warm.

As you can see in the picture above, my leeks are tiny, but need thinning. I decided to try leeks and beetroot.  I also managed to find a few beetroot leaves that the caterpillars hadn’t eaten. As usual, there’s no pepper or salt.

beetroot

I know this is almost the same as I had last month, with the exception of the carrots, but that’s the way of it when you eat food you grow yourself in season. I’ve been eating courgettes every other day for what feels like weeks now and the chickens are laying two or three eggs a day whether I want them or not. If you have a recipe that uses both, I’d love to hear from you.

When I saw the pottage in the bowl I was less than impressed and it tasted as bad as it looked. Last month small pieces of hot beetroot went very well with carrot. On their own they were unpleasant. I had to eat something else to take the taste away. Then I had to have a glass of homemade strawberry wine.

The experiment is proving to be a bit hit and miss and this was a definite miss.

Sources:

Medieval Gardens – Anne Jennings

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

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The British Museum in Thirteen Objects – The Chaucer Astrolabe

The Chaucer Astrolabe

The Chaucer Astrolabe, British Museum

The astrolabe was a multi-purpose scientific instrument in the Middle Ages. When the illegitimate child of Abelard and Héloise was born in the early twelfth century, he was named Astrolabe in its honour.

An astrolabe, according to James Robinson in Masterpieces of Medieval Art, is a two-dimensional map of the three-dimensional celestial sphere. In much the same way that an Ordnance Survey map can help you find your way through a wood, up hills and over streams you’ve never seen before, so an astrolabe can you to find your way through the heavens. It was, as you can see, a sophisticated instrument.

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The Chaucer astrolabe is dated 1326, 16 years before Chaucer was born, and is the earliest dated European astrolabe. Although it didn’t belong to Chaucer, the poet wrote a treatise on the astrolabe, the first in English, and described an instrument very like this. Dedicated to his son Lewis, it was written by 1391. There are more than thirty surviving manuscript copies of the treatise.

Most texts about the construction and use of astrolabes were written in Latin. They were used to tell the time in the many different time systems that existed in fourteenth-century England. It could be used to work out angles and the height of objects. It could also be used while casting horoscopes.

Saints’ days in English and the latitude for Oxford are written on the back, indicating that it was principally for use in England. There are also inscriptions relating to Jerusalem, Babylon, Montpellier and Paris.

It’s just over 5 inches in diameter and less than half an inch thick. The star pointers are shaped like birds.

On the left in my photograph is Richard II’s quadrant. The raised piece that you can see is his emblem: the white hart. It’s a timepiece, enabling its user to tell the time from the angle of the sun. It’s dated 1399, the year of the king’s death.

Sources:

Masterpieces of Medieval Art

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The British Museum in Thirteen Objects – Bacinet and Mail

Bacinet and mail

Bacinet and Mail, British Museum

Although separated by several decades in manufacture, this bacinet and piece of mail are displayed together. Given the high cost of armour, older (usually inherited) items would often be worn with newer ones, provided they fitted well enough. The bacinet comes from about 1430, while the mail comes from the last quarter of the fourteenth century.

The bacinet might be Italian. Originally there would have been a visor to protect the eyes. There is also a slot in the top of the helmet where a crest would have been worn. It was a very popular style of helmet in England during the Hundred Years War.

This one was found in Kordofan, Sudan. It probably got there because French traders sold arms illegally to the Khalif of Egypt around the middle of the fifteenth century.

As you can probably tell from the photograph, I was more interested in the chain mail than in the helmet. Chain mail was, as its name suggests, made up of chains of iron or steel rings linked together. They’re linked by flattening and riveting the ends. The protection they offered varied according to the diameter of the links. This piece of mail is made up of rings approximately 1 cm in diameter.

Mail was an old form of protection by the fourteenth century and was worn over padded clothing. The padding protected the wearer’s skin from the metal rings, as well as from the enemy’s weapons.

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries even horses wore mail. By the fourteenth century the technology to make plate armour (large bits of metal which could be shaped to protect various parts of the body) was being developed. This meant that there was less need for those who could afford plate armour to cover themselves completely in mail.

Mail could be made into almost any shape and it was very flexible. The most common items were the habergeon and hauberk: the short and long mail shirt. The shirt could be made with or without sleeves. Head protection in the form of a mail coif was also used. When an item of mail was damaged it was easy to repair and, if necessary, the rings could be taken apart and reused. For this reason, very few pieces of mail survive in their original form.

A better photograph of the bacinet cand be found here and there’s a slightly better photograph of the mail here.

Sources:

Masterpieces of Medieval Art – James M Robinson

Masterpieces of European Arms and Armour – Tobias Capwell

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July Pottage

Trug

In June I started a project of making a seasonal pottage each month, using things that would be available to a medieval household at the lower end of society. As far as possible I’m using things from my own garden, although this exercise makes me realise how many of the things I grow were not available here in the fourteenth century.

One of my gardening friends told me a couple of weeks ago that his onions and garlic were ready, which was a bit of a relief. I like garlic and it does give food a bit of a kick when you’re not using salt or pepper, which were beyond the means of most people.

Correlating my list from the Vegetarian Society with the guidance of Medieval Gardens about which vegetables were available in the Middle Ages, I worked out that I could use:  Beetroot,  Broad Beans,  Carrots,  Garlic, Lettuce, Onions, Peas,  Radishes, Sorrel, Spring Greens, Turnips and Watercress. That’s quite a long list, but not all of those are things that I’d particularly want in a bowl together.

I’ve long wanted to try beetroot leaves, so I thinned the beetroots intending to add the leaves to the pot. Since the thinned plants included a few decent-sized roots, I threw those into the pot as well, along with the stalks. As you can see from the photo above, there were rather a lot of leaves, but not all of them were in a good enough condition to be eaten. Blackfly has been a major problem in the garden this year and they have taken to the beetroot.

I also thinned the leeks. At this stage of the year they look a bit like tiny spring onions, but they do have some taste and I thought a medieval housewife would probably be frugal enough to use them. Since there weren’t many, I added some chives as well. I bought a carrot and put that in with some garlic.

I used very little water, remembering how unpleasant the liquid had been in last month’s pottage.

July pottage

This is what it looked like and it was very tasty. I don’t know if it was a combination eaten in the fourteenth century, but I enjoyed it. It was much sweeter than I expected and even the liquid was good. I didn’t miss salt and pepper and I definitely want to try beetroot leaves again.

 

 

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