Apr 062016
 

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On this date in 1199 Richard I of England, often called Lionheart, died of an infected wound. Usually I celebrate the birth of famous people, and reserve the date of death for martyrs because the day on which they died is commonly used as their feast day (the day they went to heaven). In Richard’s case I think his day of death is much more significant than his date of birth because his death sums up so much of his reign. This date also gives me the opportunity to talk about how Richard was perceived in his lifetime versus what history has made of him, which, in turn, allows me to talk about the nature of history in general. History, despite what many schoolchildren (and schoolteachers and textbooks) believe, is not about FACTS primarily; it is about the interpretation of events. I would have no interest in history if it were just about things that happened. I want to know WHY they happened, and HOW they happened. History is a series of questions to which there are many (sometimes conflicting) answers.

Richard I is a great example to me of a king who has been treated very well by history, but, in my opinion does not (entirely) deserve the high reputation that he has.  By contrast his brother, John, has a bad reputation which he does not (entirely) deserve either. Richard was king of England for 10 years yet spent only about 6 months of his reign in England.  The rest of the time he was fighting “foreign” wars in the Middle East and Europe, or in captivity. Getting him released from captivity almost bankrupted England, and required ruinous taxation. Furthermore, Richard did not speak English and appears to have been interested in the country as a source of revenue only. John, by contrast, spoke English as his native tongue, lived for long periods in England, and was in great part responsible for the development of English-ness as a sensibility among the nobility. I’m not trying to say that we should switch judgments and make Richard the bad guy, and John the good guy. I’m saying that the situation is not black and white.

We also need to get away from the idea that kings all the way from William the Conqueror to Richard were, first and foremost, kings of England. They were not. That is a highly ethnocentric point of view.  In their day, general politics was much more international than it is now. Yes, there was a nation called England – created by William the Conqueror – but it did not stand alone. The kings of England were also rulers of vast tracts of what is now France. So when writing history we need to be more global, and talk about Anglo-French rulers and Anglo-French territory, rather than narrowing our history to England and English kings. If we view Richard as an Anglo-French king, then he was not bad (not good either).  If we think of him only as a king of England, he was terrible.

Richard ruled as Duke of Normandy (as Richard IV), Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Gascony, Lord of Cyprus, Count of Poitiers, Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Count of Nantes, and Overlord of Brittany at various times. He was the third of five sons of King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. He was known as Richard Cœur de Lion or Richard the Lionheart because of his reputation as a great military leader and warrior (which he was). He was also known in Occitan as Oc e No (Yes and No), because of his reputation for terseness.

By the age of 16, Richard had taken command of his own army, putting down rebellions in Poitou against his father. Richard was a central Christian commander during the Third Crusade, leading the campaign after the departure of Philip II of France and scoring considerable victories against his Muslim counterpart, Saladin, although he did not retake Jerusalem from Saladin.

Richard spoke langue d’oïl, and lenga d’òc, Romance/French dialects (named thus because “oïl” and “òc” are the words for “yes” in their respective dialects). He was born in England, where he spent his childhood. Before becoming king, however, he lived for most of his adult life in the Duchy of Aquitaine in the southwest of France. Although he regarded England primarily as a source of revenue to support his armies he did have a reputation as a pious hero and valiant soldier by many of his subjects. This reputation is, I believe, rather more evident in Victorian literature (especially in latter-day tales of Robin Hood), than when he was alive.

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Here’s a part of Richard’s history that is often conveniently forgotten. He was officially invested as Duke of Normandy on 20 July 1189 and was crowned king in Westminster Abbey on 3 September 1189. He barred all Jews and women from the investiture, but some Jewish leaders arrived to present gifts for the new king. According to Ralph of Diceto, Richard’s courtiers stripped and flogged the Jews, then flung them out of court. When a rumor spread that Richard had ordered all Jews to be killed, the people of London attacked the Jewish population. Many Jewish homes were burned down, and several Jews were forcibly baptized. Some sought sanctuary in the Tower of London, and others managed to escape. Among those killed was Jacob of Orléans, a respected Jewish scholar. Roger of Howden, in his Gesta Regis Ricardi, claimed that the rioting was started by the jealous and bigoted citizens, and that Richard punished the perpetrators, allowing at least one forcibly converted Jew to return to his native religion. Baldwin of Forde, Archbishop of Canterbury, reacted by remarking, “If the King is not God’s man, he had better be the devil’s.”

We can’t lay all of the anti-Semitic acts at Richard’s door, but he certainly promoted an atmosphere of anti-Semitism, which he later tried to repudiate, not because of a change of heart, but because anti-Semitic passions threatened to destabilize England on the eve of his departure on crusade, and he realized that in his absence his hold on power might be tenuous. He was fully aware that he had noble adversaries, and that John was waiting in the wings to take over. In consequence he issued a royal writ demanding that Jews were to be left alone,  but he edict was loosely enforced, and the following March there was further violence including a massacre at York.

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Richard set about raising the huge sums of money for the Third Crusade through the sale of lands, titles and appointments, and attempted to ensure that he would not face a revolt while away from his empire. His brother, John, was made Count of Mortain, was married to the wealthy Isabel of Gloucester, and was given valuable lands in Lancaster and the counties of Cornwall, Derby, Devon, Dorset, Nottingham and Somerset, all with the aim of buying his loyalty to Richard whilst the king was on crusade. Richard retained royal control of key castles in these counties, thereby preventing John from accumulating too much military and political power. In return, John promised not to visit England for the next three years, thereby in theory giving Richard adequate time to conduct a successful crusade and return from the Levant without fear of John seizing power. Richard left political authority in England – the post of justiciar – jointly in the hands of Bishop Hugh de Puiset and William Mandeville, and made William Longchamp, the Bishop of Ely, his chancellor. Mandeville immediately died, and Longchamp took over as joint justiciar with Puiset, which would prove to be a less than satisfactory partnership. Eleanor, the queen mother, convinced Richard to allow John into England in his absence.

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The political situation in England rapidly began to deteriorate. Longchamp refused to work with Puiset and became unpopular with the English nobility and clergy. John exploited this unpopularity to set himself up as an alternative ruler with his own royal court, complete with his own justiciar, chancellor and other royal posts, and was happy to be portrayed as an alternative regent, and possibly the next king. Armed conflict broke out between John and Longchamp, and by October 1191 Longchamp was isolated in the Tower of London with John in control of the city of London, thanks to promises John had made to the citizens in return for recognition as Richard’s heir presumptive.

John began to explore an alliance with the French king Philip II, freshly returned from the crusade (leaving Richard behind). John hoped to acquire Normandy, Anjou and the other lands in France held by Richard in exchange for allying himself with Philip. When Richard still did not return from the crusade, John began to assert that his brother was dead or otherwise permanently lost. Richard had in fact been captured en route to England by the Duke of Austria and was handed over to Emperor Henry VI, who held him for ransom. John seized the opportunity and went to Paris, where he formed an alliance with Philip. He agreed to set aside his wife, Isabella of Gloucester, and marry Philip’s sister, Alys, in exchange for Philip’s support. Fighting broke out in England between forces loyal to Richard and those being gathered by John. John’s military position was weak and he agreed to a truce; in early 1194 the king finally returned to England, and John’s remaining forces surrendered. John retreated to Normandy, where Richard finally found him later that year. Richard declared that his younger brother – despite being 27 years old – was merely “a child who has had evil counsellors” and forgave him, but removed his lands with the exception of Ireland.

For the remaining years of Richard’s reign, John supported his brother on the continent, apparently loyally. Richard’s policy on the continent was to attempt to regain through steady, limited campaigns the castles he had lost to Philip II whilst on crusade. He allied himself with the leaders of Flanders, Boulogne and the Holy Roman Empire to apply pressure on Philip from Germany. In 1195 John successfully conducted a sudden attack and siege of Évreux castle, and subsequently managed the defenses of Normandy against Philip. The following year, John seized the town of Gamaches and led a raiding party within 50 miles (80 km) of Paris, capturing the Bishop of Beauvais. In return for this service, Richard withdrew his malevolentia (ill-will) towards John, restored him to the county of Gloucestershire and made him again the Count of Mortain.

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Partly as a result of these and other intrigues, Richard won several victories over Philip. At Fréteval in 1194, just after Richard’s return to France from captivity and money-raising in England, Philip fled, leaving his entire archive of financial audits and documents to be captured by Richard. At the Battle of Gisors (sometimes called Courcelles) in 1198, Richard took “Dieu et mon Droit”—”God and my Right”—as his motto (still used by the British monarchy today), echoing his earlier boast to the Emperor Henry that his rank acknowledged no superior but God.

In March 1199, Richard was in the Limousin suppressing a revolt by Viscount Aimar V of Limoges. Although it was Lent, he “devastated the Viscount’s land with fire and sword” and besieged the virtually unarmed castle of Châlus-Chabrol. In the early evening of 25 March 1199, Richard was walking around the castle perimeter without his chainmail, investigating the progress of sappers on the castle walls. Missiles were occasionally shot from the castle walls, but these were given little attention. One defender in particular amused the king greatly—a man standing on the walls, crossbow in one hand, the other clutching a frying pan he had been using all day as a shield to beat off missiles. He deliberately aimed at the king, which Richard applauded; however, another crossbowman then struck the king in the left shoulder near the neck. He tried to pull this out in the privacy of his tent but failed; a surgeon, called a “butcher” by Howden, removed it, “carelessly mangling” the King’s arm in the process. The wound swiftly became gangrenous. Richard then set his affairs in order, bequeathing all his territory to his brother John and his jewels to his nephew Otto.

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Richard died on 6 April 1199 in the arms of his mother; it was later said that “As the day was closing, he ended his earthly day.” Richard’s heart was buried at Rouen in Normandy, his entrails in Châlus (where he died), and the rest of his body at the feet of his father at Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou. My epitaph, which accords with many modern historians, is that Richard was a valiant soldier, a devout Christian, and a disastrous king.

Given that we can scarcely call Richard an Englishman it would not be appropriate to celebrate him with English cooking. In any case, we should also understand that in royal households of the time in England the cooking was French, as were the names for the meats – porc, boeuf, and mouton, not the English, pig, ox, and sheep. The most well known French chef of the Middle Ages was Guillaume Tirel, also known as Taillevent. Le Viandier (often called Le Viandier de Taillevent) is a recipe collection generally credited to Tirel, however, the earliest version of the work has been dated to around 1300, about 10 years before his birth. The original author is unknown, but Tirel probably had a hand in later revisions. A transcription of the MS can be found here:

http://www.staff.uni-giessen.de/gloning/tx/vi-vat.htm

A good translation is here:

http://www.telusplanet.net/public/prescotj/data/viandier/viandier1.html

Have fun. I find the original French very hard to understand without a parallel translation. In royal households visual display was prized. Brilliant colors were obtained by the addition of, for example, juices from spinach and the green part of leeks. Yellow came from saffron or egg yolk, while red came from sunflower, and purple from Crozophora tinctoria or Heliotropium europaeum. Gold and silver leaf were placed on food surfaces and brushed with egg whites. Elaborate and showy dishes were the result, such as tourte parmerienne which was a pastry dish made to look like a castle with chicken-drumstick turrets coated with gold leaf. One of the grandest showpieces of the time was roast swan or peacock sewn back into its skin with feathers intact, the feet and beak being gilded. Since both birds are stringy, and taste unpleasant, the skin and feathers could be kept and filled with the cooked, minced and seasoned flesh of tastier birds, like goose or chicken

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Here’s the beginning part of the MS having to do with gilded dishes.  First in the original French, and then a serviceable (abbreviated) translation.

DOREURES

Entremetz pour ung jour de feste ou pour ung convy de prince aux trois jours masles de la sepmaine comme dimenche, mardi et le jeudi.

Pour farsiz et pommeaulx: convient, pour les pommeaulx, de la chair de porc crue, il ne peult challoir quelle, dont les poulles soient farcies; et convient, après que la poulaille est tué, rompre ung pou de peau de la teste, et avoir ung tuyau de plume et souffler dedans tant qu’elle soit bien plaine de vent, et puis les eschauder, et, après, les fendre par dessoubz le ventre, et les escorchier et mettre les charcois d’un costé.

Et convient, pour faire la farce pour farcir la poullaille, du blanc, du lart hachié avec la chair, et fault des oeufz, de bonne poudre fine, du pignolet et du roisin de Corinde et en farsir la peau de la poulaille et ne l’emplir pas trop qu’elle ne crieve, puis la recoudre; et convient la boullir en une paelle sur le feu, et ne le fault guaire laisser cuire, et puis les brochez en broches gresles, et, quant les pommeaulx seront bien faictz, les convient mettre cuire avec ladicte poulaille, et les tirer quant ilz seront durciz, et avoir les broches des pommeaulx plus gresles de la moittié ou plus que celles de la poullaille. Et après, fault avoir de lapaste batue en oeufz tellement qu’elle se puisse tenir sur la paelle, et, quant la poullaille et les pommeaulx seront presque cuitz, les oster et mettre sur sa paste, et prendre de la paste à une cuillier nette, en remuant tousjours, et mettre par dessus sa poulaille et ses pommeaulx tant qu’ilz en soient dorez, et les faire par ii ou par iii foiz tant qu’ilz en soient bien couvertz, et fault prendre du feul d’or ou d’argent et les enveloper, et fault avoir ung petit d’aubun d’oeuf et les arrouser affin que le fueil tiengne mieulx.

GILDED DISHES

Subtleties for a feast day, or for a prince’s banquet on three meat days of the week such as Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.

[Gilded chickens with quenelles.]

After the chicken is killed, break a bit of skin on the head, take a feather tube, blow in until it is very full of air, scald it, slit it along the belly, skin it, and put the carcass aside.

For the stuffing and the quenelles have some raw pork meat (it doesn’t matter what kind) chopped with pork fat, white [chicken meat], eggs, good Fine Powder, pine nut paste and currants. Stuff the chicken skins with it (but do not fill them so much that they burst), restitch them, and boil them in a pan on the fire (but do not let them cook for very long). When the quenelles are well made, put them to cook with the chickens, and remove them when they are hardened. Spit the chickens on slender spits. Have the spits for the quenelles slenderer by half or more than those for the chickens.

Afterwards, you need to have some batter beaten from eggs until it can stand up in the pan. When the chickens and quenelles are nearly cooked, remove them and put them over your batter. Take some batter with a clean spoon, stirring always, put it on top of your chickens and quenelles, [and put them over the fire] until they are glazed. Do them 2 or 3 times until they are well covered. Take some gold or silver leaf and wrap them (first sprinkle them with a little egg white so that the leaf adheres better).

Needless to say, I’m not about to whip this up for a quick supper, or even for a big dinner party.

Oct 292015
 

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Sorry for the small hiatus faithful readers. I was given a week’s notice to leave China, and, after trials and tribulations, I am ensconced in Mantua in northern Italy. Hopefully I can pick up daily posting again, but do not be surprised by occasional lapses. Hey, I do this for free and there is no advertising !!!

On this date in 539 BCE Cyrus II of Persia, also known as Cyrus the Great and Cyrus the Elder, entered Babylon as conqueror, a most momentous date in the history of the Jews who had been exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadrezzar (misspelled in the Bible, “Nebuchadnezzar”) as punishment for rebellion. The so-called Babylonian Captivity or Babylonian Exile (or simply “the Exile”) was a crucial time in the history of Judaism (and later for Christianity). I have written a great deal about this era, as have numerous other scholars. Judaism was codified in this period when priests and people were unable to practice temple worship and sacrifice in Jerusalem. Instead they founded synagogues in Babylon where they concentrated on reading and interpreting sacred writings. I believe, as will be evident in my forthcoming publications, that Genesis was redacted (put together) at this time, and has formed an important document of faith for Jewish identity ever since.

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Cyrus was the founder of the Achaemenid Empire. Under his rule, the empire conquered all the previously civilized states of the ancient Near East, expanded greatly, and eventually conquered most of Southwest Asia and much of Central Asia and the Caucasus. From the Mediterranean Sea and Hellespont in the west to the Indus River in the east, Cyrus the Great created the largest empire the world had yet seen. Under his successors, the empire eventually stretched from parts of the Balkans (Bulgaria-Pannonia) and Thrace-Macedonia in the west, to the Indus Valley in the east. His regal titles in full were The Great King, King of Persia, King of Anshan, King of Media, King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, and King of the Four Corners of the World.

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The reign of Cyrus the Great lasted somewhere between 29 and 31 years. Cyrus built his empire by conquering first the Median Empire, then the Lydian Empire and eventually the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Either before or after Babylon, he led an expedition into central Asia, which resulted in major campaigns that were described as having brought “into subjection every nation without exception”. Cyrus did not venture into Egypt, as he himself died in battle, fighting the Massagetae along the Syr Darya in December 530 BCE. He was succeeded by his son, Cambyses II, who managed to add to the empire by conquering Egypt, Nubia, and Cyrenaica during his short rule.

Cyrus the Great respected the customs and religions of the lands he conquered. It is said that in universal history, the role of the Achaemenid Empire founded by Cyrus lies in its very successful model for centralized administration and establishing a government working to the advantage and profit of its subjects. In fact, the administration of the empire through satraps and the vital principle of forming a government at Pasargadae were the works of Cyrus. What is sometimes referred to as the Edict of Restoration (actually two edicts) described in the Bible as being made by Cyrus the Great left a lasting legacy on Judaism, where, because of his policies in Babylonia, he is referred to in the Hebrew Bible as Messiah (lit. “anointed one”) (Isaiah 45:1), and is the only Gentile to be so called.

Cyrus the Great is recognized for his achievements in human rights, politics, and military strategy, as well as his influence on both Eastern and Western civilizations. Having originated from Persis, roughly corresponding to the modern Iranian province of Fars, Cyrus has played a crucial role in defining the national identity of modern Iran. Cyrus and, indeed, the Achaemenid influence in the ancient world also extended as far as Athens, where many Athenians adopted aspects of the Achaemenid Persian culture as their own, in a reciprocal cultural exchange.

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In the 1970s, the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, identified Cyrus’ famous proclamation inscribed on the Cyrus Cylinder as the oldest known declaration of human rights, and the Cylinder has since been popularized as such. This view has been criticized by some historians as a misunderstanding of the Cylinder’s generic nature as a traditional statement that ancient Near Eastern monarchs made at the beginning of their reigns. There is nothing especially original about the Cylinder’s contents, and the Shah’s touting of it as Iran’s first human rights declaration was more likely a calculated political move to trumpet his own status, and thus hide the realities of his own repressive rule under a thin veil of historical continuity and legitimacy. In truth, Cyrus did, indeed, allow local cultures to retain their traditional identities, hence his willingness to return the Jews to Jerusalem. People not subject to tyrannical, enforced hegemony and assimilation, as the Jews were in Babylon, are less likely to rebel. If you let them get on with their own business – taxing them heavily – you survive as a ruler longer. But make no mistake, the “laws of the Medes and Persians” were legendary for their strictness. Rebel and you pay in blood.

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Here’s an old Persian recipe for duck in pomegranate and walnut sauce. Duck is traditional, but you can use just about any meat or meatballs. Chicken works fine. There’s no knowing the exact age of the dish given that recipes from Cyrus’ era do not exist. But it is acknowledged to be an old dish, still very popular. You can probably buy pomegranate molasses online, but it’s easy enough to make. I give a recipe below the main recipe. Serve the duck with Persian rice and flat bread.

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Duck Fesenjān

Ingredients

1 duck cut in 8 pieces (bone in)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tbsp duck fat
3 tbsp olive oil
2 cups diced yellow onion
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
6 cups chicken broth
1 cup pomegranate molasses
¼ cup honey
3 cups walnut halves

Instructions

Season the duck all over with salt and pepper.

Heat the duck fat in a heavy skillet over high heat. Sauté the duck pieces in batches until browned on all sides. Reserve the browned pieces and pour the remaining fat into a Dutch oven.

Pour a little chicken stock into the skillet and bring to a boil while scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat.

Heat the duck fat plus olive oil in the Dutch oven over medium heat. Sauté the onion in the oil and fat until golden. Add the turmeric, cinnamon, and nutmeg and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Pour the chicken broth, pomegranate molasses, and honey, into the onions. Bring to a simmer.

Grind the walnuts to a fine powder in a food processor.

Sauté the walnut powder in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir the walnuts into the broth mixture. Add the browned duck and add more chicken broth if needed to cover. Reduce the heat and simmer until the duck is tender (up to 3 hours).

Transfer the duck to a serving dish and keep warm.

Bring the broth mixture to a boil and cook until reduced to a thick sauce consistency. Ladle the sauce over the duck.

Pomegranate Molasses

Place 4 cups of pomegranate juice, ½ cup of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice in a 4-quart saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the mixture has reduced to 1 cup ( approximately 70 minutes). It should be the consistency of thick syrup. Remove from the heat and allow to cool in the saucepan for 30 minutes. Transfer to a glass jar and allow to cool completely before covering and storing in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.