Jul 172018
 

Today is the feast day of Saint Kenelm (or Cynehelm), an Anglo-Saxon saint, venerated throughout medieval England. William of Malmesbury, writing in the 12th century, says that “there was no place in England to which more pilgrims travelled than to Winchcombe on Kenelm’s feast day.” In legend, St Kenelm was a member of the royal family of Mercia, a boy king and martyr, murdered by an ambitious relative despite receiving a prophetic dream warning him of the danger. His body, after being concealed, was discovered by miraculous intervention, and transported by the monks of Winchcombe to a major shrine. It remained there for several hundred years, and rivalled Canterbury as a site of pilgrimage in some quarters.

The two locales most closely linked with the legend of St Kenelm are the Clent Hills, south of Birmingham, site of his murder, and Winchcombe, near Cheltenham. The small church of St Kenelm, dating from the 12th century in a village called Kenelstowe, now stands with a handful of houses within the larger village of Romsley in the Clent Hills. For many years, villagers celebrated St Kenelm’s Day with a village fair and the custom (described by antiquarians as “ancient”) of “crabbing the parson” – bombarding him with a volley of crab apples.

The earliest account of St Kenelm’s legend is in a manuscript from the 12th century at Winchcombe Abbey, which claims to be derived from an account given by a Worcester monk named Wilfin. Other accounts in chronicles are evidently derived from the same source. The story told by that manuscript is as follows:

In 819, Coenwulf of Mercia died leaving two daughters, Quendryda and Burgenhilda, and a son, a child of seven years old, named Kenelm who was chosen to succeed him. Quendryda envied her little brother and thought that, if he were killed, she might reign as Queen. She therefore conspired with her lover, Askobert, her brother’s tutor and guardian, and gave him money, saying, ‘Slay my brother for me, that I may reign’. In the Forests of Worcestershire, on a hunting trip, the opportunity arose.

The night before the hunting trip, Kenelm had a dream in which he climbed a large tree decorated with flowers and lanterns. From on high, he saw all four quarters of his kingdom. Three bowed down before him, but the fourth began to chop away at the tree until it fell. Then Kenelm transformed into a white bird and flew away to safety. On waking, the young king related his dream to his nanny, a wise old woman skilled in interpreting dreams. She wept, for she knew that the boy was destined to die.

In the middle of the hunt’s first day, young Kenelm, tired and hot, decided to lie down beneath a tree to rest. Askobert began to dig a grave, in preparation for the murder, but the boy suddenly awoke and admonished him, ‘You think to kill me here in vain, for I shall be slain in another spot. In token, thereof, see this rod blossom’. As he thrust his stick into the ground, it instantly took root and began to flower. It grew, in years after, to be a great ash tree, which was known as St Kenelm’s Ash. Unperturbed by this turn of events, Askobert took the little king up to the Clent Hills, and as the child began to sing the Te Deum, the assassin smote his head clean off and buried him where he fell.

Kenelm’s soul rose in the form of a dove carrying a scroll, and flew away to Rome where it dropped the scroll at the feet of the Pope. The message on the scroll read: ‘Low in a mead of kine under a thorn, of head bereft, lieth poor Kenelm king-born’.

Accordingly, the Pope wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who commissioned a party from the Mercian capital, Winchcombe, to seek the body. As they walked, they saw a pillar of light shining over a thicket in Worcestershire and beneath it the body of Kenelm. As it was taken up, a rushing fountain burst out of the ground, and flowed away into a stream, which brought health to anyone who drank from it. The body was then solemnly carried towards Winchcombe, but at the ford called Pyriford over the River Avon, the burial party was met by an armed band from Worcester Abbey who also claimed title to the remains. The dispute was settled as follows: whichever party woke first on the following morning could take the prize. This proved to be the monks from Winchcombe. Despite their agreement, however, they were closely pursued by the Worcester party. Exhausted from their rapid march, they stopped just within sight of Winchcombe Abbey. As they struck their staffs into the ground, a spring burst forth, and this refreshed them so that they were able to press on to the Royal Mercian Abbey at Winchcombe, where the bells sounded and rang without the hand of man.

Then Quendryda asked what all this ringing meant and was told how her brother’s body was brought in procession into the abbey. ‘If that be true,’ said she, ‘may both my eyes fall upon this book’, and then both her eyes fell out of her head upon the Psalter she was reading. Soon after, both she and her lover died wretchedly, and their bodies were cast out into a ditch. The remains of Saint Kenelm were buried with all honor.

17th July is marked as the date of his translation to Winchcombe.

The legend of Saint Kenelm is included in a medieval collection of saints’ lives in Middle English known as the South English Legendary, compiled during the 13th and 14th centuries. It tells a similar story to the one in the Winchcombe Abbey MS, with the following addition:

After the murder and secret burial of Saint Kenelm in the Clent Hills, a cow came and miraculously sat at Kenelm’s grave, eating nothing all day and returning each night with her udders full. Quendryda had forbidden her murdered brother’s name ever to be spoken, and as the memory of him faded, God caused this cow to sit there so that his memory would not disappear entirely. Everybody in the district grew to learn of this cow’s strange behaviour, the animal was closely observed, seen to sit by a thorn tree and eat nothing all day but to be miraculously full of milk in the evening and again in the morning, and this went on for many years. The valley came to be known as Cowbach. Then one day, a white dove flew down into the Pope’s chapel in Rome carrying a message that Saint Kenelm’s body lay in a place called Cowbach, in the Clent Hills. Word was dispatched to Archbishop Wilfred of Canterbury, and a party was sent into Worcestershire, where the local population were able to guess immediately where the body lay, because of the cow. When his body was disinterred, a spring miraculously appeared where Saint Kenelm had lain.

The rest follows the Winchcombe version.

Like many medieval hagiographies, St Kenelm’s legend appears to bear little relation to any known facts. It can be ascertained from the wider historical record that, on the death of Offa of Mercia, his son Ecgfrith of Mercia was crowned but his reign lasted only 20 weeks and he was presumably killed in battle. He was succeeded by a distant cousin, Coenwulf of Mercia, whose son was Kenelm (Cynehelm), and this would appear to be the reputed saint. It is likely that Coenwulf ‘hallowed’ Kenelm to the throne, as attested by a letter dated 798, allegedly from Pope Leo III to “king Kenelm.” The letter names Kenelm and gives his age as 12. In 799, Kenelm witnessed a deed of gift of land to Christ Church, Canterbury, and from 803 onwards his name appears on a variety of charters. The year 811 sees no more mention of Kenelm, so this was likely his death year. This all points to Kenelm being 25 years old when he died, not a mere child of 7 years old. Historical records also indicate that Kenelm’s sister, Cwenthryth (Quendryda), had entered the cloister at the time of her father’s death and was the abbess of Minster-in-Thanet.

In literature, St Kenelm is alluded to in Chaucer’s The Nun’s Priest’s Tale and his tale is told in one of William Shenstone’s elegies. Francis Brett Young wrote a long poem called The Ballad of St Kenelm, AD 821 and Geoffrey Hill makes direct mention of St Kenelm and Romsley, Worcestershire, in his book-length poem, The Triumph of Love.

A long-distance walk called St Kenelm’s Trail links Clent and Winchcombe across the English countryside of Gloucestershire and Worcestershire. John Henry Newman made frequent pilgrimages along this walk to the shrine of St Kenelm’s martyrdom. The walk up the Clent Hills is locally famous, and I clambered around them about 12 years ago on a morris dancing tour of the region. The views from the peaks are splendid.

When you think of Worcestershire you probably think of Worcestershire sauce. Lee and Perrins is the classic, and I always have a bottle on hand for my cooking. The recipe is a deeply held secret, of course, but it is possible to make something similar at home if you wish. Here is one possible ingredient list:

Homemade Worcestershire Sauce

½ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp English mustard powder
¼ tsp onion powder
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put the ingredients in a bottle and shake well. You can leave it in a cool place for several days to let the flavors marry. You can also experiment with quantities and other ingredients. Some powdered cloves and/or allspice would go well.

My favorite recipe from Gloucestershire is squab pie, which I gave here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/concertina-man/  Gloucestershire squab pie is a version of shepherd’s pie made with leftover lamb: no squab. Second to squab pie are Gloucester pancakes, which are a kind of fried suet cake. I think they would be suitable for an Anglo-Saxon boy-king, because they are made from good, old-fashioned English ingredients. Otherwise, Anglo-Saxon recipes are hard to come by. There is nothing in this recipe that a Mercian could not have done.

Gloucester Pancakes

Ingredients

6oz flour
3oz shredded suet
1 egg, beaten
salt
1 tsp baking powder
milk
lard
syrup or honey

Instructions

Sift together the flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt, then rub in the suet.  Add the egg and enough milk to make a stiff suet dough.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface so that it is about ½” thick and cut out rounds using a plain, round 2 inch cutter, or a cup.

Melt a few tablespoons of lard in a skillet over medium heat and fry the pancakes until they are golden brown on both sides.

Drain the pancakes on wire racks and serve them hot with syrup or honey.

Yield: 12 (approx.)

Jun 162018
 

Today is a good day to celebrate Chichester in Sussex, because it is the saint’s day of Richard of Chichester (patron saint of Sussex), and because of this fact, today has been designated as Sussex Day: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/sussex-day/ I spent my early childhood in Eastbourne on the south coast of Sussex, and, even though I do not in any sense think of Eastbourne as where I “come from” (i.e. my “home”), it still resonates with me. It was my mother’s and her parents’ home, and I still have old school friends living there whom I visit once in a while.   Richard’s original feast day was 3rd April (his date of death), but, because it often got mixed up with Easter was moved to today, the date of the translation of his relics to a shrine in Chichester cathedral, that for many years was an important pilgrimage destination. We can turn the tables, and switch Sussex day back into a celebration of Richard and of Chichester. Before I get too detailed, let’s begin with the name – Chichester. If you are from the region you will pronounce it, not how it looks, but something like “Chittistah.” That pronunciation will mark you as a native of Sussex. Even if you only “come from” Sussex in a vague way – as I do – you’ll use the local pronunciation.

Richard was born in Burford, near the town of Wyche (modern Droitwich, Worcestershire) and was an orphan member of a landed family. He attended the university of Oxford, and taught there before going to Paris and then Bologna, where he distinguished himself in canon law. On returning to England in 1235, Richard was elected Oxford’s chancellor.

Richard’s former tutor, Edmund of Abingdon, had become archbishop of Canterbury, and Richard shared Edmund’s ideals of clerical reform and supported papal rights even against the king (a sore spot in the history of English monarchs down to Henry VIII).  In 1237, Archbishop Edmund appointed Richard chancellor of the diocese of Canterbury. Richard joined the archbishop during his exile at Pontigny, and was with him when the archbishop died circa 1240. Richard then decided to become a priest and studied theology for two years with the Dominicans at Orléans Upon returning to England, Richard became the parish priest at Charing and at Deal, but soon was reappointed chancellor of Canterbury by the new archbishop Boniface of Savoy.

In 1244 Richard was elected bishop of Chichester. Henry III and a segment of the chapter refused to accept him, the king favoring the candidature of Robert Passelewe (d. 1252). Archbishop Boniface refused to confirm Passelew, so both sides appealed to the pope. The king confiscated the see’s properties and revenues, but Innocent IV confirmed Richard’s election and consecrated him bishop at Lyons in March 1245. Richard then returned to Chichester, but the king refused to restore the see’s properties for two years, and then did so only after being threatened with excommunication. Meanwhile, Henry III forbade anyone to house or feed Richard. At first, Richard lived at Tarring in the house of his friend Simon, the parish priest of Tarring, visited his entire diocese on foot, and cultivated figs in his spare time.

Richard’s private life displayed rigid frugality and temperance. Richard was an ascetic who wore a hair-shirt and refused to eat off silver. He kept his diet simple and rigorously excluded animal flesh; having been a vegetarian since his days at Oxford. Richard was merciless to usurers, corrupt clergy, and priests who mumbled the Mass. He was also a stickler for clerical privilege. Richard’s episcopate was marked by the favor which he showed to the Dominicans, a house of this order at Orléans having sheltered him during his stay in France, and by his earnestness in preaching a crusade. After dedicating St Edmund’s Chapel at Dover, he died aged 56 at the Maison Dieu in Dover at midnight on 3rd April 1253, where the Pope had ordered him to preach a crusade. His internal organs were removed and placed in that chapel’s altar. Richard’s body was then carried to Chichester and buried, according to his wishes, in the chapel on the north side of the nave, dedicated to his patron St. Edmund. His remains were translated to a new shrine on this date in 1276.

The area around Chichester is believed to have played significant part during the Roman Invasion of 43 C.E., as confirmed by evidence of military storage structures in the area of the nearby Fishbourne Roman Palace. The city center stands on the foundations of the Romano-British city of Noviomagus Reginorum, capital of the Civitas Reginorum. The Roman road of Stane Street, connecting the city with London, started at the east gate, while the Chichester to Silchester road started from the north gate. The plan of the city is inherited from the Romans: the North, South, East and West shopping streets radiate from the central market cross dating from medieval times. The original Roman city wall was over 6½ feet thick with a steep ditch (which was later used to divert the River Lavant). It survived for over one and a half thousand years but was then replaced by a thinner Georgian wall. The city was also home to some Roman baths, found down Tower Street when preparation for a new car park was under way. A museum, The Novium, preserving the baths was opened on 8 July 2012. An amphitheater was built outside the city walls, close to the East Gate, in around 80 C.E. The area is now a park, but the site of the amphitheater is discernible as a gentle bank approximately oval in shape.

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Chichester was captured towards the close of the 5th century, by Ælle, king of the south Saxons, who led an invading army against the Britons. Supposedly he renamed the town after his son, Cissa (that is, Cissa’s ceaster (fort) ). This is not at all certain, however. It was the chief city of the kingdom of Sussex. The cathedral for the South Saxons was originally founded in 681 at Selsey, but the seat of the bishopric was moved to Chichester in Norman times in 1075. Chichester was one of the burhs (fortified towns) established by Alfred the Great, probably in 878-9, making use of the remaining Roman walls. According to the Burghal Hidage, a list written in the early 10th century, it was one of the biggest of Alfred’s burhs, supported by 1500 hides, units of land required to supply one soldier each for the garrison in time of emergency. The system was supported by a communication network based on hilltop beacons to provide early warning. It has been suggested that one such link ran from Chichester to London.

When the Domesday Book was compiled, Cicestre (Chichester) consisted of 300 dwellings which held a population of 1,500 people. There was a mill named Kings Mill that would have been rented to local slaves and villeins. After the Battle of Hastings the township of Chichester was handed to Roger de Mongomerie, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, for courageous efforts in the battle, but it was forfeited in 1104 by the 3rd Earl. Shortly after 1066 Chichester Castle was built by Roger de Mongomerie to consolidate Norman power. In around 1143, Richard’s time, the title Earl of Arundel (also known as the Earl of Sussex until that title fell out of use) was created and became the dominant local landowner.

  

If you want to honor Richard of Chichester on this day you could do something with fresh figs, since he is known to have cultivated fig trees. But if you know anything at all about Chichester, you’ll know it is the home of Shippam’s pastes. If you have a drop of English blood in you – and are of a certain age – you will remember eating Shippam’s paste on toast at tea time. The company was founded in Chichester in 1750 by Shipston Shippam, and remained an independent family firm until the 1970s. Although now part of Prince’s, Shippam’s Pastes are still produced in Chichester and the former factory’s distinctive façade and famous clock and wishbone can still be seen in East Street.

 

 

 

May 272018
 

Today is the feast of St Bede, usually simply called Bede, sometimes Venerable Bede (or Venomous Bede if you know Sellar and Yeatman). I don’t know why today is his feast day in some communions (Orthodox and Episcopalian). He died May 26th and some communions celebrate him today, some on May 25th, but none on May 26th. Bede was an English Benedictine monk at the monastery of St. Peter and its companion monastery of St. Paul in the kingdom of Northumbria of the Angles (now known as Monkwearmouth–Jarrow Abbey in Tyne and Wear). Bede was born on lands likely belonging to the Monkwearmouth monastery, and was sent there at the age of 7 and later joined Abbot Ceolfrith at the Jarrow monastery, both of whom survived a plague that struck in 686, an outbreak that killed a majority of the population there. While he spent most of his life in the monastery, Bede traveled to several abbeys and monasteries across the British Isles, even visiting the archbishop of York and King Ceolwulf of Northumbria.

Bede is well known as an author, teacher (a student of one of his pupils was Alcuin), and scholar, and his most famous work, Ecclesiastical History of the English People gained him the title “The Father of English History”. His ecumenical writings were extensive and included a number of Biblical commentaries and other theological works of exegetical erudition. Another important area of study for Bede was the academic discipline of computus, the science of calculating movable feast dates, especially Easter, an effort that was mired in controversy. He also helped establish the practice of dating years forward (and backwards) from the birth of Jesus (AD and BC), a practice which eventually became commonplace in medieval Europe. Bede was one of the greatest teachers and writers of the Early Middle Ages and is considered by many historians to be the single most important scholar of antiquity for the period between the death of Pope Gregory I in 604 and the coronation of Charlemagne in 800. In 1899, Pope Leo XIII declared him a Doctor of the Church. He is the only native of Great Britain to achieve this designation. Anselm of Canterbury, is also a Doctor of the Church, but was originally from Italy. I’ll give you a little biography, and then I want to assess Bede as an historian.

Almost everything that is known of Bede’s life is contained in the last chapter of his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. It was completed in about 731, and Bede implies that he was then in his fifty-ninth year, which would give a birth date of 672 or 673. A minor source of additional information is the letter by his disciple Cuthbert (not to be confused with the saint, Cuthbert, who is mentioned in Bede’s work) which relates Bede’s death. Bede, in the Historia, gives his birthplace as “on the lands of this monastery”. He is referring to the twinned monasteries of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow,[10] in modern-day Wearside and Tyneside respectively; there is also a tradition that he was born at Monkton, two miles from the monastery at Jarrow. Bede says nothing of his origins, but his connections with people of noble ancestry suggest that his own family was well-to-do. Bede’s first abbot was Benedict Biscop, and the names “Biscop” and “Beda” both appear in a king list of the kings of Lindsey from around 800, further suggesting that Bede came from a noble family.

Bede’s name reflects West Saxon Bīeda (Northumbrian Bǣda, Anglian Bēda). It is an Anglo-Saxon short name formed on the root of bēodan “to bid, command”. The name also occurs in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (late 9th century) as Bieda, one of the sons of the Saxon founder of Portsmouth. The Liber Vitae of Durham Cathedral names two priests with this name, one of whom is presumably Bede himself. Some manuscripts of the Life of Cuthbert, one of Bede’s works, mention that Cuthbert’s own priest was named Bede; it is possible that this priest is the other name listed in the Liber Vitae.

At the age of 7, Bede was sent, as a puer oblatus, to the monastery of Monkwearmouth by his family to be educated by Benedict Biscop and later by Ceolfrith. Bede does not say whether it was already intended at that point that he would be a monk. It was fairly common in Ireland at this time for young boys, particularly those of noble birth, to be fostered out as an oblate; the practice was also likely to have been common among the Germanic peoples in England. Monkwearmouth’s sister monastery at Jarrow was founded by Ceolfrith in 682, and Bede probably transferred to Jarrow with Ceolfrith that year. The dedication stone for the church has survived to the present day; it is dated 23rd April 685, and as Bede would have been required to assist with menial tasks in his day-to-day life it is possible that he helped in building the original church. In 686, plague broke out at Jarrow. The Life of Ceolfrith, written in about 710, records that only two surviving monks were capable of singing the full offices; one was Ceolfrith and the other a young boy, who according to the anonymous writer had been taught by Ceolfrith. The two managed to do the entire service of the liturgy until others could be trained. The young boy was almost certainly Bede, who would have been about 14.

When Bede was about 17 years old, Adomnán, the abbot of Iona Abbey, visited Monkwearmouth and Jarrow. Bede would probably have met the abbot during this visit, and it may be that Adomnan sparked Bede’s interest in the Easter dating controversy. In about 692, in Bede’s 19th year, he was ordained a deacon by his diocesan bishop, John, who was bishop of Hexham. The canonical age for the ordination of a deacon was 25; Bede’s early ordination may mean that his abilities were considered exceptional, but it is also possible that the minimum age requirement was often disregarded. There might have been minor orders ranking below a deacon; but there is no record of whether Bede held any of these offices. In Bede’s 30th year (about 702), he became a priest, with the ordination again performed by Bishop John.

In about 701 Bede wrote his first works, the De Arte Metrica and De Schematibus et Tropis. Both were intended for use in the classroom. He continued to write for the rest of his life, eventually completing over 60 books, most of which have survived. Not all his output can be easily dated, and Bede may have worked on some texts over a period of many years. His last-surviving work is a letter to Ecgbert of York, a former student, written in 734. A 6th century Greek and Latin manuscript of Acts of the Apostles that is believed to have been used by Bede survives and is now in the Bodleian Library at University of Oxford. ; it is known as the Codex Laudianus. Bede may also have worked on one of the Latin Bibles that were copied at Jarrow, one of which is now held by the Laurentian Library in Florence. Bede was a teacher as well as a writer. He enjoyed music, and was said to be accomplished as a singer and as a reciter of poetry in the vernacular. It is possible that he suffered a speech impediment, but this depends on a phrase in the introduction to his verse life of Saint Cuthbert. Translations of this phrase differ, and it is uncertain whether Bede intended to say that he was cured of a speech problem, or merely that he was inspired by the saint’s works.

In 708, some monks at Hexham accused Bede of having committed heresy in his work De Temporibus. The standard theological view of world history at the time was known as the Six Ages of the World. In his book, Bede calculated the age of the world for himself, rather than accepting the authority of Isidore of Seville, and came to the conclusion that Christ had been born 3,952 years after the creation of the world, rather than the figure of over 5,000 years that was commonly accepted by theologians. The accusation occurred in front of the bishop of Hexham, Wilfrid, who was present at a feast when some drunken monks made the accusation. Wilfrid did not respond to the accusation, but a monk present relayed the episode to Bede, who replied within a few days to the monk, writing a letter setting forth his defense and asking that the letter also be read to Wilfrid.

In 733, Bede traveled to York to visit Ecgbert, who was then bishop of York. The See of York was elevated to an archbishopric in 735, and it is likely that Bede and Ecgbert discussed the proposal for the elevation during his visit. Bede hoped to visit Ecgbert again in 734, but was too ill to make the journey. Bede also traveled to the monastery of Lindisfarne, and at some point visited the otherwise-unknown monastery of a monk named Wicthed, a visit that is mentioned in a letter to that monk. Because of his widespread correspondence with others throughout the British Isles, and due to the fact that many of the letters imply that Bede had met his correspondents, it is likely that Bede traveled to some other places, although nothing further about timing or locations can be guessed. It seems certain that he did not visit Rome, however, as he would have mentioned it in the autobiographical chapter of his Historia Ecclesiastica. Except for a few visits to other monasteries, his life was spent in a round of prayer, observance of the monastic discipline and study of the Scriptures. Bede died on the Feast of the Ascension, Thursday, 26th May 735, on the floor of his cell, singing “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit” and was buried at Jarrow.

One further oddity in Bede’s writings is that in one of his works, the Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles, he writes in a manner that gives the impression he was married. The section in question is the only one in that work that is written in first-person. Bede says: “Prayers are hindered by the conjugal duty because as often as I perform what is due to my wife I am not able to pray.” Another passage, in the Commentary on Luke, also mentions a wife in the first person: “Formerly I possessed a wife in the lustful passion of desire and now I possess her in honourable sanctification and true love of Christ.” The historian Benedicta Ward argues that these passages are Bede employing a rhetorical device.

Although Bede is mainly studied as a historian now, in his time his works on grammar, chronology, and Biblical studies were as important as his historical and hagiographical works. The non-historical works contributed greatly to the Carolingian renaissance.  Bede’s best-known work, the Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, was completed in about 731. Bede was aided in writing this book by Albinus, abbot of St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury. The first of the five books begins with some geographical background, and then sketches the history of England, beginning with Caesar’s invasion in 55 BCE. A brief account of Christianity in Roman Britain, including the martyrdom of St Alban, is followed by the story of Augustine’s mission to England in 597, which brought Christianity to the Anglo-Saxons. The second book begins with the death of Gregory the Great in 604, and follows the further progress of Christianity in Kent and the first attempts to evangelize Northumbria. These ended in disaster when Penda, the pagan king of Mercia, killed the newly Christian Edwin of Northumbria at the Battle of Hatfield Chase in about 632. The setback was temporary, and the third book recounts the growth of Christianity in Northumbria under kings Oswald of Northumbria and Oswy. The climax of the third book is the account of the Council of Whitby, traditionally seen as a major turning point in English history. The fourth book begins with the consecration of Theodore as Archbishop of Canterbury, and recounts Wilfrid’s efforts to bring Christianity to the kingdom of Sussex. The fifth book brings the story up to Bede’s day, and includes an account of missionary work in Frisia, and of the conflict with the British church over the correct dating of Easter. Bede wrote a preface for the work, in which he dedicates it to Ceolwulf, king of Northumbria. The preface mentions that Ceolwulf received an earlier draft of the book; presumably Ceolwulf knew enough Latin to understand it, and he may even have been able to read it. The preface makes it clear that Ceolwulf had requested the earlier copy, and Bede had asked for Ceolwulf’s approval; this correspondence with the king indicates that Bede’s monastery had excellent connections among the Northumbrian nobility.

Bede quoted his sources at length in his narrative, as Eusebius had done before him. Bede also appears to have taken quotes directly from his correspondents at times. For example, he almost always uses the terms “Australes” and “Occidentales” for the South and West Saxons respectively, but in a passage in the first book he uses “Meridiani” and “Occidui” instead, as perhaps his informant had done. At the end of the work, Bede added a brief autobiographical note; this was an idea taken from Gregory of Tours’ earlier History of the Franks. Bede’s work as a hagiographer, and his detailed attention to dating, were both useful preparations for the task of writing the Historia Ecclesiastica. His interest in computus, the science of calculating the date of Easter, was also useful in the account he gives of the controversy between the British and Anglo-Saxon church over the correct method of obtaining the Easter date.

Bede’s primary intention in writing the Historia Ecclesiastica was to show the growth of the united church throughout England. The native Britons (Celts), whose Christian church survived the departure of the Romans, earn Bede’s ire for refusing to help convert the Saxons. By the end of the Historia the English, and their Church, are dominant over the Britons. This goal, of showing the movement towards unity, explains Bede’s animosity towards the British method of calculating Easter: much of the Historia is devoted to a history of the dispute, including the final resolution at the Synod of Whitby in 664. Bede is also concerned to show the unity of the English, despite the disparate kingdoms that still existed when he was writing.

As I have been at pains to point out many times here, and in my teaching, the study and writing of history is not, not, not, the recording of facts. We can call that “archiving.” History is the process of finding meaning in those facts, and, of course, historians can (and do) differ on this point. Bede’s purpose, above all else, was rather ethnocentric: Anglo-Saxons good; Celts bad. He was also paving the way for a unified Anglo-Saxon kingdom which was finally achieved in the late 9th and early 10th centuries, by showing that the various kingdoms within the territory that is now England, all shared a common cultural heritage, and, thus, belonged united together. This endeavor is why he is sometimes called the father of English history, rather then simply being listed with a number of other chroniclers (whose main purpose was to record facts). He was doing real history in the modern sense. He let his biases creep in a bit too much, but there are plenty of modern historians who do the same.

Medieval cooking of Bede’s time is undocumented except for a number of images and occasional references in texts. The impression that most people are left with is that the rich ate mostly roast meat, and the rest ate bread and porridge with scavenged fruits and vegetables thrown in for good measure. There may be some truth to this image, but it is undoubtedly too narrow. There is a growing understanding that many medieval dishes often had the texture of a pureé, possibly containing small fragments of meat or fish. Nearly half of the recipes in the Beinecke MSS of the period are for dishes similar to stews or pureés. Such dishes could be broadly of three types: somewhat acid, with wine, vinegar, and spices in the sauce, thickened with bread; sweet and sour, with sugar and vinegar; and sweet, using then-expensive sugar. An example of such a sweet pureé dish for meat (it could also be made with fish) from one Beinecke manuscript is the rich, saffron-yellow “Mortruys”, thickened with egg:

Take brawn of capons & porke, sodyn & groundyn; tempyr hit up with milk of almondes drawn with the broth. Set hit on the fyre; put to sigure & safron. When hit boyleth, tak som of thy milk, boylying, fro the fyre & aley hit up with yolkes of eyron that hit be ryght chargeaunt; styre hit wel for quelling. Put therto that othyr, & ster hem togedyr, & serve hem forth as mortruys; and strew on poudr of gynger.

If you are having trouble with the language, here’s my paraphrase in modern English:

Mince chicken and pork that has been boiled. Mix together the meat, the boiling broth and some almond milk. Put the mixture on to heat and add sugar and saffron. When the mix is boiling, take some of the liquid and whisk it with egg yolks. Put this mix back in the pot and stir well to thicken. Serve the dish garnished with powdered ginger.

This is an aristocratic dish involving expensive items including sugar, saffron, and almond milk. In the modern world it is still extravagant, but affordable, and ought to be replicated easily.

Apr 232018
 

Today is English Language Day as designated by the UN. The UN celebrates on different days for each of its 6 official languages, and there are many other “language days” promoted by various countries for languages that are not part of the UN official corpus. Today was chosen because it is St George’s day – patron of England – and is purportedly Shakespeare’s birthday. There is actually no record of Shakespeare’s birth. This date is conjectured to be his birthday because he was baptized on April 26 – http://www.bookofdaystales.com/william-shakespeare/  – and counting back three days to his birthday is a reasonable (but by no means certain) conjecture.  It is known that he died on this date, possibly making him one of the noble few who died on their birthdays.

English is classified by historical linguists as a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England, but the issue is considerably more complex than that because the Old English that was first spoken in what is now England (Angle-land), by Angle and Saxon invaders, is not intelligible to Modern English speakers. It has gone through several significant shifts in vocabulary and syntax that make me want to argue that it is a creole of Old Frisian and Old Norman (maybe with Old Norse thrown in for good measure), rather than a simple descendant of Germanic languages.

English has developed over the course of more than 1,400 years and continues to evolve. The earliest forms of English are actually a set of dialects that we do not have very many written examples of to be fully sure what was spoken in England in the 5th century when invaders from the north German plains moved into southern England. This collection of dialects used to be called Anglo-Saxon, reflecting its complex history, but is now usually called Old English. Middle English began in the late 11th century with the Norman conquest of England: a period in which the language was heavily influenced by Norman French. Early Modern English began in the late 15th century with the introduction of the printing press to London and the printing of the King James Bible, and was the period of the Great Vowel Shift, when pronunciation shifted dramatically (both vowels and consonants), and spelling and pronunciation parted ways.

Because of the worldwide influence of the British Empire, modern English spread around the world starting in the 17th century. English has become the leading language of international discourse and the lingua franca in many regions as well as professional contexts such as science, navigation and law. English is the third most spoken native language in the world, after Standard Chinese and Spanish. It is the most widely learned second language and is either the official language or one of the official languages in almost 60 sovereign states.

Modern English grammar is the result of a gradual change from a typical Indo-European dependent marking pattern (e.g. gender agreement) with a rich inflectional morphology and relatively free word order, to a mostly analytic pattern (i.e. using auxiliary, “helper” words) with little inflection, a fairly fixed SVO (Subject Verb Object) word order and a complex syntax. Modern English relies mostly on auxiliary verbs and word order for the expression of complex tenses, aspect, and mood, as well as for passive constructions, interrogatives and some negation. Despite noticeable variation among the accents and dialects of English used in different countries and regions – in terms of phonetics and phonology, and sometimes also vocabulary, grammar and spelling – English-speakers from around the world are able to communicate with one another fairly easily, increasingly so with the widespread availability of English language programs on public media.

Having an English Language Day does strike me as a bit like having a Straight White Men’s day, as does the attempt recently to create a celebration of St George’s Day in England. If you hold all the power it is not only pointless, but offensive, to celebrate how wonderful you are. The UN is being even handed about things by celebrating each of its official languages on separate days. That’s all right, I guess. English does not need a special day given its immense power in the world today. I have taught English in one form or another – writing, public speaking, etc. – all of my professional life, and have taught English as a foreign language (ESL or EFL) for a number of years. Teaching the language to non-native speakers is incredibly instructive. Having to think about the way you construct a sentence can be eye opening. Recently I was given to wonder why we use the future perfect to express a certainty about the past. For example, I can enter a new class and say, “You will have learned such-and-such last year,” meaning “I am confident that you know such-and-such.” We can use both the present simple (e.g. “I go”) and the present continuous (e.g. “I am going”) for past, present, or future. Try explaining the nuances to a non-native speaker.

Coming to grips with the “rules” that govern the order of adjectives, phrasal verbs, tenses, prepositions, and so forth in English, to be able to teach them, is a severe challenge. I have evolved a system via my teaching that might land up as a text book one day, but it is hardly a priority. The simple fact is that these so-called rules are mutable, and change from culture to culture. The big non-issue for me is British versus American English. Some Brits get really adamant about British English being the more correct of the two, which is utter nonsense. I once had a long, tedious, and fruitless discussion with an English pedant who wanted to argue that the British English “Wednesday to Saturday” made more sense than the American English “Wednesday through Saturday.” What a waste of time. Either way, you can get your point across. If anything, the American English is more logical because you are going through Saturday, not up to it. There is a notable difference between going to a door and going through it. But logic is not really the issue. The “logic” of English prepositions is not logical. You can tease out some generalities, but that’s it.

Old English recipes for everyday food do not exist but we have quite a few recipes for medicines such as this c. 9th century one from Leechbook III contained in the MS commonly called Bald’s Leechbook held in the British Library:

Gif mon biþ on wæterælfadle,
þonne beoþ him þa handnæglas wonne and þa
eagon tearige and wile locian niþer.
Do him þis to læcedome:
eoforþrote, cassuc, fone nioþoweard, eowberge, elehtre, eolone,
merscmealwan crop, fenminte, dile, lilie, attorlaþe, polleie, marubie,
docce, ellen, felterre, wermod, streawbergean leaf, consolde.
Ofgeat mid ealaþ, do hæligwæter to, sing þis gealdor ofer þriwa:

Ic binne awrat betest beadowræda,
swa benne ne burnon, ne burston,
ne fundian, ne feologan, ne hoppettan,
ne wund waxsian,
ne dolh diopian;
ac him self healde halewæge,
ne ace þe þon ma þe eorþan on eare ace.

Sing þis manegum siþum:
Eorþe þe onbere eallum hire mihtum and mægenum.

In modern English (roughly):

If a person has the water elf disease,
then his fingernails will be dark and the
eyes teary and he will look downward.
Prepare him this for a medicine:
carline thistle, cassock, the lower part of an iris, yew berry, lupine, elecampane,
marshmallow tops, fen mint, dill, lily, betony, pennyroyal, horehound,
dock, elder, centaury, wormwood, strawberry leaves, comfrey.
Soak with ale, add holy water to it, and sing this charm three times:

I within wrote the best war-bandages,
so the wounds not boil, nor burst,
nor hasten, nor cleave, nor throb,
nor the wound grow,
nor the gash deepen;
but for him I hold a health-cup,
it will not pain you any more than earth hurts the earth.

Sing this many times:
Earth reduce you with all Her might and power.

Heaven alone knows what water elf disease is. I have seen it claimed to be chicken pox or measles, but why this identification was made defeats me. The symptoms here are darkened fingernails and watery eyes. More interesting is the list of herbs used to make the concoction, which sounds like something Macbeth’s witches would dream up. Probably as useful too. No doubt modern Wiccans bottle it and sell it. Most of the herbs are identifiable and quite useful in cooking, and suggests to me that the common diet in England in the 9th century was richer than we give them credit for. Their breads and porridges may have been pretty plain, and probably the average peasant was not a foodie. But there must have been the odd baker or two who added some flavorings to the daily bread, or something different once in a while to the porridge. Of course, there are plenty of cultures in the world today where a daily porridge of grains is made without extras, even when wild herbs are available. My mother never added anything to our porridge in all the years I was growing up, but that’s because she was a thoroughly unimaginative cook.

English Language Day gives you full license to cook anything in English, although for my money I’d cook something that is decidedly English – if you can find such a thing. Recipes are like languages: their influences come from all over the place. However, the issue is not so much where recipes/languages came from, but, rather, what they have become. English might have once been a creole of German, Danish, and French, but it is now its own thing. Elizabeth David likes to claim that English Christmas pudding is originally French, and so it may be that some assemblage of the basic ingredients may once have been boiled together in France. But the dish as it is made now is English through and through. Japanese tempura is not a version of fish and chips, even though the Japanese got the idea of frying fish in batter from Europeans.

So . . . a thoroughly English dish to celebrate today? I’ve given a ton of recipes already, both regional and general, in my quest to counter all the stupid opinions generated by ignorant travelers. Most recently, a colleague of mine from Myanmar took an extensive trip to England and mixed up his occasional diet of fish and chips with Thai food because he could not find anything more “interesting.” That’s because he did not talk to me before he went, and his English hosts were not all that bright. Asking locals about good food is never a sure-fire way to get it – even in countries where the cuisine is legendary.

I’m going to go with faggots because they were a staple of school lunches when I was a boy, though they were not very good in those days. The name is also a word with different meanings in British and American English. They were cheap meatballs in gravy back then, which is not far off how they started. But they can be good if made well. They were originally a traditional cheap food of country people in western England, particularly west Wiltshire and the west Midlands. They were usually made from pig’s heart, liver and fatty belly meat or bacon minced together, with herbs added for flavoring, and sometimes bread crumbs as a filler and binder, then wrapped in pig’s caul and cooked. In a way, therefore, they were an informal sausage. This recipe is reasonably similar to 19th century ones.

Faggots

Ingredients

4 oz./110 gm fatty pork shoulder, minced
4 oz./110 gm pig’s liver, minced
8 oz./250 gm pig’s heart, minced
4 oz./110 gm bacon scraps
4 oz./110 gm breadcrumbs
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
½ tsp ground mace
1 tsp ground allspice
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 sage leaves, finely chopped
salt and pepper
caul fat (or streaky bacon)

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 375˚F/190˚C.

Place the minced meats, breadcrumbs, onion, herbs, spices in a large mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Using your hands, moistened under running cold water, divide the minced meat mixture into 8 evenly sized portions and roll them into balls.

Wrap each ball in caul (or streaky bacon) making sure the caul overlaps and is secure. Place the faggots on a baking sheet and bake for 45 to 50 minutes. Serve immediately with onion gravy and mashed potatoes (maybe also mushy peas) rather like bangers and mash.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jan 052018
 

Today is variously known as Twelfth Night or the Eve of Epiphany. If you count Christmas Day as the 1st day of Christmas (which you should), today is the 12th day. I’ve covered a lot of this ground before in other posts, notably here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/twelfth-night/  Let me recap a little before addressing, specifically, the custom of Apple Wassailing that is attested on, or around, this date as early as the 16th century in the cider producing parts of the west country of England, and has been revived in a few places in recent years. There are no unbroken traditions dating even to the 19th century still being performed.  All wassailing customs now are revivals, with precious little to do with older customs, and always accompanied with the usual blather about them dating back to “pagan” times, which has no support whatsoever in primary documents.

The practice of giving English farm workers and servants 12 days off over what is now the Christmas season dates back to an edict by Alfred the Great (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/kings-of-england/ ). In 877 Alfred decreed that no servant should work for the 12 days following the winter solstice. This was the slack time on farms anyway, and was not really a Christmas tradition, as such, because Christmas was not really a celebration in Alfred’s time. When Christmas became more popular, the 12 days shifted over to Christmas from the solstice. Until the Agrarian and Industrial Revolutions in England completely disrupted the annual farm cycle, taking a break from agricultural work in the depths of winter was perfectly natural. There’s no need to drive ploughboys and ploughmen out on to frosty land in late December to turn the soil, given that no planting is going to happen until the ground has warmed a little. There’s time enough for ploughing in January. Give the workers a break.

Even the etymology of “wassail” gets us into murky water. The word “wassail” seems to come from the Anglo-Saxon greeting wæs þu hæl, meaning “be thou hale,” or simply “be well” (which, ironically, is also the meaning of “fare well”). In many European languages the same word is used for “hello” and “goodbye.”  We should not put too much stock in etymology anyway; “goodbye” is a contraction of the old, “God be with ye,” but the etymology has no bearing on the current meaning of “goodbye” (or “farewell”).  According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) waes hael is the Middle English (post-Norman) spelling parallel to OE hál wes þú, and was simply a greeting, and not a drinking formula or toast. The OED explicitly rejects the notion that “wassail” or cognates was a drinking formula in the early medieval period in Germanic or Norse lands. However, by the late 12th century, Danish-speaking inhabitants of England had turned “was hail,” and the reply “drink hail,” into a toast, which was apparently widely adopted, although primary sources are sparse. At one time “wassail” was a toast that could be used any time people were drinking, but, at some undefined date, it became associated with Christmas and with Christmas customs.

There are two rather distinct wassailing traditions in England, both at one time associated with Twelfth Night: (1) Taking a wassail bowl of mulled ale or cider from door to door, singing a wassail song, and begging for food and drink. (2) Visiting apple orchards, particularly in cider-producing areas, and performing ceremonies aimed at securing a good crop. Both customs are attested back to the 16th century (but no farther !!!), but each suffered different fates. The first custom blended with Christmas carol singing and is pretty much defunct as a distinct tradition.  The wassail songs are still around, however, and folkies trot them out each year at Christmas:

The apple wassail tradition is a rather different story. It, too, is attested (sparsely) in the 16th century onwards, but had pretty much died out by the late 19th, and was revived in the 20th century without much information to go on concerning traditional practice. In consequence it is surrounded by the usual “ancient pagan origins” claptrap, and all manner of revivalists (especially morris dancers) join in. There was a tradition of morris dancing in the Welsh border counties, which also happen to be cider-producing regions, and these dancers did traditionally perform around Christmas. Just as with the door-to-door wassail customs, these dancers were looking for a hand out in the slack farming season, and hoping for a bit of goodwill from the farm owners who employed them. There is not a single record of morris dancers performing with wassailers prior to the late 20th century revival, where they are now ubiquitous.

Hard-core sentimentalists will tell you that the purpose of the apple orchard wassail traditionally was to awaken the tree spirits and to scare away the evil spirits hanging around to ensure a good harvest in the autumn. It’s a harmless belief, I suppose, and it’s conceivable that some people in some areas held some sort of magical ideas of the sort. But, I doubt that such beliefs were widespread. Modern people are alarmingly apt to project ridiculous superstitious beliefs on people in previous eras, as if they were both simple and stupid (but WE are so much smarter now !!). Save your pathetic narcissism. I guarantee that the vast majority of apple wassailers in history went out to the orchards to drink and have a good time, same as they do now. Nonetheless, you’ll get revival performances such as this one assuring you that the performers are continuing an ancient pagan tradition:

I guess they are having fun. All fine, but you won’t find me at any such events.

There is some evidence that certain customs had a vogue at one point, but it would not be wise to generalize them to all apple wassails in all regions, as amateurs (and even professionals) are wont to do. Apple wassails in the 19th century usually involved a procession from one orchard to the next, sometimes with an accompanying song. The song might also be sung around the apple tree, or a verse recited. For example,

Here’s to thee, old apple tree,
That blooms well, bears well.
Hats full, caps full,
Three bushel bags full,
An’ all under one tree.
Hurrah! Hurrah!

Perhaps someone in the group might be designated “king” or “queen” of the wassail, whose job it was to place a special object in the branches of the apple tree. I don’t know about this, though. When people make this suggestion, I’m tempted to think they are confusing the king and queen of Epiphany feasts with wassailing customs. Nonetheless it does seem traditional to place objects on or neat the trees. Pieces of toast dipped in mulled ale from a wassail cup, was one such tradition. Placing the toast at the foot of the trees is also attested.

I will idly entertain the speculation, for a moment only, that adorning a tree with toast dipped in ale is one way that “drink a toast” became a common expression for making a special pronouncement and then drinking. It’s possible, but there is zero evidence to support such a speculation. OED is crystal clear that there is no known origin of the phrase, stupid pontifications by Sheldon Cooper in Big Bang Theory, notwithstanding. The show needs smarter writers.

At the end of the activities in a particular orchard there is also evidence that sometimes a designated person fired a shotgun into the branches of the apple trees. The assembled crowd might also bang pots and pans to make a racket. Scaring evil spirits away? Having a good time? You decide.

There’s plenty of recipes for “traditional” wassail recipes online if you want to go in that direction. I never liked mulled beer or cider. When I drank alcohol, if I wanted to drink cider I would go to a cider farm in Somerset or Herefordshire and buy a big jug and drink it – as is – nothing added. If you feel the need at this time of year, go ahead. I won’t be joining you. Last year I gave a recipe for a Twelfth Night cake for today, which is pretty much a no brainer. Twelfth Night parties were always dominated by a special cake.  But we’re talking about wassailing here, and if I’m not going to indulge in a wassail recipe or lambswool or whatever, I’m a bit challenged. So, I came up with wassail chicken (which could be wassail beef if you want) – a sort of coq-au-vin knock off, but using cider instead of red wine, and Christmas spices in place of the usual herbs.  I’ve added a little cognac too for good measure – reminiscent of my drinking days when I made mulled cider drinkable by adding a tot (or three) of brandy. Here’s the general outline, without precise quantities. You can replace the chicken breasts with a good cut of steak (Argentine beef would work well, I am sure). It has to be a cut that is tender and does not need a lot of cooking.

© Tío Juan’s Wassail Chicken

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a heavy skillet over high heat, and when it is melted add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. When it starts to smoke add boneless chicken breasts and sauté until golden on both sides. As the breasts are cooking add button mushrooms of your choice. I used wild Asian mushrooms, but you can make do with any small mushrooms as long as they are flavorful. When the breasts are nicely seared, add a splash of cognac to the pan, let if flambé, and when the flames are dying down add 1 tablespoon of all-purpose flour. Stir the ingredients together so that the oil, butter, and flour form a roux with no lumps or dry spots. Add a bottle (10 fl oz) of good quality cider. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Add, to taste, your choice of “Christmas” herbs: allspice, powdered cloves, nutmeg, mace, powdered ginger, and cinnamon. I tend to dump them in, one at a time, starting with allspice (because it is my favorite at Christmas), and then tasting and adding, tasting and adding. I also add a small amount of fresh red chile pepper because I like a little kick. Turn the heat to a simmer and cook the chicken to about 10 to 15 minutes – until it is barely cooked and the sauce has thickened. Serve immediately. You could serve the dish with a baked potato, noodles, rice, or what you will. I accompanied it with braised celery and spinach because I had them on hand.

Oct 012017
 

On this date in 959 CE Edgar the Peaceful became king of all England. Before I get into details about Edgar let me dribble on for a while about the history of Anglo-Saxon England, particularly about how it is conceived in standard school textbooks. As a schoolboy I was taught that the BIG EVENT in English history was the conquest by William the Bastard in 1066.  Anglo-Saxon history was no more than a series of cute vignettes, such as Alfred and the cakes, or Canute commanding the waves. The rest was irrelevant to the REAL history of England which began with William. This is pure propaganda, still fed to us by the line of monarchs that followed down to the current useless bunch. If you look closely at the history of post-conquest England you’ll see that for about 100 years, following William, England was nothing more than a province of Normandy (or various other French power blocs) as far as its kings were concerned. The kings spoke French and spent most of their time away from England. England was nothing more than a source of income and labor. Richard I, vaunted by Victorian Romantics as the GREAT KING, spoke French, and when he wasn’t Crusading was battling enemies in continental Europe. He spent no more than a few months in England during his entire reign. His brother, John, on the other hand, was reviled by the Victorians because of Magna Carta and the like.

Go here for much more of my thoughts on all of this:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/richard-lionheart/

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/king-john/

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/magna-carta/

The fact is that William, while he unified England in certain critical ways, was not by any means the first king of England. Who was the first king of a unified England will be debated endlessly, no doubt. Some say it was Alfred the Great (849 –  899), some, his grandson, Æthelstan (c. 894 – 939). I’ll leave you to read the details elsewhere.  No one disputes that Edgar I was king of all England with provincial kings under him, although, like Alfred and Æthelstan, he is sometimes called king of the English.

Edgar I (Old English: Ēadgār – “happy spear” i.e. powerful) was the son of Edmund I and Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury. Upon the death of Edmund in 946, Edgar’s uncle, Eadred, ruled until 955. Eadred was succeeded by his nephew, Eadwig, son of Edmund (Edgar’s older brother). Eadwig was not a popular king, and his reign was marked by conflict with nobles and the Church, primarily St Dunstan and Archbishop Oda. In 957, the thanes of Mercia and Northumbria changed their allegiance to Edgar. A conclave of nobles declared Edgar as king of the territory north of the Thames. Edgar became king of all England on Eadwig’s death October 959, aged just 16.

One of Edgar’s first actions was to recall Dunstan from exile and have him made Bishop of Worcester (and subsequently Bishop of London and later, Archbishop of Canterbury). Dunstan remained Edgar’s advisor throughout his reign. While Edgar may not have been a particularly passive man, his reign was peaceful. The kingdom of England was well established, and Edgar consolidated the political unity achieved by his predecessors. By the end of his reign, England was sufficiently unified in that it was unlikely to regress back to a state of division among rival kingships, as it had to an extent under the reign of his uncle Eadred. In fact, some historians have argued that it was Edgar who was the truly pivotal figure in uniting all England by standardizing laws throughout the kingdom – far more than either Alfred or Æthelstan. In a letter to his subjects Canute states, ”it is my will that all the nation, ecclesiastical and lay, shall steadfastly observe Edgar’s laws, which all men have chosen and sworn at Oxford”.

The Monastic Reform Movement that introduced the Benedictine Rule to England’s monastic communities peaked during the era of Dunstan, Æthelwold, and Oswald, although the extent and significance of this movement is still debated.

Edgar was crowned at Bath and, along with his wife Ælfthryth, was anointed, setting a precedent for a coronation of a queen in England. Edgar’s coronation did not occur until 973, planned not as the initiation, but as the culmination of his reign, and which took a considerable amount of preliminary diplomacy with lesser kings. The coronation service, devised by Dunstan himself and celebrated with a poem in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, forms the basis of the present-day British coronation ceremony. The coronation was an important symbolic step towards further unification. Other kings of Britain came and gave their allegiance to Edgar shortly afterwards at Chester. Six kings in Britain, including the King of Scots and the King of Strathclyde, pledged their faith that they would be the king’s liege-men on sea and land. Later chroniclers made the kings into eight, all plying the oars of Edgar’s state barge on the River Dee.

Edgar died on 8 July 975 at Winchester, Hampshire. He left behind Edward, who was probably his illegitimate son by Æthelflæd (not to be confused with the Lady of the Mercians), and Æthelred the younger, the child of his wife Ælfthryth. He was succeeded by Edward.

As it happens, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management  was published first on this date in 1861.  I’ve mentioned it numerous times before when I’ve needed Victorian recipes as well as here:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/isabella-beeton/

As it also happens, she had a lot to say about Anglo-Saxons and their cooking. To begin she has a point to make about food and the English language that I have taught numerous times.

NAMES OF ANIMALS SAXON, AND OF THEIR FLESH NORMAN.—The names of all our domestic animals are of Saxon origin; but it is curious to observe that Norman names have been given to the different sorts of flesh which these animals yield. How beautifully this illustrates the relative position of Saxon and Norman after the Conquest. The Saxon hind had the charge of tending and feeding the domestic animals, but only that they might appear on the table of his Norman lord. Thus ‘ox,’ ‘steer,’ ‘cow,’ are Saxon, but ‘beef’ is Norman; ‘calf’ is Saxon, but ‘veal’ Norman; ‘sheep’ is Saxon, but ‘mutton’ Norman; so it is severally with ‘deer’ and ‘venison,’ ‘swine’ and ‘pork,’ ‘fowl’ and ‘pullet.’ ‘Bacon,’ the only flesh which, perhaps, ever came within his reach, is the single exception.

She goes on to say later:

THE HOG IN ENGLAND.—From time immemorial, in England, this animal has been esteemed as of the highest importance. In the Anglo-Saxon period, vast herds of swine were tended by men, who watched over their safety, and who collected them under shelter at night. At that time, the flesh of the animal was the staple article of consumption in every family, and a large portion of the wealth of the rich freemen of the country consisted of these animals. Hence it was common to make bequests of swine, with lands for their support; and to these were attached rights and privileges in connection with their feeding, and the extent of woodland to be occupied by a given number was granted in accordance with established rules. This is proved by an ancient Saxon grant, quoted by Sharon Turner, in his “History of the Anglo-Saxons,” where the right of pasturage is conveyed in a deed by the following words:—”I give food for seventy swine in that woody allotment which the countrymen call Wolferdinlegh.”

This all leads me to think that a dish of boiled bacon is the answer. As Beeton tells us, bacon was the common meat of the Anglo-Saxons, and boiled bacon would have been something festive for many people.  We’re not talking about the common sliced breakfast bacon, but a full rolled joint. It might be a little difficult to find but you could make one yourself.  That’s a recipe for another time.  Here’s Beeton. I usually add some potatoes, carrots, and onions to the water when I am boiling the bacon. I serve it with hot English mustard (along with peas or broad beans to go with the potatoes and carrots).  Potatoes don’t match the Anglo-Saxon period, of course, but everything else does.

BOILED BACON.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—Bacon; water.

Mode.—As bacon is frequently excessively salt, let it be soaked in warm water for an hour or two previous to dressing it; then pare off the rusty parts, and scrape the under-side and rind as clean as possible. Put it into a saucepan of cold water, let it come gradually to a boil, and as fast as the scum rises to the surface of the water, remove it. Let it simmer very gently until it is thoroughly done; then take it up, strip off the skin, and sprinkle over the bacon a few bread raspings, and garnish with tufts of cauliflower or Brussels sprouts. When served alone, young and tender broad beans or green peas are the usual accompaniments.

Time.—1 lb. of bacon, 1/4 hour; 2 lbs., 1-1/2 hour.

Average cost, 10d. to 1s. per lb. for the primest parts.

Sufficient.—2 lbs., when served with poultry or veal, sufficient for 10 persons.

Seasonable at any time.

 

May 262015
 

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On this date in 946 Edmund I of England called the Elder, the Deed-doer, the Just, or the Magnificent, was murdered. He was a son of Edward the Elder and half-brother of Æthelstan. Æthelstan died on 27 October 939, and Edmund succeeded him as king. I have to confess that Anglo-Saxon England has always been a bit of a blind spot for me. It was not taught in school where the Norman Conquest of 1066 and the unification of England under William were pretty much the starting points of English. Over the years I’ve dabbled a bit – even got the hang of Old English once (it’s not hard) – but the period has never grabbed me. It’s of most use when I am tramping around peripheral bits of the English countryside.

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In Edmund’s time, what is now England was a series of major kingdoms plus some minor ones, with a vast swathe of the country ruled by Danish Vikings (Danelaw) whose homeland could not produce enough food to support them. There were, therefore, constant struggles between the English and the Danes – evident in Edmund’s biography. We have very few reliable primary sources for the history of the period, so details are scanty.

Edmund came to the throne as the son of Edward the Elder, grandson of Alfred the Great, great-grandson of Æthelwulf of Wessex, great-great grandson of Egbert of Wessex and great-great-great grandson of Ealhmund of Kent. Shortly after his proclamation as king, he had to face several military threats. King Olaf III Guthfrithson conquered Northumbria and invaded the Midlands; when Olaf died in 942, Edmund reconquered the Midlands. In 943, Edmund became the god-father of King Olaf of York. In 944, Edmund was successful in reconquering Northumbria. In the same year, his ally Olaf of York lost his throne and left for Dublin. Olaf became the king of Dublin as Amlaíb Cuarán and continued to be allied to his god-father. In 945, Edmund conquered Strathclyde but ceded the territory to King Malcolm I of Scotland in exchange for a treaty of mutual military support. Edmund thus established a policy of safe borders and peaceful relationships with Scotland. During his reign, the revival of monasteries in England began.

One of Edmund’s last political actions of which there is some knowledge is his role in the restoration of Louis IV of France to the throne. Louis, son of Charles the Simple and Edmund’s half-sister Eadgifu, had resided at the West-Saxon court for some time until 936, when he returned to be crowned King of France. In the summer of 945, he was captured by the Norsemen of Rouen and subsequently released to Duke Hugh the Great, who held him in custody. The chronicler Richerus claims that Eadgifu wrote letters both to Edmund and to Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor in which she requested support for her son. Edmund responded to her plea by sending angry threats to Hugh, who brushed them aside. Flodoard’s Annales, one of Richerus’ sources, report:

Edmund, king of the English, sent messengers to Duke Hugh about the restoration of King Louis, and the duke accordingly made a public agreement with his nephews and other leading men of his kingdom. […] Hugh, duke of the Franks, allying himself with Hugh the Black, son of Richard, and the other leading men of the kingdom, restored to the kingdom King Louis.

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On 26 May 946, Edmund was murdered by Leofa, an exiled thief, while attending St Augustine’s Day mass in Pucklechurch (South Gloucestershire). John of Worcester and William of Malmesbury add some lively detail by suggesting that Edmund had been feasting (i.e. drinking) with his nobles, when he spotted Leofa in the crowd. He attacked the intruder in person, but in the event, Leofa killed him. Leofa was killed on the spot by those present. Both these chronicles were written 200 years after the event, so they are not really to be trusted even though they are probably based on earlier sources. Best we have. Here’s the original from William:

A certain robber named Leofa, whom he [Edmund] had banished for his crimes, returning after six years’ absence totally unexpected, was sitting, on the feast of St. Augustine, the apostle of the English, and first archbishop of Canterbury, among the royal guests at Puckle-church, for on this day the English were wont to regale in commemoration of their first preacher ; by chance too, he was placed near a nobleman whom the king had condescended to make his guest. This, while the others were eagerly carousing, was perceived by the king alone ; when, hurried with indignation and impelled by fate, he leaped from the table, caught the robber by the hair, and dragged him to the floor ; but he secretly drawing a dagger from its sheath plunged it with all his force into the breast of the king as he lay upon him. Dying of the wound, he gave rise over the whole kingdom to many fictions concerning his decease. The robber was shortly torn limb from limb by the attendants who rushed in, though he wounded some of them ere they could accomplish their purpose.

St. Dunstan, at that time abbat of Glastonbury, had foreseen his ignoble end, being fully persuaded of it from the gesticulations and insolent mockery of a devil dancing before him. Wherefore, hastening to court at full speed, he received intelligence of the transaction on the road. By common consent then it was determined, that his body should be brought to Glastonbury and there magnificently buried in the northern part of the tower. That such had been his intention, through his singular regard for the abbat, was evident from particular circumstances. The village also where he was murdered was made an offering for the dead, that the spot which had witnessed his fall might ever after minister aid to his soul.

Edmund was succeeded as king by his brother Eadred, king from 946 until 955. Edmund’s sons later ruled England as:

Eadwig, King of England from 955 until 957, king of only Wessex and Kent from 957 until his death on 1 October 959.

Edgar the Peaceful, king of only Mercia and Northumbria from 957 until his brother’s death in 959, then king of England from 959 until 975.

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Cooking in Edmund’s time is not well documented but you can get the basic idea from chronicles. Ælfric’s Colloquy, for example, written a little after Edmund’s time, gives an account of trades in England including food production. Here’s a sample (full text here http://www.kentarchaeology.ac/authors/016.pdf ):

Teacher: Salter, how does your craft benefit us?

Salter: Everyone benefits a great deal from my skill. No-one enjoys his breakfast or dinner unless my

skill is present in it.

Teacher: How is that?

Salter: Who enjoys his meals without the flavouring of salt? Who can replenish his saltcellars without the prompt supply which my skill provides? Indeed, all the butter and cheese would go bad unless I looked after it. You would not be able to use your vegetables without my skill.

Teacher: What do you say, baker, how does your skill benefit us, or can we lead our live without it?

Baker: You can live for some time without my craft, but you cannot live well for a long time without it. For without my craft the whole table would appear bare, and without bread all your food would become vomit. I put new heart into man, I see the strength of men and not even small children would wits to shun me.

Teacher: What can we say about you, cook? Do we have need of any of your skills?

Cook: If you drive me away from your community you would eat your vegetables raw (green) and your meat raw; and, moreover, without my skill, you would be unable to have good rich broth.

Teacher: We do not care about your skill, it is of no importance to us, since we can cook what needs to be cooked and eat what needs to be eaten.

Cook: If you did drive me out, as you would like to do, then you would all be cooks and no one would be your Lord. Moreover, without my skill you would not eat.

The Colloquy shows a clear difference between the food of the gentry and the peasantry. The former ate hunted and domesticated meats, whilst the latter ate cereals, vegetables, and fish for the most part. Chief cereals were rye for bread, barley for brewing and cooking, and oats for animal feed and porridge. I gave a recipe for Anglo-Saxon hare and barley stew here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/j-r-r-tolkien/ .

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The two principle modes of cooking were spit roasting for the rich, and cauldron boiling for the poor. For Edmund a feast such as he was attending when he was killed would have been mainly spit roast hunted meats. From Ælfric:

Teacher: Do you have any skill?

Hunter: Yes, I have one skill.

Teacher: What is that?

Hunter: I am a hunter.

Teacher: In whose service?

Hunter: The King’s.

Teacher: How do you perform your skills?

Hunter: I take my nets with me and set them in a suitable place, and set my hounds to pursue the beasts so that they reach the nets unexpectedly and are ensnared. Then, while they are still trapped in the nets, I cut their throats.

Teacher: Do you have any other method of hunting instead of nets?

Hunter: Yes, indeed, I hunt without using nets.

Teacher: How?

Hunter: I chase the wild beasts with very swift hounds.

Teacher: What sort of beasts do you catch mainly?

Hunter: I catch harts, bears, does, goats and some hares.

Teacher: Did you go out hunting today?

Hunter: No, I did not, because I had to spend today on my lord’s estate, but I went out hunting yesterday.

Teacher: What did you catch?

Hunter: I caught two harts and a boar.

Teacher: How did you catch them?

Hunter: I caught the harts in the nets and I cut the boar’s throat.

Teacher: How did you dare to cut the boar’s throat?

Hunter: My dogs drove him towards me, and I stood against him and suddenly slew him.

Teacher: You must have been very brave indeed.

Hunter: A hunter must be very brave, since all kinds of beasts lurk in the woods.

Teacher: What do you get from your hunting?

Hunter: Whatever I capture I give to the King, since I am his huntsman.

Teacher: What does he give you?

Hunter: He feeds me and clothes me, and gives me a horse and armour, so that I can perform my duties as a hunter freely.

So, have at it; spit roast the meat of your choice.

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For the rest of us peasants maybe a hearty stew? Anything and everything went into the cauldron, so the idea of a recipe, as such, is rather too modern. Instead, I suggest you just put together something akin to Scotch Broth, that is, meat stock, barley and vegetables including carrots, onions, and leeks, with sage for flavoring (available wild in Anglo-Saxon England). More or less like the Anglo-Saxon cook I do not use a recipe, but chuck in what I have. Because there’s not much to it you can understand the Colloquy’s disdain for the cook.

Put a meaty bone (preferably lamb) into a large soup pot and add 2 cups or so of pearly barley. Cover with water, bring to a boil and simmer until the barley is well cooked (usually about 2 hours). Add water as needed. Along the way add diced carrots, onions, and leeks, flavoring with salt and sage. At the end, remove the bone and strip the meat, which you return to the pot. I add lashings of freshly ground black pepper but this would have been beyond the means of the Anglo-Saxon peasant. Any root vegetable, such as turnip or parsnip can be added with the carrots. Serve with rye bread.