Sep 252018
 

On this date in 1237, kings Henry III of England and Alexander II of Scotland, signed the Treaty of York, which affirmed that Northumberland, Cumberland, and Westmorland were subject to English sovereignty. This treaty established the Anglo-Scottish border in a form that remains almost unchanged to modern times (the only modifications have been regarding the Debatable Lands and Berwick-upon-Tweed). The treaty detailed the future status of several feudal properties and addressed other issues between the two kings, and historically marked the end of the kingdom of Scotland’s attempts to extend its frontier southward.

The treaty was one of a number of agreements made in the ongoing relationship between the two kings. The papal legate Otho (also known as Oddone di Monferrato) was already in England at Henry’s request, to attend a synod in London in November 1237. Henry informed Otho in advance of the September meeting at York, which he attended. This meeting was recorded by the contemporary chronicler Matthew Paris, who disparaged both Alexander and Otho. Paris’ false allegations against Alexander, portraying him as boorishly uncivil and aggressive, have been repeated uncritically in several historical accounts. In fact, Henry and Alexander had had a history of making agreements to settle one matter or another, and they were, by and large, cordial because the two had strong kinship ties. Alexander was married to Henry’s sister, Joan, and Alexander’s sister Margaret had married Hubert de Burgh, a former regent to Henry. On 13th August 1237 Henry advised Otho that he would meet Alexander at York to conclude a peace treaty. Their agreement was reached on 25th September “respecting all claims, or competent to, the latter, up to Friday next before Michaelmas A.D. 1237”.

The title of the agreement is Scriptum cirographatum inter Henricum Regem Anglie et Alexandrum Regem Scocie de comitatu Northumbrie Cumbrie et Westmerland factum coram Ottone Legato (Agreement written between Henry, king of England and Alexander, king of Scotland concerning the counties of Northumberland, Cumberland, and Westmoreland, done in the presence of papal legate Otto). The particulars of the agreement are as follows:

    The King of Scotland: quitclaims to the King of England his hereditary rights to the counties of Northumberland, Cumberland, and Westmorland; quitclaims 15,000 marks of silver paid by King William to King John for certain conventions not observed by the latter; and frees Henry from agreements regarding marriages between Henry and Richard, and Alexander’s sisters Margaret, Isabella, and Marjory.

    The King of England grants the King of Scotland certain lands within Northumberland and Cumberland, to be held by him and his successor kings of Scotland in feudal tenure with certain rights exempting them from obligations common in feudal relationships, and with the Scottish Steward sitting in Justice regarding certain issues that may arise, and these, too, are hereditary to the King of Scotland’s heirs, and regarding these the King of Scotland shall not be answerable to an English court of law in any suit.

    The King of Scotland makes his homage and fealty – de praedictis terris [in the aforementioned territories]

    Both kings respect previous writings not in conflict with this agreement, and any charters found regarding said counties to be restored to the King of England.

Older historians have shown little interest in the agreement, either mentioning it in passing or ignoring it altogether, and it still does not get much mileage in contemporary histories of relations between Scotland and England. Given that the treaty established a border that is still in effect 800 years later, you’d think it would have more prominence.  Undoubtedly, the problem rests in the fact that for hundreds of years England and Scotland were at each other’s throats, so that the location of the border between the two countries was of minor importance in comparison with the rivalry between them.

The waters are further muddied by the fact that the official chronicler Matthew Paris, (c. 1200–1259), who was known for his rhetorical passion and his invectives against those with whom he disagreed, did not like the participants for some reason. Paris describes the papal legate Otho in negative terms, as someone who was weak and timid in the face of strength but overbearing in his use of power over others, and as someone who avariciously accumulated a large amount of money. He describes Alexander and Henry as having a mutual hatred in 1236, with Alexander threatening to invade England. He describes the 1237 meeting at York as the result of Henry’s and Otho’s invitation to Alexander, and that when Otho expressed an interest in visiting Scotland, Alexander claimed no legate had ever visited Scotland and he would not allow it, and that if Otho did enter Scotland he should take care that harm does not befall him. Paris goes on to say that Alexander had become so excited in his hostility at the possibility of Otho’s visit to Scotland that a written agreement had to be drawn up concerning Otho’s visit.

There is nothing in contemporary primary sources to support Paris’ vituperative account, and it is contradicted by well-known facts regarding dates and correspondences, and by information concerning previous visits to Scotland by legates. Legates had visited Scotland in the reigns of Alexander’s father William I, his uncle Malcolm IV, and his grandfather David I, and Alexander himself had seen a papal legate hold a council at Perth for four days, making his alleged outrage and threats incongruous and highly improbable.

Despite the fact that Paris’ slanders are contradicted by the actual facts of the case, historians have frequently used them as reliable source material, and, hence, end up giving us a twisted analysis of Anglo-Scottish relations of the time.

Borders drawn on a map by treaty are a decided curiosity. The inhabitants on either side of the line owe their national allegiance to political centers that are typically quite a distance from the borderlands, yet they are often culturally more alike one another than different. Such is the case of the peoples divided by the Anglo-Scottish border. Their dialects are similar, their occupations are alike because of a shared geography, and their cuisines show more similarities than differences. So, what is a good dish to celebrate a border that divides people who are culturally alike? You might want to debate this question yourself, especially if you have more than a nodding acquaintance with English and Scottish cooking traditions. I’m going to go with the noble kipper, a type of smoked herring that is produced in ports on either side of the border: the same, yet different.

No one knows how kippering of herrings originated although there are many fanciful tales that have been invented over the years. Ports in both northern England and in Scotland claim to be their birthplace with little to no justification or historical support. Herrings are turned into kippers by splitting them open, gutting and salting them, and then curing them in wood smoke. If smoked long enough they turn red, giving them the old name “red herring,” which appears as early as the 13th century in a poem by the Anglo-Norman poet Walter of Bibbesworth: “He eteþ no ffyssh But heryng red.”

The harbor village of Craster in Northumberland is famed for Craster kippers, which are prepared in a local smokehouse, sold in the village shop and exported around the world. Likewise, the kippers from nearby Seahouses. On the other side of the border, kippers are produced in Dunbar and Eyemouth.  The herring used to make the kippers in these towns is all the same fish, but the resultant kippers are markedly different. Which is better is a matter of personal taste.

Kippers need to be poached or grilled before they are eaten, typically as a breakfast dish on either side of the border. I can’t say when the last time was that I had a kipper for breakfast, but my normal custom is to eat a whole fish, poached, with plenty of wholewheat bread and butter on the side. Some people like a fried egg in addition, but I find this habit to be a trifle overwhelming.

Apr 262018
 

Today is the birthday (1798) of Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix, a French Romantic artist regarded from the outset of his career as the leader of the French Romantic school. Delacroix was born in Charenton-Saint-Maurice, now a suburb of Paris, southeast of the center. His mother, Victoire, was the daughter of the cabinet-maker Jean-François Oeben. He had three much older siblings. Charles-Henri Delacroix (1779–1845) rose to the rank of General in the Napoleonic army. Henriette (1780–1827) married the diplomat Raymond de Verninac Saint-Maur (1762–1822). Henri was born six years later. He was killed at the Battle of Friedland in 1807. There is reason to believe that Eugène’s father, Charles-François Delacroix, was infertile at the time of Eugène’s conception and that his biological father was Talleyrand, who was a friend of the family and successor of Charles Delacroix as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and whom the adult Eugène resembled in appearance. Throughout his career as a painter, Delacroix was cared for (one way or another) by Talleyrand, who served successively the Restoration and king Louis-Philippe, and ultimately as ambassador of France in Great Britain, and later by Talleyrand’s grandson, Charles Auguste Louis Joseph, duc de Morny, half-brother of Napoleon III and speaker of the French House of Commons. His legal father, Charles Delacroix, died in 1805, and his mother died in 1814, leaving Delacroix an orphan at 16.

 

Delacroix’s early education was at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, and at the Lycée Pierre Corneille in Rouen where he received classical training and won awards for drawing. In 1815 he began his art training with Pierre-Narcisse Guérin in the neoclassical style of Jacques-Louis David. An early church commission, The Virgin of the Harvest (1819), displays the influence of Raphael, but a like commission, The Virgin of the Sacred Heart (1821), shows a freer interpretation. It precedes the influence of the more colorful and open style of Rubens, and Théodore Géricault.  The impact of Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa was profound, and stimulated Delacroix to produce his first major painting, The Barque of Dante, which was accepted by the Paris Salon in 1822.

The work caused a sensation, and was largely derided by the public and officialdom, yet was purchased by the State for the Luxembourg Galleries.Two years later he again achieved popular success for his The Massacre at Chios.

Delacroix’s painting of the massacre at Chios shows sick, dying Greek civilians about to be slaughtered by the Turks. One of several paintings he made of this contemporary event, it expresses sympathy for the Greek cause in their war of independence against the Turks, a popular sentiment at the time for the French people. Delacroix was quickly recognized as a leading painter in the new Romantic style, and the picture was bought by the state. His depiction of suffering was controversial, however, as there was no glorious event taking place, no patriots raising their swords in valor as in David’s Oath of the Horatii, only a disaster. Many critics deplored the painting’s despairing tone; the artist Antoine-Jean Gros called it “a massacre of art”. The pathos in the depiction of an infant clutching its dead mother’s breast had an especially powerful effect, although this detail was condemned as unfit for art by Delacroix’s critics.

Delacroix produced a second painting in support of the Greeks in their war for independence, this time referring to the capture of Missolonghi by Turkish forces in 1825. With a restraint of palette appropriate to the allegory, Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi displays a woman in Greek costume with her breast bared, arms half-raised in an imploring gesture before the horrible scene: the suicide of the Greeks, who chose to kill themselves and destroy their city rather than surrender to the Turks.

A trip to England in 1825 included visits to Thomas Lawrence and Richard Parkes Bonington, and the color and handling of English painting provided impetus for his only full-length portrait, the elegant Portrait of Louis-Auguste Schwiter (1826–30). At roughly the same time, Delacroix was creating romantic works of numerous themes, many of which would continue to interest him for over 30 years.

By 1825, he was producing lithographs illustrating Shakespeare, and soon thereafter lithographs and paintings from Goethe’s Faust. Paintings such as The Combat of the Giaour and Hassan (1826), and Woman with Parrot (1827), introduced subjects of violence and sensuality which became recurrent in his oeuvre.

These various romantic strands came together in the Death of Sardanapalus (1827–28). Delacroix’s painting of the death of the Assyrian king  shows an emotionally stirring scene alive with beautiful colors, exotic costumes and tragic events. It depicts the besieged king watching impassively as guards carry out his orders to kill his servants, concubines and animals. The literary source is a play by Byron, although the play does not specifically mention any massacre of concubines.

Delacroix’s most influential work came in 1830 with the painting Liberty Leading the People, which for choice of subject and technique highlights the differences between the Romantic approach and the neoclassical style. Liberty Although Delacroix was inspired by contemporary events to invoke this romantic image of the spirit of liberty, he seems to be trying to convey the will and character of the people, rather than glorifying the actual event, the 1830 revolution against Charles X, which did little other than bring a different king, Louis-Philippe, to power. Although the French government bought the painting, officials deemed its glorification of liberty too inflammatory and removed it from public view. Nonetheless, Delacroix still received many government commissions for murals and ceiling paintings. Following the Revolution of 1848 that saw the end of the reign of Louis Philippe, Liberty Leading the People, was finally put on display by the newly elected President, Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III) and is now on exhibit in the Louvre. The boy holding a gun up on the right is sometimes thought to be an inspiration of the Gavroche character in Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, Les Misérables.

In 1832, Delacroix traveled to Spain and North Africa, as part of a diplomatic mission to Morocco shortly after the French conquered Algeria. He went not primarily to study art, but in hopes of seeing a more primitive culture than Paris offered. He eventually produced over 100 paintings and drawings of scenes from or based on the life of the people of North Africa, and added a new and personal chapter to the European interest in Orientalism. Delacroix was entranced by the people and the costumes, and the trip influenced the subject matter of a great many of his future paintings. He believed that the North Africans, in their attire and their attitudes, provided a visual equivalent to the people of Classical Rome and Greece:

The Greeks and Romans are here at my door, in the Arabs who wrap themselves in a white blanket and look like Cato or Brutus.

 

He managed to sketch some women secretly in Algiers, as in the painting Women of Algiers in their Apartment (1834), but generally he encountered difficulty in finding Muslim women to pose for him because of Muslim rules requiring that women be covered. Less problematic was the painting of Jewish women in North Africa, as subjects for the Jewish Wedding in Morocco (1837–41).

In 1838 Delacroix exhibited Medea about to Kill Her Children, which created a sensation at the Salon. The painting depicts Medea clutching her children, dagger drawn to slay them in vengeance for her abandonment by Jason.

From 1833 Delacroix received numerous commissions to decorate public buildings in Paris. In that year he began work for the Salon du Roi in the Chambre des Députés, Palais Bourbon, which was not completed until 1837, and began a lifelong friendship with the female artist Marie-Élisabeth Blavot-Boulanger. For the next ten years he painted in both the Library at the Palais Bourbon and the Library at the Palais du Luxembourg. In 1843 he decorated the Church of St. Denis du Saint Sacrement with a large Pietà, and from 1848 to 1850 he painted the ceiling in the Galerie d’Apollon of the Louvre. From 1857 to 1861 he worked on frescoes for the Chapelle des Anges at the Church of St. Sulpice in Paris. The work was fatiguing, and during these years he suffered from an increasingly fragile constitution. In addition to his home in Paris, from 1844 he also lived at a small cottage in Champrosay, where he found respite in the countryside. From 1834 until his death, he was faithfully cared for by his housekeeper, Jeanne-Marie le Guillou, who zealously guarded his privacy, and whose devotion prolonged his life and his ability to continue working in his later years.

The winter of 1862-63 was challenging for Delacroix. He was suffering from a bad throat infection which seemed to get worse during the winter. On June 16th 1863, he was getting better and returned to his house in the country. On July 15th he was so sick he went back to see his doctor who realized he could not do anything more for him, by then, the only food he could eat was fruit. Eugene realized his condition and wrote his Will, for all his friends he left a memento. For his trusted housekeeper, Jenny Le Guillou, he left enough for her to live on and ordered everything in his studio to be sold. He also inserted a clause forbidding any representation of his features “whether by a death-mask or by drawing or by photography. I forbid it expressly.” On August 13th Delacroix died, with Jenny by his side. He was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery.

This still life attributed to Delacroix appears to be an odd conflation of images: English huntsmen on horseback in the background, and lobsters plus assorted game in the foreground. But it reminds me of this quote of his:

In the midst of the activities that distract me, such as shooting partridges in the woods, when I remember a few lines of poetry, when I recall some sublime painting, my spirit is roused to indignation and spurns the vain sustenance of the common herd.

Not much to go on, to be sure, but it’s a start. Escoffier has this section on partridges, which is fairly typical for 19th century Parisian cuisine:

3949 Partridge

Wrap each partridge in a buttered vine leaf then in a thin slice of salt pork fat and roast in a hot oven for 20 minutes or on a spit for 25 minutes.

Place on a Crouton of bread fried in butter and coated with Gratin Forcemeat “C” (# 295), and garnish with half a lemon and a bouquet of watercress.

3950 Perdreau Truffé—Truffled Partridge

Stuff the bird in the same way as for Dindonneau Truffé (# 3914) allowing 100 g (31 oz) fresh pork fat and 80 g (2 oz) truffles; cover with thin slices of salt pork fat and roast in a moderate oven for 25 minutes.

Partridges are rather small, so you need to allow one per diner. They are not very fatty either, so wrapping the breasts in some kind of ham or bacon before roasting is generally recommended by chefs. The flesh of the partridge is not strong, so adding too much to a dish of partridge will mask the subtle flavor. Escoffier’s second recipe here seems close to ideal (although I am not generally well off enough to afford truffles). The pork fat does not flavor the partridge unduly, but allows the bird to remain moist when roasting – as does roasting at a very high temperature as briefly as possible. For all game birds I find simplicity is best. If you want to be extravagant with your flavorings and whatnot, stuff and roast a chicken. If you want a gravy for partridge, make a roux of the pan juices and flour, and then add some chicken stock with, maybe, a little fresh parsley. Simple.

Dec 192017
 

On this date in 1154 Henry II was crowned king of England, along with his queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, at Westminster Abbey. Henry, and his two sons, Richard and John, sometimes referred to by historians as the Angevins, sometimes the Plantagenets, have had a tough time being assessed fairly by history, literature, and the general public. I’ve posted repeatedly about how Richard and John have been treated strangely, mostly by Victorian and Whig historians. Henry also has had his ups and downs in the histories of Victorians to the present day, and I doubt that he will ever get a dispassionate treatment. My feeling is that unless you lived in those times, you’ll never truly know what they were like.

“There’ll Always Be an England” (more accurately “There’s Always Been an England) is a strange lens through which to view history.  At one time or another, the rulers of what is now England, or significant parts of it, along with many of the citizens, spoke Gaelic, Latin, Old German, Old Norse, Danish, and French. English came rather late in the succession. If you view England from the present, you can see it as always being a solitary, defiant part of an island, rather disconnected from continental Europe, and, judging by Brexit, that sentiment is alive and well in many parts of the country. But certainly, in Henry’s day, stretching back to William the Bastard and the Conquest (with a capital “C”), England was not much more than a money-making bit of a European empire as far as its kings were concerned, and not important enough to spend a whole lot of time in, or worrying about. Peasants, of course, saw things differently. Richard (Lionheart) had virtually no interest in England, except as a place with enough money to fund his exploits in Europe (not to mention bailing him out of capture), and on Crusade. Henry, likewise, saw England as a component of his Angevin empire in France, although he did spend considerable time there trying to consolidate his holdings after a disastrous civil war between his mother, Matilda, and Stephen of Blois. Both claimed to be the rightful heirs to the throne of England, and each controlled significant parts of the country for the period now commonly called the Anarchy (1135 – 1153).

Henry’s accession to the throne of England was a clear end to the Anarchy, but it did NOT mark the (second) beginning of an English nation as an independent sovereign state with Henry at the helm, as many historians claim. I give that mantle to John, who was the first king in the Norman succession who spoke English as his first language, and the first king in the Norman succession to live primarily in England, and look primarily to England as his power base and stronghold. Henry could understand English, but he always spoke either Norman French or Latin. Henry did consolidate a power base in England, expand his Angevin empire into Scotland and Wales, and initiate laws and institutions that still exist in England in radically altered form, it is true.  But it is not fair to say that Henry established England as England, separate from continental Europe. If anything, the Normans and Plantagenets (Henry included), were an interruption of the process of consolidation of England as an independent, autonomous nation begun under Anglo-Saxon kings, such as Edmund and Alfred, and restored under the Tudors. In between the Normans and the Tudors there were an awful lot of Henrys, all with their part to play.

Henry’s mother, Matilda, was the granddaughter of William I, and cousin of Stephen of Blois, grandson of William. Stephen’s mother, Adele, was William’s daughter. At the time that Stephen was crowned king of England, the country was not quite ready to have a queen even though her father, Henry I, was the previous monarch. Stephen seemed like a better choice at the time, to put it bluntly, because he was a man, not because he had a better genealogical claim to the throne than Matilda. Matilda disagreed. She had proven her chops as empress. Hence the Anarchy, when for almost 19 years Stephen and Matilda fought it out. Why this period is called the Anarchy and not the First English Civil War escapes me. When we talk about THE English Civil War(s) these days we mean Charles versus Cromwell.  But the civil war between Stephen and Matilda was every bit as bloody and considerably longer. Why aren’t the Wars of the Roses called civil wars either? What makes the Stuarts so special?

In any case . . . back to Henry II.  He’s now chiefly remembered for being the king who (perhaps) ordered the murder of Thomas Becket, although the details are still murky, and popular opinion, such as it is, is generally “informed” by plays and movies, and not by actual primary documents of the time.  Henry is generally portrayed as an irascible tyrant and Becket as a piously fervent servant of God and country. Both portraits owe more to dramatic license than actual history.

Henry controlled more of France than any ruler since the Carolingians (yellow and orange shaded areas). These lands, combined with his possessions in England, Wales, Scotland and much of Ireland, produced a vast domain often referred to by historians as the Angevin empire. But it was not really an empire in the classic sense of a domain with a coherent structure or central control. Instead, it consisted of a loose, flexible network of family connections and lands, with local laws and customs applying in different territories, although common principles underpinned some of these local variations. Henry traveled constantly across the empire, and these travels coincided with regional governmental reforms and other local administrative business. This practice has led some historians to conclude that the reforms Henry instituted in England created a lasting notion of England as a distinct, and distinctive, nation. These claims seem overblown to me.

It is true that Henry’s reign saw significant legal changes in England and Normandy. By the middle of the 12th century, England had many different ecclesiastical and civil law courts, with overlapping jurisdictions resulting from the interaction of diverse legal traditions. Henry greatly expanded the role of royal justice in England, producing a more coherent legal system, summarized at the end of his reign in the treatise of Glanvill, an early legal handbook. Despite these reforms it is uncertain if Henry had a grand vision for his new legal system, and the reforms seem to have proceeded in a steady, pragmatic, but piecemeal, fashion, rather than from a core set of principles. Indeed, in most cases he was probably not personally responsible for creating the new processes at all, but delegated the duties to local officials.

I’ll leave the last word to Sellar and Yeatman from 1066 And All That. They defined Henry as a “Just King” with the following pronouncement:

HENRY II was a great Lawgiver, and it was he who laid down the great Legal Principle that everything is either legal or (preferably) illegal.

Makes as much sense as the pontifications of most historians.

There are not many recipes from the 12th century that are much use for recreating typical dishes, but there are a few. A MS was recently discovered in Durham which contains mostly medicinal concoctions, but has a few recipes for sauces. Likewise, Alexander Neckam’s treatise de utensibilis has some recipe suggestions. But we are talking about lists of ingredients, not actual, full-blown recipes. Nonetheless, you could make a sauce for a roast from the ingredient lists. One “lordly sauce” that is commonly offered by bloggers involves combining cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, pepper, ginger, and cinnamon. Some want you to combine them in equal amounts; some want you to have equal amounts of the first five, and then cinnamon equal to all the others combined. Either way, the next step is to add breadcrumbs equal to the quantity of spices, and then mix it all to a thick sauce with vinegar. There is no mention of cooking the mixture, but, usually, a suggestion that the mix should be bottled up and kept to mature (in the manner of what came to be called ketchup).

In the modern kitchen I could see such a brew being used to season a gravy made from pan juices from a roast. In fact, it’s quite similar to gravies I make at this time of year for beef. It has a modern (English) Christmas feel to it, but would have been more year-round in Medieval times (in noble households). It was customary to cut large chunks from a roast and place them on trenchers of bread. Then the diner could use a personal knife to hack off bits of meat and dip them in a bowl of sauce. It’s a bit reminiscent of beef au jus in modern times, except the sauces were much more flavorful.

Sep 032017
 

On this date in 590 Gregory I, commonly called Gregory the Great, became pope of the Catholic church. He is not the Gregory who instituted the calendar reforms that gave us the (current) Gregorian calendar, but he is famous (in some circles) for instigating the first recorded large-scale mission from Rome to convert the pagan peoples of Europe (including the English) to Christianity. It is quite legitimate to argue that the papacy, Catholicism, and Europe itself as we conceive them now had their origins in the ideas implemented by Gregory. Gregorian chant is also named after him, although it’s not clear whether he founded it. Gregory is also well known for his writings, which were more prolific than those of any of his predecessors as pope.

Gregory was the son of a senator and the Prefect of Rome at age 30. He tried the monastic life for a time but soon returned to active public life. Even so, he ended his life as pope. Although he was the first pope from a monastic background, his prior political experiences may have helped him to be a talented administrator, who successfully established papal supremacy. During his papacy he greatly surpassed the administrative and political abilities of the emperors and improved the overall welfare of the people of Rome. Gregory regained papal authority in Spain and France, and sent missionaries to England. The realignment of their allegiance to Rome from their Arian Christian alliances shaped medieval Europe. Gregory also oversaw the alliance of Franks, Lombards, and Visigoths with Rome in religion.

Throughout the Middle Ages he was known as “the Father of Christian Worship” because of his exceptional efforts in revising the Roman worship of his day. His contributions to the development of the Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, for example, still in use in the Byzantine Rite, were so significant that he is generally recognized as its de facto author. Immediately after his death, Gregory was canonized by popular acclaim. The Protestant reformer John Calvin admired Gregory and declared in his Institutes that Gregory was the last good pope (which could be conceived as a form of damning by faint praise, I suppose). He is the patron saint of musicians, singers, students, and teachers.

In texts of all genres, especially those produced in his first year as pope, Gregory bemoaned the burden of office and mourned the loss of the undisturbed life of prayer he had once enjoyed as a monk. When he became pope in 590, among his first acts was writing a series of letters disavowing any ambition to the throne of Peter and praising the contemplative life of the monks. At that time, for various reasons, the Holy See had not exerted effective leadership in the West since the pontificate of Gelasius I (410-496). The episcopacy in Gaul was drawn from the great territorial families, and identified with them: the parochial horizon of Gregory’s contemporary, Gregory of Tours, may be considered typical. In Visigothic Spain the bishops had little contact with Rome; in Italy the territories which had de facto fallen under the administration of the papacy were beset by the violent Lombard dukes and the rivalry of the Byzantines in the Exarchate of Ravenna and in the south.

Gregory had strong convictions on missions: “Almighty God places good men in authority that He may impart through them the gifts of His mercy to their subjects. And this we find to be the case with the British over whom you have been appointed to rule, that through the blessings bestowed on you the blessings of heaven might be bestowed on your people also.” He is credited with re-energizing the Church’s missionary work among the non-Christian peoples of northern Europe. He is most famous for sending a mission, often called the Gregorian mission, under Augustine of Canterbury, prior of Saint Andrew’s (Gregory’s monastery), where he had perhaps succeeded Gregory, to evangelize the pagan Anglo-Saxons of England. It seems that the pope had never forgotten the English child slaves whom he had once seen in the Roman Forum. He famously said on meeting them, “Non Angli, sed angeli (they are not Angles, but angels) . . . well named, for they have angelic faces and ought to be co-heirs with the angels in heaven.”

The mission was successful, and it was from England that missionaries later set out for the Netherlands and Germany. The preaching of non-heretical Christian faith and the elimination of all deviations from it was a key element in Gregory’s worldview, and it constituted one of the major continuing policies of his pontificate.

The secular state in which Gregory became pope in 590 was a ruined one. The Lombards held the better part of Italy. Their predations had brought the economy to a standstill. They camped nearly at the gates of Rome. The city was packed with refugees from all walks of life, who lived in the streets and had few of the necessities of life. The seat of government was far from Rome in Constantinople, which appeared unable to undertake the relief of Italy. The pope had sent emissaries, including Gregory, asking for assistance, to no avail. In 590, Gregory could wait for Constantinople no longer. He organized the resources of the church into an administration for general relief. In doing so he evidenced a talent for and intuitive understanding of the principles of accounting, which was not to be formalized for centuries. The church already had basic accounting documents: every expense was recorded in journals called regesta, “lists” of amounts, recipients and circumstances. Revenue was recorded in polyptici, “books”. Many of these polyptici were ledgers recording the operating expenses of the church and the assets, the patrimonia. A central papal administration, the notarii, under a chief, the primicerius notariorum, kept the ledgers and issued brevia patrimonii, or lists of property for which each rector was responsible.

Gregory began by aggressively requiring his churchmen to seek out and relieve the needy and reprimanded them if they did not. In a letter to a subordinate in Sicily he wrote: “I asked you most of all to take care of the poor. And if you knew of people in poverty, you should have pointed them out … I desire that you give the woman, Pateria, forty solidi for the children’s shoes and forty bushels of grain ….” Soon he was replacing administrators who would not cooperate with those who would and at the same time adding more in a build-up to a great plan that he had in mind. He understood that expenses must be matched by income. To pay for his increased expenses he liquidated the investment property and paid the expenses in cash according to a budget recorded in the polyptici. The churchmen were paid four times a year and also personally given a golden coin for their efforts.

Gregory’s general charitable frame of mind completely won the hearts and minds of the Roman people. They now looked to the papacy for government, ignoring the rump state at Constantinople, which had only disrespect for Gregory, calling him a fool for his pacifist dealings with the Lombards. The Roman office of urban prefect went without candidates and secular government was largely defunct. From the time of Gregory the Great to the rise of Italian nationalism the papacy was the most influential voice in ruling Italy.

The mainstream form of Western plainchant which was standardized in the late 9th century, was attributed to Gregory  and so took the name of Gregorian chant, but the attribution is only loosely warranted. The earliest such attribution is in John the Deacon’s 873 biography of Gregory, almost three centuries after the pope’s death, and the chant that bears his name is actually the result of the fusion of Roman and Frankish elements which took place in the Franco-German empire under Pepin, Charlemagne and their successors.

Gregory is interred in St Peter’s in Rome.

Not much is known about cooking in the 6th century in Italy or anywhere else in Europe for that matter.  So I’ll start by talking about the ecclesiastical cycle of feast and fast that dominated Europe through the Middle Ages and beyond. Today is both Sunday and a significant feast day in the Catholic church. That means you are free to eat what you want. On fast days, which used to include Fridays, the eves of feast, and the period of Lent, different regions of the Catholic world and different sects had different rules. Many animal products such as dairy, eggs, fats, and meats were not to be eaten and, in the more restrictive regions, only one meal during the day was allowed. Such restrictions were more relevant to the rich than the poor (who were numerous). For the majority, cereals were the norm and meat was a luxury. Even so, the rich found many ways around the restrictions and managed to eat quite sumptuously on fast days even though technically deprived of eggs and meat on those days. It comes down to whether you subscribe to the letter or the spirit of the law. As (nominal) followers of Jesus, they should have observed the spirit, but you know how people are.

I’ve had times in my life when I have been extremely observant of fast and feast days even though as a Protestant minister I have no obligation to do so. These days I am much less aware of such issues because I routinely eat one meal a day – breakfast – and it consists primarily of soup, rice, vegetables, and fruit (with a small amount of meat). I make a practice of eating eggs on Sundays as a treat. This practice has to do with my age and my circumstances. I live in Myanmar where rice is a staple and other dishes are small accompaniments for flavor, not the main ingredients.  When I lived in the US and was an active pastor I followed Medieval fast and feast rules rigorously, most especially in Lent. I won’t go into the spiritual details here, but I will point out that an Easter Sunday dinner of roast lamb, roast potatoes, and sumptuous gravy followed by a suet pudding with fresh egg custard was glorious after 40 days of fasting.

There’s the medieval trick that has long left us behind. Satisfying every culinary whim, because you feel like it, just makes you fat and lazy. Working on a cycle of fast and feast has much to commend it, but it’s a personal choice. Furthermore, alternating feasting and fasting is another version of my desire for variety in my culinary life.

Frumenty is a reasonable medieval dish for a feast day.  It’s basically a wheat porridge with various flavorings added. The typical method of preparation was to parboil whole grains of wheat in water, then strain them and boil them in milk. The finished grains were then sweetened with sugar and flavored with cinnamon and other sweet spices, such as cloves and allspice. Dried fruits, usually raisins, might also be added.

Jan 062017
 

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This is a significant date when it comes to men styled king of England because both Cnut (the Great) and Harold Godwinson (Harold II) were crowned kings on this date – Cnut in 1017 and Harold in 1066 – and both have reasonable claim to being kings of England.  History is a queer duck, and how it is taught is even queerer. In the 1950s and 1960s I was taught bog standard Whig history – that is, the past is only of interest inasmuch as it leads to the present state of affairs.  Sellar and Yeatman lampooned this bad habit mercilessly in 1066 And All That – a volume I enjoyed as a youth for its overall wit, but completely missed their general point about what makes something in English history a “good thing” or a “bad thing.” More and more, also, I am of the opinion that 1066 was a crucial year in English history, but was not the be all and end all of things when it comes to defining the nation of England and its monarchs.

Whig history argues that the Norman kings, starting with William I (aka William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy), were the first REAL kings of England, because William unified England, and made himself king of the land that he unified. This is fair enough – up to a point – if you see England in terms of the present nation-state.  But what is England really?  Were its current borders set in stone from time immemorial? Or is England more of an historical mental abstraction than a permanent geographical reality?  In fact, do historians project back into the past a notion of “England” based on current reality?

There is no question in my mind that the Norman and Angevin kings of England saw England as a province of their territories in continental Europe, and would not have minded much if they had been called Count of England, or Duke of England – which is pretty much what they were. They took the title “king” from their Anglo-Saxon and Danish predecessors. They treated England as part of a much larger whole down to the time of King John, who is arguably the first real king of England in the Norman line – that is, the first king to see England as his predominant realm, rather than as a minor bit of a much larger realm. His brother, Richard I (the Lionheart), clearly had virtually no interest in England other than financial, and spent almost no time there. He was much more concerned with his French holdings and with the Crusades.  His fame as a legendary king of England comes directly from 19th century Romantic literature and 19th century historians, not from historical reality.

So who were the first kings of England? How do we make such an assessment? I’ll begin with Sellar and Yeatman:

Memorable among the Saxon warriors were Hengist and his wife (? or horse), Horsa. Hengist made himself King in the South. Thus Hengist was the first English King and his wife (or horse), Horsa, the first English Queen (or horse).

This is, of course, deliberate nonsense but it points up the historical problem of identifying the first “English” invaders and rulers. In his 8th century Ecclesiastical History, Bede records that the first chieftains among the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes in England were said to have been the brothers Hengist and Horsa. He relates that Horsa was killed in battle against the Britons [Celts] and was thereafter buried in East Kent, where, at the time of writing, a monument still stood to him. According to Bede, Hengist and Horsa were the sons of Wictgils, son of Witta, son of Wecta, son of Woden (i.e. the chief Norse god).

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Hengist is the Old English for “stallion” and Horsa for “horse.” Whether or not they were real men is unknowable at this point.

The 9th century Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that in the year 449 Hengist and Horsa were invited to Britain by Vortigern to assist his forces in fighting the Picts. They landed at Eopwinesfleot (Ebbsfleet), and went on to defeat the Picts wherever they fought them. Hengist and Horsa sent word home to north Germany describing “the worthlessness of the Britons, and the richness of the land” and asked for assistance. Their request was granted and support arrived. Afterward, more people arrived in Britain from “the three powers of Germany; the Old Saxons, the Angles, and the Jutes”. The Saxons populated Essex, Sussex, and Wessex; the Jutes Kent, the Isle of Wight, and part of Hampshire; and the Angles East Anglia, Mercia, and Northumbria (leaving their original homeland, Angeln, deserted). These forces were led by Hengist and Horsa who were sons of Wihtgils, son of Witta, son of Wecta, son of Woden.

In the entry for the year 455 the Chronicle details that Hengist and Horsa fought with Vortigern at Aylesford and that Horsa died there. Hengist took control of the kingdom with his son Esc. In 457, Hengist and Esc fought against British forces in Crayford “and there slew four thousand men”. The Britons left the land of Kent and fled to London. In 465, Hengest and Esc fought again at the Battle of Wippedesfleot, probably near Ebbsfleet, and slew twelve British leaders. In the year 473, the final entry in the Chronicle mentioning Hengist or Horsa, Hengist and Esc are recorded as having taken “immense booty” and the Britons having “fled from the English like fire.”

Was Hengist, therefore, the first king of England?  He did not really rule a whole lot of what is now the nation of England. On that score Alfred the Great, king of Wessex, is often thought of as the first king of all England (although his kingdom was much smaller than modern England). While Alfred was not the first king to lay claim to rule all of the English, his rule represents the first unbroken line of kings to rule the whole of England (as it then was) – the House of Wessex.

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Arguments are made for a few different kings who controlled enough of the ancient kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxons to be deemed the first king of England. For example, Offa, king of Mercia, and Egbert, king of Wessex, are sometimes described as kings of England by popular writers, but not by all historians. In the late 8th century Offa achieved a dominance over southern England that did not survive his death in 796. In 829 Egbert conquered Mercia, but he soon lost control of it. By the late 9th century Wessex was the dominant Anglo-Saxon kingdom. Its king, Alfred the Great, was overlord of western Mercia and used the title King of the Angles and Saxons, but he never ruled eastern and northern England, which was then the Danelaw. His son Edward the Elder conquered the eastern Danelaw, but Edward’s son Æthelstan became the first king to rule the whole of England when he conquered Northumbria in 927, and he is regarded by some modern historians as the first king of England.

So, what about today’s coronations of Cnut and Harold II? Both are recorded as taking place on Christmas Day, which in Old Style is 25 December, but in the Gregorian Calendar is today. Cnut the Great (c. 995 – 12 November 1035), also known as Canute, was king of Denmark, England and Norway, together often referred to as the Anglo-Scandinavian or North Sea Empire. After his death, the deaths of his heirs within a decade, and the Norman conquest of England in 1066, his legacy was largely lost to history. He is still chiefly remembered for the falsely re-told legend that makes him out to be so boastful that he claimed he could command the tide and got wet feet in the process. The actual tale is much more kind to him. In it his lords try to flatter him by saying that he is so mighty as to be able to control the elements, and he proves them wrong by showing that he cannot control the tide.

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Cnut’s father was Sweyn Forkbeard, king of Denmark (which gave Cnut the patronym Sweynsson, Old Norse Sveinsson). As a Danish prince, Cnut won the throne of England in 1016 in the wake of centuries of Viking activity in northwestern Europe. His accession to the Danish throne in 1018 brought the crowns of England and Denmark together. Cnut maintained his power by uniting Danes and English under cultural bonds of wealth and custom, as well as by sheer brutality. After a decade of conflict with opponents in Scandinavia, Cnut claimed the crown of Norway in Trondheim in 1028. The Swedish city Sigtuna was held by Cnut. He had coins struck there that called him king, but there is no narrative record of his occupation.

The kingship of England lent the Danes an important link to the maritime zone between the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, where Cnut, like his father before him, had a strong interest and wielded much influence among the Norse–Gaels. Cnut’s possession of England’s dioceses and the continental Diocese of Denmark – with a claim laid upon it by the Holy Roman Empire’s Archdiocese of Hamburg-Bremen—was a source of great leverage within the Catholic Church, gaining notable concessions from Pope Benedict VIII and his successor John XIX. After his 1026 victory against Norway and Sweden, and on his way to Rome for this coronation, Cnut, in a letter written for the benefit of his subjects, which only now exists in two twelfth-century Latin versions, deemed himself “King of all England and Denmark and the Norwegians and of some of the Swedes.” The Anglo-Saxon kings used the title “king of the English.” Cnut was ealles Engla landes cyning—”king of all England.” In this respect he was king of England in the same way that the Norman kings were – that is, England was a province within a much larger realm.

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Harold Godwinson or Harold II (Old English: Harold Godƿinson, pronounced [hɑroɫd ɣodwinzon]; Old Norse: Haraldr Guðinason) was the last Anglo-Saxon king of England although his reign consisted entirely of fending off contenders for the throne. Harold reigned from 6 January 1066 until his death at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October, fighting the Norman invaders led by William the Conqueror.

Harold was a powerful earl and member of a prominent Anglo-Saxon family with ties to Cnut the Great.  In 1051 Harold’s boat in which he was perhaps fishing or traveling for some reason was driven across the Channel by an unexpected storm. There is general agreement that he left from Bosham, and was blown off course, landing at Ponthieu. He was captured by Guy I, Count of Ponthieu, and was then taken as a hostage to the count’s castle at Beaurain, 24.5 km up the River Canche from its mouth at what is now Le Touquet. Duke William of Normandy arrived soon afterward and ordered Guy to turn Harold over to him. Harold then apparently accompanied William to battle against William’s enemy, Conan II, Duke of Brittany. While crossing into Brittany past the fortified abbey of Mont Saint-Michel, Harold is recorded as rescuing two of William’s soldiers from quicksand. They pursued Conan from Dol-de-Bretagne to Rennes, and finally to Dinan, where he surrendered the fortress’s keys at the point of a lance. William presented Harold with weapons and arms, knighting him. The Bayeux Tapestry, and other Norman sources, then record that Harold swore an oath on sacred relics to William to support his claim to the English throne. After Edward the Confessor’s death, the Normans were quick to point out that in accepting the crown of England, Harold had broken this alleged oath.

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At the end of 1065 Edward the Confessor fell into a coma without clarifying his preference for the succession. He died on 5 January 1066, according to the Vita Ædwardi Regis, but not before briefly regaining consciousness and commending his widow and the kingdom to Harold’s “protection”. The intent of this charge remains ambiguous, as is the Bayeux Tapestry, which simply depicts Edward pointing at a man thought to represent Harold. When the Witenagemot convened the next day they selected Harold to succeed, and his coronation followed on 6 January, most likely held in Westminster Abbey, though no evidence from the time survives to confirm this. Later Norman sources point suspiciously to the suddenness of this coronation but some modern historians suggest that all the nobles of the land were present at Westminster simply for the feast of Christmas and not because of any usurpation of the throne on Harold’s part. This seems quite dubious to me. Christmas was not a major feast in those days.

Hearing of Harold’s coronation, Duke William began plans to invade England, building 700 warships and transports at Dives-sur-Mer on the Normandy coast. Initially, William could not get support for the invasion but, claiming that Harold had sworn on sacred relics to support his claim to the throne  William received the Church’s blessing and nobles flocked to his cause. In anticipation of the invasion, Harold assembled his troops on the Isle of Wight, but the invasion fleet remained in port for almost seven months, perhaps due to unfavorable winds. On 8th September, with provisions running out, Harold disbanded his army and returned to London. On the same day Harald Hardrada of Norway, who also claimed the English crown joined Tostig and invaded, landing his fleet at the mouth of the Tyne.

The invading forces of Hardrada and Tostig defeated the English earls Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria at the Battle of Fulford near York on 20 September 1066. Harold led his army north on a forced march from London, reached Yorkshire in four days, and caught Hardrada by surprise. On 25 September, in the Battle of Stamford Bridge, Harold defeated Hardrada and Tostig, who were both killed.

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According to Snorri Sturluson, before the battle a single man rode up alone to Harald Hardrada and Tostig. He gave no name, but spoke to Tostig, offering the return of his earldom if he would turn against Hardrada. Tostig asked what his brother Harold would be willing to give Hardrada for his trouble. The rider replied “Seven feet of English ground, as he is taller than other men.” Then he rode back to the Saxon host. Hardrada was impressed by the rider’s boldness, and asked Tostig who he was. Tostig replied that the rider was Harold Godwinson himself.

So that’s our kings for today. Today is also Epiphany which in many countries is called Three Kings because it marks the arrival of the “kings” (or magi) in Bethlehem. We have only two kings but we can celebrate in traditional way with a king cake.  What counts as a king cake varies enormously from culture to culture and throughout history.  The Victorians are legendary for their highly decorated efforts.  These were pretty solid fruit cakes, much like Christmas cake.

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New Orleans king cakes go on sale now and are regular features until Mardi Gras, perhaps a remnant of the fact that in the Middle Ages the Christmas season extended until Lent.

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For my king cake I’ve made an Anglo-Italian hybrid – a zuppa inglese (a version of panettone) topped with mincemeat and whipped cream.

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Sep 022015
 

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On this date in 1752 through enactment of the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750, Britain and the British Empire (including the eastern part of what is now the United States) adopted the Gregorian calendar. Up until that point they had used the Julian calendar which was 11 days ahead of sun time. Because of this they had to eliminate 11 days, so Wednesday, 2 September 1752, was followed by Thursday, 14 September 1752. For many years it was believed that people in England rioted demanding “Give us back our eleven days” as if somehow their lives had been shortened by 11 days. This is actually nothing more than an urban legend based on a misinterpretation of a contemporary William Hogarth painting. However, there were some real negative consequences to shortening the year. For historians, such as myself, interested in anniversaries, it is merely a simple curiosity that the dates 3 to 13 September 1752 do not exist. So, it would be a good pub quiz question to ask something like “what important event occurred in England on 10 September 1752?”

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The Gregorian calendar, also called the Western calendar and the Christian calendar, is internationally the most widely used civil calendar. It is named for Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it by papal bull in 1582. It was first used as a religious calendar whose primary purpose was to make sure that Easter was perpetually celebrated at the same time as in ancient times (more or less coinciding with Passover, when Jesus was crucified). It replaced the Julian calendar, created by Julius Caesar, whose calendar year was very slightly ahead of the sun because the solar year is very slightly shorter than 365.25 days (0.002% shorter). If you have a leap year every four years you add a day every four years (February 29th). But since the year is not exactly 365.25 days you are adding just a little too much. The Gregorian calendar corrects for this by making century years NOT leap years if the first 2 digits are not divisible by 4. Thus, 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not leap years, but 2000 was.

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The Gregorian calendar was immediately adopted in European Catholic countries and their colonies, for both civil and religious purposes, but not by Orthodox and Protestant countries. Hence, when it came to buying and selling goods internationally there could be confusion about dates of billing, receipts, and so forth. Although it ought to have been simple for non-Catholic countries to shift into line with Catholic countries, it took a long time for the change to come about mostly because of prejudice. Some claimed, for example, that it was a papal plot to convert the world to Catholicism. It astonishes me how stupid and irrational prejudice can be. Greece did not change to the Gregorian calendar until 1923. I remember in the 1970s when the U.K. decided to stay on BST all year so that the clocks would align with those in continental Europe, thus making it easier to conduct international business and assuring that the stock markets opened and closed at the same time. I was amazed to watch the historian A.J.P. Taylor in an interview on television saying essentially, “we’re British damn it; we don’t have to do what foreigners do.” I used to like him up until that point. It’s one thing to be a maverick, it’s another to be an idiot. As it happens this change ultimately failed because it had a human cost. With the clocks advanced all year children in the north of England and Scotland were going to school in winter in the pitch dark.

Calendar reform in England in 1750 had two components. The first specified that the new year should begin on 1st of January (the old Roman new year). Previously there had been a welter of ways of marking the new year. The tax year and the civil year in general, for example, began on Lady Day (25 March). Many institutions, such as churches, calculated the years starting with the date when the current king or queen ascended the throne. Others used famous local events, or religious holidays such as Shrove Tuesday or Halloween. Having one official New Year’s Day for everyone was obviously beneficial. To bring everyone into line in England and Wales, the legal year 1751 was a short year of 282 days, running from 25 March to 31 December. 1752 began on 1 January. The change to 1 January had already been effected in Scotland in 1600.

The second component was meant to align the calendar in use in the U.K. to that on the continent, by adopting the Gregorian calendar which meant eliminating the 11 days from 3 to 13 September 1752. Thus the year 1752 was a short year (355 days) as well. The Act of Parliament, mindful of recent religious wars in Europe, adopted the Gregorian calendar without mention of pope Gregory or the Catholic church.

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Some history books say that some people rioted after the calendar change, asking that their “eleven days” be returned. However this is not true. The legend is based on only two primary sources: The World, a satirical journal by Lord Chesterfield; and a painting by William Hogarth. Chesterfield was the author of the calendar reform Act. He wrote to his son, “Every numerous assembly is a mob, let the individuals who compose it be what they will. Mere sense is never to be talked to a mob; their passions, their sentiments, their senses and their seeming interests alone are to be applied to. Understanding have they collectively none.” Here, he was boasting of his skill in having the Bill passed through the Lords; the ‘mob’ in question was his fellow peers, not some angry rioting mob protesting the changes.

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When the son of the Earl of Macclesfield (who had been influential in passing the Act) stood for Parliament in Oxfordshire as a Whig in 1754, dissatisfaction with the calendar reform was one of a number of issues raised by his Tory opponents. In 1755, William Hogarth produced a painting (and an engraved print from the painting) loosely based on these elections, entitled An Election Entertainment, which shows a placard carrying the slogan “Give us our Eleven Days” (on floor at lower right — detail below).

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An example of the resulting incorrect history is shown by Ronald Paulson, author of Hogarth, His Life, Art and Times, who wrote that “…the Oxfordshire people…are specifically rioting, as historically the London crowd did, to preserve the ‘Eleven Days’ the government stole from them in September 1752 by changing the calendar.” Thus the “calendar riot” fiction was born. The election campaign depicted by Hogarth concluded in 1754, after a very lengthy contest between Court Whigs and Jacobite Tories. Every issue between the two factions was brought up, including the question of calendar reform. The Tories attacked the Whigs for every deviation, including their alleged favoritism towards foreign Jews and the “Popish” calendar. Hogarth’s placard, part of a satire on the character of the debate, was not an observation of actual crowd behavior.

There were, however, legitimate concerns about tax and other payments under the new calendar. Provision 6 (Times of Payment of Rents, Annuities) of the Act stipulated that monthly or yearly payments would not become due until the dates that they originally would have in the Julian calendar, or in the words of the Act “[Times of Payment of Rents, Annuities] at and upon the same respective natural days and times as the same should and ought to have been payable or made or would have happened in case this Act had not been made”. In that way landlords would not get an extra 11 days rent for free.

Several theories have been proposed for the odd beginning of the British tax year on 6 April. One is that from 1753 until 1799, the tax year began on 5 April, which corresponded to 25 March Old Style (Julian calendar), that is, the old New Year’s Day. After the twelfth skipped Julian leap day in 1800, it was changed to 6 April, which still corresponded to 25 March Old Style. However it was not changed when a thirteenth Julian leap day was skipped in 1900, so the tax year in the United Kingdom still begins on 6 April. Now write and tell me why Tax Day is 15 April in the U.S. (Pub quiz question of the day).

The Gregorian calendar continued to use the previous calendar era (year-numbering system), which counts years from the traditional date of the nativity (Anno Domini), originally calculated in the 6th century by Dionysius Exiguus. This year-numbering system, also known as Dionysian era or Common Era, is the predominant international standard today. This is why I, and a great many other people, use the abbreviations C.E. (Common Era) and B.C.E (Before the Common Era), rather than the ethnocentric A.D. and B.C.

What to give you for today’s recipe? I did find one or two ancient ones for wine that required a fermentation period of 11 days (which meant that if you followed the calendar wine begun on 2 September would be ready on 14 September – the following day). However, that is a bit of a silly joke. Instead here is an 18th century English recipe for “Asparagus dressed the Italian Way.” It seems appropriate in that it is from an English cook, allowing that the Italian way of cooking (home of the pope) has its merits. In those days, as now, the English were a xenophobic lot, so this recipe is a surprise.

Take the asparagus, break them in pieces, then boil them soft and drain the water from them; take a little oil, water, and vinegar, let it boil, season it with pepper and salt, throw in the asparagus and thicken with yolks of eggs. The Spaniards add sugar, but that spoils them.

Looks remarkably like asparagus with Hollandaise to me – which I love. Don’t be a Spaniard and add sugar. Wouldn’t want to spoil the asparagus – or you!

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May 302014
 

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On this date in 1381 the Peasants’ Revolt in England began. It was without doubt one of the most profoundly important events in the history of Europe, equal to the French and Russian Revolutions, for example. Yet, probably because it happened so long ago, it is largely forgotten by the average person these days. In a short post like this I cannot do more than outline some of the basic events and then try to give a brief analysis, especially focusing on why it is important to know about it in the present day.

The Peasants’ Revolt has also been called Wat Tyler’s Rebellion or the Great Rising, for various reasons. The most popular term, Peasants’ Revolt, is unsatisfactory because it suggests that the uprising was confined to a particular rural class: it was not. It involved city and country people from a great variety of occupations. It was a general revolution of the underclasses against the tyranny and injustice of a socio-economic system that bled the majority for the benefit of the elite minority. It was a very early and powerful example that was to repeat itself globally wherever feudal systems existed. That is why its study is so important.

The revolt had various causes, but in the end they all boil down to economics. Of major importance was the impact on the country of the ravages of the Black Death of the 1340’s which swept all of Europe. It is estimated that as much as 50% of the population of Europe was wiped out by the plague. In England whole villages were depopulated, and nowhere was left untouched. One “solution” would have been to scale back the economy by one half and the status quo would have been preserved. But the nobility was not about to lose half its income. Instead, the workers were forced to double their labors so that the rich could maintain their wealth. Meanwhile the workers earned no more than they had before. Add to this the fact that England was engaged in an expensive and protracted war with France – The Hundred Years War (yup, it was a long one). At issue was the fact that England held hereditary right to the throne of France, and, quite naturally, the French were more than a little tired of this arrangement. Neither side was willing to give up its position, so they fought it out for 100 years. At issue, as ever, was money. Whoever controlled France controlled its wealth. All landed gentry in England owned vast tracts of land in France, and were not about to lose them.

Wars were funded in those days by taxes raised as needed. A particularly unpopular tax was the poll tax which was levied at this time at four pence per person over the age of 14. When a first poll tax failed to raise sufficient funds a second was announced. Try to imagine this situation where the people are working twice as hard as they used to be, for no more income, and are forced on top of that to fund a war that potentially enriched their overlords with the people funding them at home and abroad deriving no benefit.

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A third component is the fact that a large percentage of the population of England at the time were serfs. “Serf” is really just another word for “slave.” Serfs, who were born into the condition, had to work, for the most part, without wages and had no freedom of movement. They had to work for the noble whose estate they lived on. Hence they could not seek better employment elsewhere as one can in an open labor market. Nor could they even travel from the estate. They lived and died within a few acres. You can suppose, therefore, that when you put these three factors together you have a powder keg.

The match that exploded the powder keg was lit on 30 May 1381 when a royal official, John Bampton arrived in Essex to investigate a shortfall in poll taxes. He based himself in the town of Brentwood and summoned representatives from the neighboring villages of Corringham, Fobbing, and Stanford-le-Hope to explain and make good the shortfalls. The villagers appear to have arrived well-organized, and armed with old bows and sticks. Bampton first interrogated the people of Fobbing, whose representative, Thomas Baker, declared that his village had already paid their taxes, and that no more money would be forthcoming. When Bampton and two sergeants attempted to arrest Baker, violence broke out. Bampton escaped and retreated to London, but three of his clerks and several of the Brentwood townspeople who had agreed to act as jurors were killed. Thus began the Peasants’ Revolt.

The revolt rapidly spread across the south-east of the country. A wide spectrum of rural society, including many local artisans and village officials, rose up in protest, burning court records and opening the local jails. The rebels sought a reduction in taxation, an end to serfdom, and the removal of the King’s senior officials and law courts. Inspired by the sermons of the radical cleric John Ball, and led by Wat Tyler, a contingent of Kentish rebels advanced on London. They were met at Blackheath by representatives of the royal government, who unsuccessfully attempted to persuade them to return home. King Richard II, then aged only 14, retreated to the safety of the Tower of London, but most of the royal forces were abroad or in northern England. On 13 June, the rebels entered London and, joined by many local townspeople, attacked the jails, destroyed the Savoy Palace and the Temple Inns of Court, set fire to law books and killed anyone associated with the royal government. The following day, Richard met the rebels at Mile End and acceded to most of their demands, including the abolition of serfdom. Meanwhile, rebels entered the Tower of London, killing the Lord Chancellor and the Lord High Treasurer, whom they found inside.

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On 15 June Richard left the city to meet with Tyler and the rebels at Smithfield. Violence broke out, and Richard’s party killed Tyler. Richard defused the tense situation long enough, by making promises he had no intention of keeping, for London’s mayor, William Walworth, to gather a militia from the city and disperse the rebel forces. Richard immediately began to re-establish order in London and rescinded his previous grants to the rebels. The revolt had also spread into East Anglia, where the University of Cambridge was attacked and many royal officials were killed. Unrest continued until the intervention of Henry le Despenser, who defeated a rebel army at the Battle of North Walsham on 25 or 26 June. Troubles extended north to the cities of York, Beverley, and Scarborough, and west as far as Bridgwater in Somerset. Richard mobilized around 4,000 soldiers to help restore order. Most of the rebel leaders were tracked down and executed; by November, at least 1,500 rebels had been killed, and the situation was defused.

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It’s a rather curious fact that proper historical analysis of the revolt did not happen until the late 19th and early 20th centuries when a detailed study of court records and local archives was carried out, coupled with a thorough examination of contemporary accounts. In consequence opinion now is rather divided as to the impact of the revolt. Until that time, the Peasants’ Revolt was considered a defining moment in English history, when the people rose up to assert their rights – rights that became embedded in English culture. Some historians still hold that position. Others are more guarded. Serfdom was not abolished, the feudal system remained intact, the taxation system was, in principle, unchanged (though eased), and England continued to have pointless, bloody wars with France.

However, the revolt heavily influenced the course of the Hundred Years War, by deterring later Parliaments from raising additional taxes to pay for military campaigns in France. The war continued but had to be funded by different means. The nobility in general was put on notice that if they wanted to wage war they were going to have to do it with their own blood AND their own money, not just for the present, but for all time. The revolt has also resonated down through the centuries in literature, history, and popular culture as an example of the power of oppressed people when they are pushed too far.

I don’t think it appropriate to give you a 14th century recipe from the tables of the nobility, although I am smart enough that I am sure I could find a way to pass it off as symbolic of what the peasantry were revolting against. On the other hand, finding a recipe for what the peasantry actually ate is an impossibility. Nobody who could write at the time cared. I suspect it was an awful lot of porridge flavored with what you could find, as well as natural things that you could gather that were not the explicit property of the lord of the manor. Our main source of 14th century recipes is Forme of Cury (Forms of Cooking), an extensive recipe collection whose authors are given as “the chief Master Cooks of King Richard II.” The original roll was written in late Middle English (circa 1390) on vellum and gives 205 recipes. So it fits right in our time period.

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Not all the recipes are grand, though, and with the proper extraction of fancy ingredients you can have a fairly ordinary dish a peasant might eat, such as:

CABOCHES IN POTAGE.

Take Caboches and quarter hem and seeth hem in gode broth with Oynouns y mynced and the whyte of Lekes y slyt and corue smale and do þer to safroun an salt and force it with powdour douce.

Which can be rendered:

Take cabbages and quarter them and boil them in a rich broth with minced onions and the white parts of leeks slit in half and cut small. Add saffron and salt, and enliven it with sweet powder.

The two troublesome ingredients for the peasant are saffron and sweet powder (a mix of pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and sugar). Those would have cost a fortune. But switch them for some wild herbs and you have what the poor folk of the 14th century might eat. However, I thought I might be a little more adventurous than that. So, I dug further into Forme of Cury and found noumbles.

There’s a lot to know about noumbles. They are the innards of a deer, to begin with. Nothing in the Medieval household went to waste, so they would be cooked and eaten. One way was to make them into a noumble pie. Now watch this:

a noumble pie (the original)

an oumble pie (caused by mishearing the original by someone unfamiliar with noumbles)

an humble pie (mistaken attribution of “oumble” because it was no longer in usage)

Voilá, you have “humble pie” which you eat to taste remorse and humility. Ain’t language grand? Noumble pie was baked so that the noumbles did not go to waste, but it would not be served to the noble hunters who were gorging on venison. Noumble pie would be given to the servants. They ate humble pie.

The recipe for noumbles in Forme of Cury is not a pie but a rich stew. Seems like a good recipe to celebrate the Peasants’ Revolt nonetheless.

Here’s the original:

Take noumbles of Deer oþer of oþer beest parboile hem kerf hem to dyce. take the self broth or better. take brede and grynde with the broth. and temper it up with a gode quantite of vyneger and wyne. take the oynouns and parboyle hem. and mynce hem smale and do þer to. colour it with blode and do þer to powdour fort and salt and boyle it wele and serue it fort.

Here’s my free rendering:

Take the innards of a deer or other animal and parboil them, then dice them. Take some of the the parboiling water or a better broth, add bread to the broth and mash it to a paste. Then mix this all together with a lot of vinegar and wine. Parboil some onions, chop them fine, and add them to the broth. Use deer’s blood to color the liquid and then add strong powder and salt. Boil it all well and serve it up.

Strong powder is a spice mix rather similar to sweet powder and it’s probably the case that chef’s had their own variants of both. Nonetheless, it’s likely that the base of strong powder was a blend of pepper and ginger which is a very common mix in Medieval cookery.

I don’t usually have deer guts and blood on hand, although when I did fieldwork in the swamps of North Carolina I certainly could have had all I wanted in hunting season. To make up, I made a couple of substitutions. No surprises to my regular readers that I used tripe as my version of innards. I think that’s fair given that stomachs are noumbles too. Blood is not actually impossible to find – certainly not in Latin America. But I was not about to go hunting all day around Buenos Aires for it. I used blood sausage instead – suitably pulverized in water. After all, blood adds taste as well as color. If you are not a tripe aficionado you can use any offal: liver, kidneys, heart, etc. I used breadcrumbs rather than going to the hassle of mashing up bread. It’s a thickening agent so it does not really matter. Here’s the results.

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©Noumbles

Ingredients

1lb raw tripe (or other offal)
1 pint beef stock
1 onion, chopped
½ cup breadcrumbs
2 tsps black pepper
2 tsps ginger
¼ cup red wine
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 blood sausage

Instructions

Parboil the tripe. This should take about 20 minutes. Remove it from the boiling water and chop it into small dice.

Place the stock in a saucepan, add the breadcrumbs and stir well to make sure they are all evenly distributed.

Skin the blood sausage and remove the inner part in small lumps. Place them into a bottle or lidded container and add about ¼ cup of warm water. Cap the bottle and shake like mad for a minute or two. You will end up with a dark liquid with a small amount of solid residue that will settle quickly. Add the liquid only to the pot.

Add the onions (I saw no need to parboil them), ginger, pepper, red wine, and vinegar, and add back the tripe. Bring to a slow simmer stirring continuously. You do not want the breadcrumbs to clump. When the sauce has blended and thickened, turn the heat to low and let the pot gently simmer covered for about 30 minutes, or until the tripe is fully cooked. Serve in wide bowls with crusty bread.

Serves 4

Apr 292014
 

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Today is International Dance Day, which was introduced in 1982 by the International Dance Council (Conseil International de la Danse or CID), a UNESCO partner NGO. The celebration is not intended to be linked to a particular person or a particular form of dance, but it was chosen because it is the birthday of  Jean-Georges Noverre (29 April 1727  – 19 October 1810), a French dancer and ballet master, the creator of ballet d’action, a precursor of the narrative ballets of the 19th century, who was instrumental in separating ballet from opera in 18th century Europe, thus giving dance a spotlight of its own.. The main purpose of Dance Day events is to attract the attention of the wider public to the art of dance. Emphasis should be given to addressing a new public, people who do not follow dance events during the course of the year.

Every year, the president of the CID sends the official message for Dance Day. The message for 2014 is a poem by Alkis Raftis, a Greek choreographer, ethnographer, and current president of CID.

A dancer’s creed

I believe in one dance
father, all-resonant
revealer of heaven and earth
and of all things visible and invisible:
Light of body,
very dance of very souls,
begotten, not made,
ever-present,
by whom all things are transfigured.

Who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven
before all worlds
and was incarnate in the bodies of mortals
and humanized them.
And was crucified during the consumer society,
suffered and was buried
and rises again in isolated places
where no scriptures exist.
And comes again with glory
to enliven both the quick and the dead:
whose kingdom shall have no end.

I believe in a holy dance,
lord, giver of life,
who proceedeth from independent communities
who speaks by the flesh of humans,
instead of the prophets.
I acknowledge that it constitutes a baptism
for the remission of afflictions and sins
the resurrection of dead limbs,
and the life of the world to come.

Alkis Raftis

My professional career as an anthropologist has had many foci, but dance has been the most significant. I have been a dancer, dance teacher, and historic and ethnographic dance researcher since my late teens. I thought that to honor International Dance Day I would give you a taste of some of my interests via video clips. Sadly all my videos are on a hard drive somewhere in New York, so I have had to make do with ones pulled from YouTube. I apologize for the amateur quality of most of them, but they do give you the idea.

I was first drawn to dance and dance research in England in 1967 when I first encountered traditional dance there. Thirty years, and hundreds of libraries, later I published the definitive history of one strand in the very rich tapestry of English traditional dance:

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I have performed and taught a great many different English dance styles. (I am pictured in the lead photo of this post, 3rd from the left with the muttonchops, and my son is crouching in front (in the straw hat). Here’s a clip of rapper, a linked “sword” dance which is found traditionally only in the coal mining towns of the far north. You will see that it is ideally suited for confined spaces, as befits miners. Last time I performed this dance was in a cramped bar on the island of Madeira in 2007.

The north west of England is noted for dancing in clogs which were traditional footwear for the working class for centuries. They have carved wooden soles and leather uppers, ideal for making clicketty sounds as you dance. Some of the dances are performed in teams, but there is also a strong tradition of solo stepping. I can do this but I’m not an expert by any means.

Team clog dancing found its way to the South of the U.S. where it took on its own style based on the local music. It originally evolved in the Appalachians but has since spread to other regions. The clogs were replaced with hard-soled shoes (like those worn by rapper dancers), and eventually taps were added. I’ve not performed these dances, but I have done research (unpublished) with dancers, and was once a judge at a local competition.

Stage tap dancing evolved directly from English clog stepping, which was an element in some Vaudeville shows in the U.S. (as it was in Edwardian Music Halls in England). You might be interested to note that in all film versions of tap dancing, the taps are added to the audio track afterwards. This is purely for technical reasons (just as singing is dubbed over the images from studio recordings). In the case of tap this is quite a feat of audio engineering.

My research into the history of traditional dance in Western Europe led me to the dances of the pueblos and Hispano villages of New Mexico, where I spent a year doing fieldwork in 1993/94. The matachines dances of the southwest of the U.S. and northern Mexico are hybrids of indigenous dance styles and dances from Spain which were brought there by Spanish missionary monks. Much of my research (published and unpublished) has focused on the links between European dances and the matachines. Here are the dances from Alcalde, NM, an Hispano village adjacent to the Tewa pueblo of San Juan (where the dance is also performed). I have detailed ethnographic studies of both.

I have also done extensive research into historic dances in England, which has included reconstructing dances from old sources, mainly from the 16th and 17th centuries, and arranging the music for performance. Here is a dance of this type taken from John Playford’s manual The Dancing Master (1651). Reconstructing such dances is difficult because Playford’s instructions are so meager.

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Sometimes the dance patterns do not fit the music, no stepping patterns nor hand/arm movements are indicated, and so forth. But familiarity with the whole corpus of dances from the era ultimately gives a sense of how to carry out reconstructions. The strangest place I ever taught these dances was in Sing Sing prison to a group of inmates who had written a play that had a dance sequence in it. I choreographed a version of a Baroque dance for them which was a comic prelude to a break dance session. The inmates could barely keep straight faces as they rehearsed, and I certainly couldn’t.

So, now I live in Buenos Aires where tango reigns supreme. People outside Argentina know tango from ballroom styles. This is NOT tango. You can find tango in different venues in Buenos Aires. Tourists usually experience “tango show” which has authentic roots, but is heavily re-choreographed for audience excitement. The most traditional tango is to be found in the milongas (dance halls) of the city, many of which are clustered in my barrio, san Telmo, one of many crucibles of tango in the nineteenth century. Milongas are strictly for locals to get up and dance; there is no performance element. In between show tango and the tango of the milongas is street tango, a common form of busking in tourist areas. This clip is from el Caminito in barrio La Boca, near where I live. The music, sadly, is not fully traditional, but comes close (if you excuse the English lyrics). Tango is all about passion kept rigidly under control – love, sex, betrayal, longing . . . It is slowly dying for all kinds of reasons. But tango still remains the lifeblood of Argentina. We are VERY proud of it.

I’ve got the world to choose from when it comes to picking a recipe. I’ve decided to go with a quasi-traditional recipe for kidneys from Northumbria, home of rapper. It’s based on a classic recipe for kidneys in gravy, but tarted up. Some cooks use a mix of kidneys and sausages. You can use all sausages if you prefer. The best beer for the sauce is Newcastle Brown Ale. I made do with Patagonian amber ale this time. Any dark beer that is not too sweet will work. I also like lashings of freshly ground black pepper in the sauce. All traditional English cooks keep a dripping pot for the fat from Sunday roast. It adds a characteristic richness to gravies of browned meats. But the health conscious can use vegetable oil for the sauté here.

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©Northumbrian Tipsy Kidneys

Ingredients

8 lamb’s kidneys
¼ pint/150 ml brown ale
¼ pint/150 ml sweet sherry
2 onions, coarsely chopped
pan drippings or vegetable oil for frying
2 tbsps tomato puree
8 oz/225 gm mushrooms
salt and black pepper to taste
1 tbsp flour
¼ pint/150 ml beef stock

Instructions

Cut the kidneys into bite-sized chunks, removing the fat and tubules (the white bits) from the center.

Heat a heavy, dry skillet on high heat and then brown the kidneys very quickly. Addition of fat at this stage or slow cooking will cause the kidneys to leak fluid and so will not brown. Set aside.

Add a tablespoon or more of fat or oil to the pan. Add the mushrooms and brown quickly. You can keep them whole if small, or halve/quarter if large. Set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium and sauté the onions until they are golden.

Return the kidneys and mushrooms to the pan. Turn the heat to high and add the sherry and brown ale. Reduce for about 2 minutes.

Add the beef stock and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered for about 20 minutes. Overcooking makes the kidneys chewy.

Make a slurry of the flour in a small amount of cold water. Add it slowly to the gravy, stirring well as you add it. Add just enough to thicken the gravy.

Cook for 5 minutes at a simmer and then serve with boiled or mashed potatoes.

Serves 4

Sep 142013
 

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On this date in 1752 the final phase of the switch from the old Julian Calendar to the new Gregorian calendar in England took effect.  The Julian Calendar was eleven days ahead of the Gregorian calendar, so eleven days had to be eliminated from the English calendar.  Thus, people in England went to bed on the night of September 2 and woke up on the morning of September 14. This historical fact is quite well known and gives rise to a piece of popular folklore concerning the stupidity of ordinary folk who rioted in the streets in England shouting “give us back our eleven days.” This never happened, but the Act that changed the calendar had many more provisions than shifting the date, and had broad consequences.

The Julian calendar was a reform of the Roman calendar introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE (708 AUC by the old Roman calendar). It took effect in 45 BCE (709 AUC). It was the predominant calendar in most of Europe, and in European settlements in the Americas and elsewhere, until it was superseded by the Gregorian calendar. The Julian calendar has a regular year of 365 days divided into 12 months. A leap day is added to February every four years. The Julian year is, therefore, on average 365.25 days long. It was intended to approximate the tropical (solar) year. Although Greek astronomers had known, at least since Hipparchus, that the tropical year was a few minutes shorter than 365.25 days, the calendar did not compensate for this difference. As a result, the calendar year gained about three days every four centuries compared to observed equinox times and the seasons. This discrepancy was corrected by the Gregorian reform of 1582. The Gregorian calendar has the same months and month lengths as the Julian calendar, but inserts leap days according to a slightly different rule. If the first two digits of a century year are not evenly divisible by 4, that year is not a leap year.  Thus 1900 was not a leap year but 2000 was (much to my eternal sadness). The Gregorian Reform made the calendar more accurately synchronized with the sun, but to get it back on track the extra days inserted by the Julian calendar by having a few too many leap years had to be lost.

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The Julian calendar (still in use in some places) is currently 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar; for instance, 1 January in the Julian calendar is 14 January in the Gregorian. The Julian calendar has been replaced as the civil calendar by the Gregorian calendar in almost all countries which formerly used it, although it continued to be the civil calendar of some countries into the 20th century. Most Christian denominations in the West and areas evangelized by Western churches have also replaced the Julian calendar with the Gregorian as the basis for their liturgical calendars. However, most branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church still use the Julian calendar for calculating the dates of moveable feasts, including Easter. Some Orthodox churches have adopted the Revised Julian calendar for the observance of fixed feasts, while other Orthodox churches retain the old Julian calendar for all purposes. The Julian calendar is still used by the Berber people of North Africa as an agricultural calendar because it regulates farm work better than the lunar Islamic calendar. In the form of the Coptic or Alexandrian calendar, it is the basis for the Ethiopian and Egyptian ecclesiastical calendars, and is also used in some agricultural areas. The dates on which various countries made the switch is depicted below (click to enlarge).

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The Gregorian calendar was a reform made in 1582 to the Julian calendar. It was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII, after whom the calendar was named, by papal bull Inter gravissimas dated 24 February 1582.The motivation for the adjustment was to bring the date for the celebration of Easter to the time of the year that the First Council of Nicaea had agreed upon in 325. Setting the date of Easter required having an accurate calendar because it was linked to 21 March (nominally the vernal equinox).  The aim of the Council was to have all Christians celebrate Easter on the same day.

Gregory XIII

Gregory XIII

England did not accept Gregory’s reform because of the state of politics and the church at the time. Elizabeth I was on the throne, and arguably the most significant achievement of her reign was to cement the English Protestant Reformation that had been initiated by her father Henry VIII and augmented under her brother Edward VI.  Elizabeth had a vested interest in keeping the country Protestant because under Catholic canon law she was illegitimate – Henry had divorced his first wife to marry Elizabeth’s mother Anne Boleyn, and divorce was not allowed under Catholic law. Elizabeth, therefore, could not inherit the crown if the country were Catholic and subject to papal rulings.  Tensions with the papacy and with Catholics within England plagued her reign.  She was therefore not about to accept a papal order concerning the change of the calendar, and so England remained on the old one.

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By the mid eighteenth century England was still not clear of religious conflicts, but it was severely out of line with most of the rest of Europe in terms of its calendar.  More and more business dealings required uniformity across the continent and the colonies, so Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, proposed changing the calendar in 1750 in what became known as Chesterfield’s Act, or, The Calendar (New Style) Act 1750. The Parliament held that the Julian calendar then in use, as well as the start of the year being 25 March was:

“ . . . attended with divers inconveniences, not only as it differs from the usage of neighbouring nations, but also from the legal method of computation in Scotland, and from the common usage throughout the whole kingdom, and thereby frequent mistakes are occasioned in the dates of deeds and other writings, and disputes arise therefrom.”

The fundamental reform was embodied in the Act as follows:

“The old supputation of the year not to be made use of after Dec. 1751. Year to commence for the future on 1 Jan. The days to be numbered as now until 2d Sept. 1752; and the day following to be accounted 14 Sept. omitting 11 days.”

Philip Stanhope

Philip Stanhope

In England, the year 1751 was a short year of 282 days, running from 25 March (the old beginning of the new year) to 31 December. 1752 began on 1 January. To align the calendar in use in England to that in use on the continent, the changes introduced in 1582 by the Gregorian calendar were adopted with effect in 1752. To this end, the calendar was advanced by 11 days: Wednesday 2 September 1752 was followed by Thursday 14 September 1752. The year 1752 was thus a short year (355 days) as well.

Most of the other changes brought about by Pope Gregory were also adopted, such as the more accurate rules for leap years. However, with religious strife still on their minds, the British could not bring themselves to adopt the Catholic system entirely. They wanted their dates for Easter to coincide with those of the Catholic church, but were unwilling to accept the Catholic rules for deriving the date.  So they invented a new system of calculating the date that was distinct from the Catholic one, but achieved the identical result. What people will do when arbitrary sectarian principles are at stake!

It has been reported in some history books that a number of the public rioted after the calendar change, requesting that their “eleven days” be returned. However, it is very likely this is pure folklore, being based on only two primary sources: The World, a satirical journal of Lord Chesterfield and a painting by William Hogarth. Chesterfield, sponsor of the calendar reform, writes in one of his letters to his son:

“Every numerous assembly is a mob, let the individuals who compose it be what they will. Mere sense is never to be talked to a mob; their passions, their sentiments, their senses and their seeming interests alone are to be applied to. Understanding have they collectively none.”

Here, he was boasting of his skill in having the Bill passed through the Lords; the ‘mob’ in question was his fellow peers.

When the son of the Earl of Macclesfield (who had been influential in passing the calendar law) ran for a seat in Parliament in Oxfordshire as a Whig in 1754, dissatisfaction with the calendar reform was one of a number of issues raised by his Tory opponents. In 1755, William Hogarth made a painting (and an engraved print from the painting) loosely based on these elections, entitled “An Election Entertainment,” which shows a placard carrying the slogan “Give us our Eleven Days” (on floor at lower right). An example of the resulting incorrect interpretation of this painting can be found in Hogarth, His Life, Art and Times (1971) by Ronald Paulson, who wrote that “…the Oxfordshire people…are specifically rioting, as historically the London crowd did, to preserve the ‘Eleven Days’ the government stole from them in September 1752 by changing the calendar.”

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The election campaign Hogarth depicted was one which concluded in 1754, after a very lengthy contest between Court Whigs and Jacobite Tories. Literally every issue between the two factions was brought up, including the question of calendar reform. The Tories attacked the Whigs for every deviation, including their alleged favoritism towards foreign Jews and the “Popish” calendar. Hogarth’s placard, part of a satire on the character of the debate, was not an observation on actual crowd behavior but on the time wasting of politicians (using the oblique reference to the calendar reform).  There were no riots. Don’t you wish historians would check their facts better?

There were, however, legitimate concerns about tax and rent payments under the new calendar. People did not want to pay taxes and rents for 11 days that did not exist. Under provision 6 (Times of Payment of Rents, Annuities) of the Act, Great Britain made special provisions to make sure that monthly or yearly payments would not become due until the dates that they originally would have been due in the Julian calendar, or in the words of the act “[Times of Payment of Rents, Annuities] at and upon the same respective natural days and times as the same should and ought to have been payable or made or would have happened in case this Act had not been made.” Thus, if you had to make a payment on 25 March (old start of the new year), it would now be due on April 5, 11 days later by the new calendar (and would remain there). Fixed holidays, such as Christmas, remained on the same calendar day.

The Gregorian calendar serves us pretty well but it is still subject to minor adjustments because the earth wobbles a bit and creates tiny variations in solar time.  To correct this problem a leap second is occasionally added to or subtracted from Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) in order to keep its time of day close to mean solar time. The most recent leap second was inserted on June 30, 2012 at 23:59:60 UTC. Although a seemingly minor adjustment, it can throw off certain computer applications. In honor of this day I have added a 24 hour UTC clock to the blog’s sidebar under the (Gregorian) calendar. My blog server uses UTC which gives me the opportunity to post my new celebration any time after 21:00 my time and still be on the right day.

I thought that a recipe that took 11 days would be appropriate for today’s celebration.  I rejected dry aging your own beef because 11 days is not really long enough, and making your own bacon because 11 days is a little too long.  This recipe for 11 day pickles is perfect. You can use store bought pickling spice or make your own blend to suit.  My personal recipe is at the end.

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Eleven Day Cucumber Pickles

Ingredients:
8 cucumbers
2 cups cider vinegar
2 cups water
2 tsp alum
4 cups sugar
2 cups white vinegar
1 tbsp mixed pickling spice (see below)

Instructions:

Make a brine by dissolving  ½ cup of salt in 1 quart (1 liter) of boiling water.  Cool.

Cover whole cucumbers with salt brine in a non-reactive container. Let stand for 3 days and then drain.

Remove cucumbers from brine and cover with cold water. Keep covered in the water for 3 days.

Remove them from the water and cut into spears, or thick slices (or a variety).

Combine 2 cups cider vinegar, 4 cups water, and 2 teaspoons alum. Bring to a boil and pour over the cucumbers. Let stand for 2 days and then drain.

Combine 2 cups white vinegar, 4 cups sugar, and 1 teaspoon mixed pickling spices. Heat to boiling and pour over pickles. Let stand for 1 day.

Drain off the syrup into a non-reactive pan, bring to a boil, and pour over pickles. Let stand 1 day. Repeat.

Can or store in the refrigerator.

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Pickling Spice

Mix together:

4 cinnamon sticks, crumbled
1 inch piece dried gingerroot, crumbled
2 tbsps mustard seeds
2 tsps whole allspice berries
2 tbsps whole black peppercorns
2 tsps whole cloves
2 tsps dill seeds
2 tsps coriander seeds
2 tsps whole mace, crumbled
8 bay leaves, crumbled medium fine
1 small dried hot red pepper, crumbled with seeds