Category Archives: Fourteenth Century

Soap in the Fourteenth Century

B for Bath

There are a few things that were made during the fourteenth century that make me wonder why people thought that adding two (or more) specific things together would make something that they could use. For example, medieval ink was made from water, ground oak apples, gum and a rusty nail. I can understand why they thought the first three ingredients might work, but the addition of the rusty nail baffles me. Did someone drop it into the mix by accident or did he add it with some understanding of what might happen?

It’s the same thing with soap. Why would anyone think that adding lye to olive oil, or tallow (rendered animal fat) if you were making it in England, would make something you could wash with? 

It makes sense that people thought of lye (in this instance produced from potash) as a cleaning material. I mentioned last week that lye was used to bleach linen. It’s a caustic solution, though, and not the first thing that would come to mind when you’re thinking about cleaning your skin.

I should add that there are different types of lye, dependent on the type of plant involved. Lye was produced by mixing water with the ash of plants (usually wood, but other plants were also used), allowing it to stand for a while and then pouring off the water. The water was evaporated to concentrate the liquid and then added to the oil/fat.

Soap was used for washing clothes and, to a lesser extent, bodies.  Castile soap was the best quality soap available. As its name indicates, it came from Spain. It was made with olive oil and local potash. It came in hard cakes and was less caustic than soaps made in countries further north. It cost about 4d a cake, about two-thirds of a day’s wages for a skilled labourer in England. The white version was for cleaning the skin and the black version was for cleaning cloth. Similar types of soap were eventually made in Italy and Provence when they began importing soda ash from Egypt and Syria.

In England softer, more liquid soaps were made using tallow. They were white, grey and black and were used for cleaning cloth. They were fairly caustic, leaving washerwomen with blistered hands and legs.

Not surprisingly, for most people washing their skin meant using nothing more than water.

Sources:

The Time Traveller’s Guide to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer

Power and Profit: The Medieval Merchant in Europe by Peter Spufford

 

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.

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Medieval linen

Battage_à_Fléau

Over the past month we’ve been looking at the manufacture of fabric for outer clothes in the Middle Ages: wool and silk. Now we’re taking a look at the fabric used for undergarments. These were not undergarments as we would think of them, but simple chemises or shirts, whose purpose was to keep the outer garments away from the skin. They kept the body’s oils and sweat from the expensive (and almost impossible to wash) wools and silks. It was the undergarments that would be washed, not the outer ones.

As you can see in the picture above, men also wore linen braies, which resemble what we would consider to be underwear today. The braies were usually covered by hose and tunics.

Linen is made from flax stems. It was harvested before the seeds ripened and soaked in water, often rivers, to rot the core. This polluted rivers and smelled dreadful. It’s another reminder of why so little water was fit to drink in the fourteenth century. Once the core had rotted away, the stems were dried, then beaten with wooden mallets to break them. Then they were scutched, which meant striking them with a wooden knife against a vertical wooden board. This released the fibres. The next stage was combing or heckling. This is a far more violent version of the combing undergone by wool. Everything to do with linen processing seems violent when compared to what happened to wool.

Here’s a lovely video about a more recent, but still traditional, process of growing, harvesting and preparing flax for spinning in Ireland.

Once it had been combed, the flax was ready for spinning. Here’s Josefin Waltin preparing her distaff for spinning flax. If ever you need something to calm you down and breathe more slowly, take a look at one of Josefin’s videos. There’s nothing hurried or urgent about them.

Most linen weaving took place in the countryside, where the flax was grown. It was a profitable business for those who could grow flax, and those who grew it usually spun and wove it. In addition to the thread, there was also oil to be harvested from the seeds, making it a very useful crop.

As you can see, flax is brown. It was usually bleached white before or after weaving. This took months. The bleach was made with lye produced from wood ashes. Sometimes lime was added as well. This soaking was the quick part of the process. Afterwards the lye was washed out and the linen cloth was stretched out in the fields to dry. This took anywhere between eight and sixteen weeks. It was all very seasonal, since the cloths could only really dry during the summer.

Like wool, the finished cloth was glazed with a heated glass ball. The same process was also carried out when the linen was washed, as it must have been fairly frequently.

Since it was easy to wash, linen was made into bed linen, tablecloths, napkins, towels, head coverings and aprons. Scraps were used as sanitary towels and toilet paper. Bits of moss and wool were also used for the latter purpose.

Linen from Champagne was generally regarded as the best in Europe. It was certainly the most expensive. The majority of the high-quality linen imported into England during the fourteenth century, however, came from Westphalia and Flanders. The best quality linen could be almost transparent and was used for veils in the fifteenth century.

In the later fourteenth century cotton was woven with linen to produce fustian. This fabric had the durability of linen and the fineness of cotton.

Sources:

Textiles and Clothing 1150 – 1450 by Elisabeth Crowfoot, Frances Pritchard, Kay Staniland

Power and Profit: The Merchant in Medieval Europe by Peter Spufford

 

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Medieval Silk

Meister_nach_Chang_Hsüan_001

Some years ago I read a novel set in the fourteenth century in which the heroine wears silk and satin gowns. I scoffed and read on. In my defence, the book was full of historical inaccuracies, and I thought this was just one more. I was convinced that silk didn’t arrive in Europe until much later. I have since learned that the author was correct and it was my own knowledge that was sadly lacking.

Silk came from the Far East. It was prized for its natural sheen and it even gave its name to the route by which it travelled west – the Silk Road. The method of making silk thread was a closely guarded secret in ancient China, but silk cloth arrived in Europe about 3,000 years ago. The secret of making silk and the means of making it didn’t come until the middle of the sixth century, when a servant of the Byzantine emperor smuggled silkworm eggs into Constantinople.

Silk thread comes from the cocoon of the larvae of the mulberry silkworm. In order for the silk thread to be extracted in one long piece, the larva couldn’t be allowed to mature, because it would eat its way out of the cocoon, breaking the thread into short pieces. It was killed by being dropped into boiling water or having a pin stuck in it.

Silk processing in Turkey

Silk thread being pulled in modern Turkey using traditional methods. Glossy silk thread on the wall. Photograph copyright C.J. Hyslop used with permission.

Italy was the main European centre of silk production in the fourteenth century, although Spain also made good quality silk.  Like every other medieval fabric, it took a lot of labour to make it.

The cocoon was first soaked in water in order to dissolve the substance that held it together. Eventually the ends of the threads would float to the surface and someone unravelled the cocoon. A single thread couldn’t be used on its own, so a number of threads were twisted together as they were wound into a skein. Water power was often used in this part of the process to reduce the labour required from hundreds of men to four.

Sometimes the thread would be washed again, but that didn’t always happen.  It was these threads that were sold for the manufacture of fabric. The skeins would be dyed before they were woven into fabric.

England had no silk looms in the fourteenth century. Any cloth that was used was imported, mostly from Moorish Spain, but also from Italy.

Silk was tremendously expensive and was only worn by the very wealthy. In her book, Fashion in the Middle Ages, Margaret Scott compares buying silk with buying a hand-built sports car. By weight, silk was more expensive than any other commodity, save pearls and precious stones. Yes, it was worth more than gold. It could be made even more expensive yet by being embroidered. This made it unimaginably costly, putting it out of the reach of even the very rich. Only royalty and a few nobles could afford it.

Satin was made from silk and it arrived in England in the late thirteenth century. By the end of the fourteenth century it was used for doublets, tunics, cushions, bed hangings, girdles and garters. It originated in the town of Quanzhou, which was corrupted in medieval Arabic to Zaitun.

Satin damask was also available in England towards the fourteenth century, when it was worn by Richard II and others at court. It had a shiny pattern set against a dull background. As its name indicates, it came originally from Damascus.

You can see pictures of fragments of fourteenth-century silks and damasks on my Pinterest board here.

The photograph of silk production in Turkey is courtesy of C.J. Hislop. You can find her photography blog here.

 

Sources:

Textiles and Clothing 1150 – 1450 by Elisabeth Crowfoot, Frances Pritchard, Kay Staniland

Fashion in the Middle Ages by Margaret Scott

Power and Profit: The Merchant in Medieval Europe by Peter Spufford

 

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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January Pottage

20190125_125358

The ingredients for this month’s pottage were easy enough to choose. The only vegetables growing in my garden at the moment are leeks. They’re not very big, which I think is due to the very hot summer we had. In my cupboard I had some barley and there’s some sage and bewildered parsley in the garden. The early part of winter was so mild that the parsley thought it was spring and has been growing everywhere. The sorrel has also been fooled into producing leaves early. These things aren’t usually available in January, but I thought a fourteenth-century housewife wouldn’t waste them, so they went into the pot.

When I went to the cupboard the evening before I was going to make the pottage I realised that I didn’t have much barley. Fortunately I still had some marrowfat peas. I soaked the peas overnight and boiled them for three quarters of an hour before I added the barley and the garlic. The peas gave it a bit more taste. About twenty minutes after the barley I added the leeks and the leaves. They boiled together for about fifteen minutes.

It was tasty and satisfying meal. I made the pottage fairly thick, as the liquid can often be disappointing.

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Medieval Wool

lamb

I’m a knitter and I like wool. Knitting wasn’t a big thing in the fourteenth century, but wool was.  Some knitted fabrics from the fourteenth century have survived, but wool was usually woven into fabric or felted. I’m interested in medieval textiles and have a Pinterest board devoted to them.

All over Europe, people used woollen fabrics for clothing and bedding, and the best wool came from England. Flanders and northern Italy were the main weaving centres. importing wool from England and exporting woollen cloth back across the Channel.

It’s been estimated that there were at least nine million sheep in England in the first few decades of the century. The vast majority of them were providing wool for export. Some of the great monasteries had huge flocks, but it was worth keeping even a small flock in order to benefit from the wool trade. Early in the century some monastic flocks could contain 15,000 sheep and there are records of many individual manors with 600 sheep or more. 100 to 300 was probably the more usual size. After the Black Death more land was available for sheep and the size of flocks expanded. It wasn’t unknown for a flock to number 30,000 sheep.

Sheep were very susceptible to the various murrains of the Middle Ages and the sizes of flocks fluctuated according to the prevalence of disease. Some large estates lost two-thirds of their flocks in one year during a particularly bad time.

The quality of wool varied and this was reflected in the prices paid for it. Fleeces from Shropshire, Herefordshire and Lincolnshire were usually considered the best quality, while those from East Anglia, Devon and Cornwall were the worst.

The fleece was the most expensive item in making cloth. Labour was cheap, and turning a fleece into fabric was labour-intensive, as were most tasks in the fourteenth century. Wool had to willowed, washed, dyed, blended, combed, carded, bowed, spun, warped, sized, woven, fulled, stretched, teasled, shorn and calendered.

Wool could only be exported through certain towns. One of them was London and about half the wool exported went through it. Another third went from Boston and Hull. The rest went via Southampton and Lynn. Piracy at sea was always a problem, particularly after the beginning of the Hundred Years War.

Customs duties had to be paid on wool. It was probably the most consistent tax of the fourteenth century. Edward III was a great soldier, but a poor economist. He tried to raise funds for his war against the king of France by dabbling in the wool trade, but failed miserably. For twenty years the wool trade was destabilised. By the late 1350s he had given up, but it took time for it to recover.

From 1363 all wool exports had to go through Calais. This was partly to make the English town there viable. Edward III had captured it after a year-long siege in 1347, but it was costing more than it was worth to keep it.

By the 1370s raw wool exports were beginning to fall, but by then England was exporting processed wool in the form of cloth.

 

Sources:

England in the Reign of Edward III by Scott L. Waugh

Textiles and Clothing 1150 – 1450 by Elisabeth Crowfoot, Frances Pritchard, Kay Staniland

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 Medieval Bailiff

Battage_à_Fléau

Whilst I was finding out about stewards last week, I was also reading about bailiffs.  The bailiff was the senior person living on the manor if the lord was absent.

Whereas the position of steward was one of honour, demonstrating the regard in which a man was held by his lord, that of bailiff was much lowlier. He was likely to be a younger son of the gentry or the member of a better-off peasant family and was appointed on the steward’s recommendation. That means that somehow or other he had to have come to the attention of the steward. In the worst cases this might be through bribery,  but you can also imagine pushy parents putting their sons in the way of local stewards, or stewards appointing their own illegitimate sons. Often, of course, the steward would simply come across a young man who impressed him.

The bailiff was an employee of the lord of the manor and he collected the rents, so reading and writing were necessary skills. As the lord’s permanent representative on the manor, he didn’t just represent the lord to its inhabitants, but also to strangers and visitors. When the lord was absent, the bailiff lived in the manor house. His life would have been fairly comfortable, except that he was usually hated by the tenants and villeins.

In many ways, his duties were the same as those of the reeve, the chief villein on the manor. There were major differences between them, however, not least that the bailiff was paid and the reeve was not. The reeve was compensated in other ways, and occasionally helped himself to compensation, but the bailiff was paid with money.

The bailiff’s first priority was the demesne, the part of the manor that was solely for the support of the lord. It was the bailiff’s job to manage the livestock and the crops, and to make sure that as little as possible was stolen. He was also responsible for buying in from outside things that couldn’t be grown or made on the manor, such as salt, iron, tar, parchment or nails.

The bailiff was supposed to view the whole manor every day so that he could decide when the land was to be manured, and when the threshing, ploughing sowing and harvesting were going to take place. He also had to watch over the shearing of the sheep. The sale of wood and skins from the manor was his responsibility. The money from these would have been an important part of the lord’s income. He decided which of the lord’s livestock should be bought or sold.

The bailiff also had non-agricultural duties. He was chief law officer and business manager for the manor.

Lords were advised not to appoint friends or relatives as their bailiffs, but the mere fact that this advice is recorded indicates that it was a fairly common practice that must have led to many problems.

Sources:

A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Christopher Corèdon and Ann Williams

Life in a Medieval Village by Joseph Gies and Frances Gies

The English Manor by Mark Bailey

Life in a Medieval Castle by Joseph Gies and Frances Gies

 

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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The Medieval Steward

Bradford on Avon Tithe Barn exterior

Bradford on Avon Tithe Barn Exterior

In the novel I’m currently working on there’s a secondary character who’s a steward. I got a little confused about whether he would be called a steward or a seneschal, so I decided to check.

It turned out to be even more confusing than I thought. There were also two different roles with the same title. In the domestic sphere, the steward was the official in charge of the daily running of a castle or house. In the administrative sphere, the steward was responsible for the lord’s estates.

The difficulty of whether it was steward or seneschal was easily solved. A seneschal was a steward of a great estate.

Essentially, the steward was his lord’s deputy. It was his job to defend his lord’s rights and to look after his property.

Legal knowledge was an important qualification, since he had to represent his lord in court. This was not as hard to come by as you might think. Many people were familiar with the law in the fourteenth century, because it was a very litigious time.

If he had many estates under him, the steward was supposed to visit them and liaise with the bailiffs. The bailiff was the lord’s permanent representative on the manor. The steward had to instruct and guide these men. Lords were advised to appoint older men to the position of steward, because they would know a bit about managing others and they would have some experience of life. Lords were also advised to appoint honest men, although that was more difficult. As well as being a very litigious time it was also a fairly corrupt time.

The steward was supposed to audit the manorial accounts, so being good with numbers was also a requirement. He went to each manor two or three times a year and stayed for a day or two. He supervised any large building projects, such as mills or barns. He gave permission (or not) for any larger than usual expenditure.

The steward presided over the manorial court. He was not the judge, as the decisions were made by villagers acting as jurors. His role was to give weight to those decisions.

The stewards of great lords were usually knights. Not all lords of estates were laymen, many of them were abbots. In the latter case, their stewards were usually clerics. An abbey’s steward might be known as the cellarer.

Sources:

A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Christopher Corèdon and Ann Williams

Life in a Medieval Village by Joseph Gies and Frances Gies

The English Manor by Mark Bailey

 

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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Geoffrey Chaucer

Canterbury Tales

It’s a rare thing for me to do a biographical post, but I had a discussion with Toutparmoi, whose excellent blog is The Earl of Southampton’s Cat, about Shakespeare scholars and, by extension, Chaucer scholars, embellishing the life of their subject of study. I said that Chaucer’s life was pretty exciting without the need for embellishment. It was so exciting that I think it’s worth sharing.

Chaucer’s father, John, was a wine merchant based in London, and Geoffrey was born there in about 1340, which means, amongst other things, that he lived through the Black Death. From 1347 to 1349 John Chaucer was the king’s deputy butler in Southampton, supervising wine shipments from Bordeaux to the king’s cellars. I like to think that Chaucer spent some time with his father in Southampton and knew the wine merchant’s house I use as the representation of this blog.

In 1357 Chaucer is recorded as being a page in the household of Elizabeth, Countess of Ulster. Elizabeth was the wife of Lionel, the third son of Edward III. Born in 1338, Lionel wasn’t much older than his wife’s servant. Two years later, in 1359, Chaucer was serving in Lionel’s retinue in France. It had been Edward III’s plan to have himself crowned King of France at Rheims cathedral, but his armies were weakened by bad weather and poor supply line, and they were unable to continue the siege. Chaucer went on a foraging raid and was captured by the French. Fortunately, he was of some value and was ransomed for £16.

He married Philippa de Roet in 1365 or 1366. She was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Philippa, wife of Edward III, but her main claim to fame is that her younger sister was Katherine Swynford, mistress and later wife of John of Gaunt, Edward’s fourth son.

Chaucer was in Navarre in 1366. He might have been on a pilgrimage to Santiago, or on a diplomatic mission. He was recorded as being a king’s esquire in 1367, so he could have been doing something for him. In the same year his son, Thomas, was born.

In April 1368, Lionel, now a widower, travelled to Italy to marry Violante Visconti, daughter of the Lord of Milan. Chaucer was one of his esquires. In Milan he would have seen Sir John Hawkwood, the renowned English mercenary, who served the Lord of Milan. Chaucer would have been below his notice, however, even though he was well-known for writing many songs, mostly bawdy, about love. These were sung widely in England. This wasn’t the last time Chaucer was to visit Italy, and Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio were his greatest influences.

By the end of 1368, Lionel, still celebrating his marriage, was dead. It was said by some that he was killed on the orders of his father-in-law. Chaucer was able to move into the household of Lionel’s younger brother, John of Gaunt.

On 12 September 1368 Blanche, John of Gaunt’s wife, died of the plague, inspiring Chaucer’s first major work: The Book of the Duchess.

By 1369 the war with France was picking up again and Chaucer went there in John of Gaunt’s retinue. Chaucer was in France again the following year, although it’s not clear what he was doing.

By 1371 he was an esquire of the king’s chamber, Edward III’s inner household, and he was sent back to Italy in December 1372. He visited Genoa as part of a diplomatic and trading mission sent to negotiate with the Doge of Venice and to hire Genoese mercenaries for the war in France. There was another, secret, mission for the king in Florence. Chaucer carried this mission out alone and returned to England in May 1373.

On 23 April 1374 Edward III granted him a pitcher of wine a day for life. 23rd April is St. George’s Day and it was Edward III who adopted him as his own saint, leading to him becoming the patron saint of England. A few days later Chaucer was given a rent-free dwelling above the gate at Aldgate. Of the two, I suspect he appreciated the latter more. In June of that year he was appointed Comptroller of the Customs of Hides, Skins and Wools in the port of London. This would have been a lucrative position, since wool was England’s main export. I don’t know what Chaucer did to warrant all this preferment, but I like to think that it was a reward for concluding the king’s business successfully in Florence the year before.

Despite his new post, he was frequently in France in 1376 and 1377. On one of these visits he was a member of a diplomatic mission to negotiate a marriage between Richard of Bordeaux, Edward III’s grandson and heir, and Marie, daughter of the King of France.

In May 1378 he was negotiating for a different bride for Richard, now King of England, in Milan.  This time it was Caterina Visconti, the daughter of the Lord of Milan (not the same lord of Milan who had been Lionel’s father-in-law). Chaucer had another secret mission. He arrived in Milan in late June and stayed at least 6 weeks. He met John Hawkwood, this time as a valued representative of the king. It’s possible he read Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato on which Troilus and Criseyde is based while he was in Milan.

Another son, Lewis, was born in 1380. It was around this time that Chaucer wrote Parliament of Fowls, about birds choosing their mates. He also wrote Palamon and Aricite, which is the tale later told by the knight in The Canterbury Tales. Between 1381 and 1386 he wrote Troilus and Criseyde.

In the 1380s he had to get permission to appoint deputies to carry out his customs duties, presumably because he was so busy with his writing. By now he was also a member of Richard II’s household.

Philippa Chaucer died in 1387. About the same time Chaucer started work on The Canterbury Tales.

Chaucer’s advancement in the civil service continued and on 12 July 1389 he was appointed Clerk of the King’s Works. This wasn’t an altogether happy experience, however. In September 1390 highwaymen stole his horse and the king’s money that he was carrying. He was robbed twice more before the end of the year. The following June he resigned from his position.

In 1391 he wrote A Treatise on the Astrolabe for his son, Lewis.

Information is sparse after this point.  On 24 Dec 1399, three months after the coronation of John of Gaunt’s son, Henry IV, Chaucer took a 53-year lease on a house in the precincts of Westminster Abbey. There’s no contemporary record of his death, but the date usually given for it is 25th October 1400.

I think you’ll agree that Chaucer’s life was pretty exciting. If we knew about his secret missions, it might be even more exciting.

 

Sources:

The Canterbury Tales edited by Jill Mann

Chronicles by Froissart

Hawkwood: Diabolical Englishman by Frances Stonor Saunders

Richard II by Nigel Saul

 

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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Christmas Pottage

Christmas Pottage

Christmas was a feast, so I doubt that pottage would necessarily have been part of the main meal, but this is a series about pottage and that’s what I made. Many people celebrated the feast in the hall of the lord of the manor and that probably means that they ate the lord’s meat.

I’m a vegetarian, so meat isn’t an option for me, but I wanted this month’s pottage to be a bit of a celebration. Since whatever the people sitting in their lord’s hall ate was probably made with meat stock, I allowed myself vegetable stock in my pottage.

Sonya from Losing the Plot sent me some soup mix from Northern Ireland which is rather pottage-like in its makeup. It contains pearl barley, red split lentils, green split peas and yellow split peas. Medieval Gardens tells me that lentils weren’t commonly available in the Middle Ages and I thought that would make them something suitable for the Christmas feast.

I soaked the dry ingredients overnight, rinsed them and boiled them for 10 minutes. After that they simmered for 40 minutes. I rinsed them again and added them to some vegetable stock together with some leeks from the garden and some carrots. That cooked for another ten minutes.  It was very tasty and had the advantage over some previous pottages of looking nice in the bowl.

For poorer people who didn’t get to eat at their lord’s table, ham probably featured in their more humble Christmas feast. It’s a tradition that continued at least into my childhood. One of the smells I associate with Christmas is a ham boiling in the pressure cooker on Christmas Eve.

 

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:

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Fasting With Fish

Cupboard decoration

Last week I mentioned fasting during Advent and said that it wasn’t necessarily a deprivation.  I’m reading The Road to Crécy at the moment and this week I came across the list of what Edward III ate on the day he landed in Normandy in July 1346.

On Wednesday 12th July the king and his household sat down to 93 cod, 16 salted salmon, 24 stockfish (dried cod), 11 conger eels and 4 lampreys (from the Kitchen Accounts quoted in The Road to Crécy). They also ate some geese and hens, since poultry was permitted on Wednesdays. The fish were served with sauces of garlic and mustard.

Two days later, on Friday 14th July, the king’s household ate 38 cod, 16 stockfish, 8 salted salmon, 100 quarters (a weight) of pimpernels (small eels),  200 lampreys and 7 ‘shaft’ eels. I’m afraid I don’t know exactly what type of eel these are. Again, they were served with sauces and peas. On Fridays the rules for fasting were stricter and no meat at all was allowed.

In addidtion to the ones listed above, the types of fish that were available from the sea were plaice, bream, sole, haddock, turbot, halibut, sea bass, mullet, sturgeon and mackerel. Crabs and lobster were also considered fish, as were whelks, oysters, mussels and shrimps. Slightly more surprisingly so were seals, whales and porpoises. River and lake fish included trout, pike, grayling, bream and tench.

Given that England has a lot of coastline and many rivers, to say nothing of fishponds at monasteries and some large manors, you would think that there would be plenty of variety for people, even if they did have to fast for about half the days in the year. This was not the case. The definition of a fish – something created at sea or in water – could include many different creatures. Barnacle geese and puffins counted as fish, as did beavers, because they had tails like fish.

Although salting fish was a way of making it available to people who lived more than a day’s journey from the coast, fish could also be transported live in barrels of water for those who had the money to pay for it.

Sources:

The Road to Crécy by Marilyn Livingstone and Morgen Witzel

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

Food and Cooking in Medieval Britain by Maggie Black

 

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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