Nov 062018
 

The Charter of the Forest (Carta Foresta) was first signed on this date in 1217 at St Paul’s Cathedral in London. It is a charter that re-established for free men rights of access to the royal forest that had been eroded by William the Conqueror and his heirs. Many of its provisions were in force for centuries afterwards. It was originally sealed in England by the young king Henry III, acting under the regency of William Marshall, 1st Earl of Pembroke. It was in many ways a companion document to the Magna Carta, and redressed some applications of the Anglo-Norman Forest Law that had been extended and abused by William Rufus and thereafter.

To the Normans, “forest” meant an enclosed area where the monarch (or sometimes another aristocrat) had exclusive rights to animals of the chase and the greenery (“vert”) on which they fed. It did not consist only of trees, but included large areas of heathland, grassland and wetlands, productive of food, grazing and other resources. Lands became more and more restricted as king Richard and king John designated greater and greater areas as royal forest. At its widest extent, royal forest covered about one-third of the land of southern England. Thus, it became an increasing hardship on the common people to try to farm, forage, and otherwise use the land they lived on.

The Charter of the Forest was a complementary charter to the Magna Carta from which it had evolved. It was reissued in 1225 with a number of minor changes to wording, and then was joined with Magna Carta in the Confirmation of Charters in 1297.

At a time when royal forests were the most important potential source of fuel for cooking, heating and industries such as charcoal burning, and of such hotly defended rights as pannage (pasture for their pigs), estover (collecting firewood), agistment (grazing), or turbary (cutting of turf for fuel), this charter was exceptional in providing a degree of economic protection for free men (women had no rights) who used the forest to forage for food and to graze their animals. In contrast to Magna Carta, which dealt with the rights of barons, it restored to the common man some real rights, privileges and protections against the abuses of an encroaching aristocracy. For many years it was regarded as a development of great significance in England’s constitutional history, with the great seventeenth-century jurist Sir Edward Coke referring to it along with Magna Carta as the Charters of England’s Liberties, and Sir William Blackstone remarking in the eighteenth century that “There is no transaction in the antient part of our english history more interesting and important, than . . . the charters of liberties, emphatically stiled THE GREAT CHARTER and CHARTER OF THE FOREST . . . .”

The first chapter of the Charter protected common pasture in the forest for all those “accustomed to it”, and chapter nine provided for “every man to agist his wood in the forest as he wishes”. It added “Henceforth every freeman, in his wood or on his land that he has in the forest, may with impunity make a mill, fish-preserve, pond, marl-pit, ditch, or arable in cultivated land outside coverts, provided that no injury is thereby given to any neighbour.”. The Charter restored the area classified as “forest” to that of Henry II’s time.

Clause 10 repealed the death penalty (and mutilation as a lesser punishment) for capturing deer (venison), though transgressors were still subject to fines or imprisonment. Special Verderers’ Courts were set up within the forests to enforce the laws of the Charter.

By Tudor times, most of the laws served mainly to protect the timber in royal forests. However, some clauses in the Laws of Forests remained in force until the 1970s, and the special courts still exist in the New Forest and the Forest of Dean. In this respect, the Charter was the statute that remained longest in force in England (from 1217 to 1971), being finally superseded by the Wild Creatures and Forest Laws Act 1971.

To mark 800 years of the Charter of the Forest, in 2017 the Woodland Trust and more than 50 other cross-sector organizations joined forces to create and launch a Charter for Trees, Woods and People, reflecting the modern relationship with trees and woods in the landscape for people in the UK.

Here is a 13th-century recipe (sort of) from Henry of Huntingdon (c. 1088 – c. 1157). It is from Anglicanus ortus, eight books of poems and epigrams on herbs, spices, and gems united by a medical theme.

   Parsley is the best herb for mutton, the best for pork.
   If you ask the method, I will tell you. I’ll indicate for you
   the first meats in the first place, the second in the second.
   Take Pennyroyal, Cress, and Parsley;
   yet if that herb which the crowd is apt to call ius danna
   should be present, use it and not the Cress.

    Add Cost to these and mix in a bit of Pepper;
    you can now mix these with the mutton drippings.
   There will be no other flavor better suited to mutton,
   or so they relate who are devoted to these arts.
   Take Basil and Savory and Parsley
   and Cress, unless ius danna is near to you.

    Mix together Pepper and Cumin with these juices.
    In such a way, if you are eating cold pork,
    no other flavor would be made more pleasing than this.

Henry was a big fan of parsley, and in this poem he extols its virtues for making gravy with mutton fat. I presume he added broth, cream, or verjuice as well because fat and herbs alone would not make a particularly appetizing sauce, even for a Medieval Norman.

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.

Jan 202018
 

On this date in 1265 Simon de Montfort called a parliament that, for the first time in English history, included commoners as well as nobles. Many historians date the formation of the House of Commons from this moment.  Things are a lot murkier than that, of course. Historians can be a bit over the top from time to time. Nonetheless, it was a significant turning point in the way that English kings viewed their subjects, and de Montfort is often spoken of as the founder of the House of Commons, even though that’s a bit of a stretch. Prior to de Montfort’s parliament, the nobility ruled their lands without any concern for the opinions or desires of the common people. Over the centuries, the situation completely reversed itself – but it took time.

Henry III

In 1258, Henry III of England faced a revolt among the English barons. Anger had grown about the way the king’s officials were raising funds, the influence of his Poitevin relatives at court (bloody foreigners !!), and his unpopular Sicilian policy (he wanted to control the kingdom as a gift for his son, Edmund). Even the English Church had grievances over its treatment by Henry. Within Henry’s court there was a strong feeling that the king would be unable to lead the country through these problems. On 30 April, Hugh Bigod marched into Westminster in the middle of the king’s parliament, backed by his co-conspirators, including Simon de Montfort, the Earl of Leicester, and carried out a coup d’état. Henry, fearful that he was about to be arrested and imprisoned, agreed to abandon his policy of personal rule and instead govern through a council of 24 barons and churchmen, half chosen by the king and half by the barons.

The pressure for reform continued to grow unabated and a parliament met in June. The term “parliament” had first appeared in the 1230s and 1240s to describe large gatherings of the royal court, and parliamentary gatherings were held periodically throughout Henry’s reign. They were used to agree upon the raising of taxes which, in the 13th century, were single, one-off levies, typically on movable property, intended to support the king’s normal revenues for particular projects. During Henry’s reign, the counties had begun to send regular delegations to these parliaments, and came to represent a broader cross-section of the community than simply the major barons – but they were still nobles.

The new parliament passed a set of measures known as the Provisions of Oxford, which Henry swore to uphold. These provisions created a smaller council of 15 members, elected solely by the barons, which then had the power to appoint England’s justiciar, chancellor and treasurer, and which would be monitored through triennial parliaments. Pressure from the lesser barons and the gentry present at Oxford also helped to push through wider reform, intended to limit the abuse of power by both the king’s officials and the major barons. More radical measures were passed by the new council the next year, in the form of the Provisions of Westminster.

The disagreements between the leading barons involved in the revolt soon became evident. De Montfort championed radical reforms that would place further limitations on the authority and power of the major barons as well as the Crown. Others promoted only moderate change, while the conservative barons expressed concerns about the existing limitations on the king’s powers. Over the next 4 years, neither Henry nor the barons were able to restore stability in England, and power swung back and forth between the different factions. By early 1263, what remained of Henry’s authority had disintegrated and the country slipped back towards open civil war. De Montfort convened a council of rebel barons in Oxford to pursue his radical agenda and by October, England faced a likely civil war. De Montfort marched east with an army and London rose up in revolt. De Montfort took Henry and Queen Eleanor prisoner, and although he maintained a fiction of ruling in Henry’s name, the rebels completely replaced the royal government and household with their own, trusted men.

Simon de Montfort

De Montfort’s coalition began to fragment quickly. Henry regained his freedom of movement, and renewed chaos spread across England. Henry appealed to his brother-in-law Louis IX of France for arbitration in the dispute. De Montfort was initially hostile to this idea, but, as war became more likely again, he decided to agree to French arbitration as well. Initially de Montfort’s legal arguments held sway, but in January 1264, Louis announced the Mise of Amiens, condemning the rebels, upholding the king’s rights and annulling the Provisions of Oxford. The Second Barons’ War finally broke out in April, when Henry led an army into de Montfort’s territories. Becoming desperate, Montfort marched in pursuit of Henry and the two armies met at the Battle of Lewes on 14 May. Despite their numerical superiority, Henry’s forces were overwhelmed. Captured, Henry was forced to pardon the rebel barons and reinstate the Provisions of Oxford, leaving him a figurehead only.

Simon de Montfort claimed to be ruling in the king’s name through a council of officials. However, he had effective political control over the government even though he was not himself the monarch, the first time this had happened in English history. De Montfort successfully held a parliament in London in June 1264 to confirm new constitutional arrangements for England; four knights were summoned from each county, chosen by the county court, and were allowed to comment on general matters of state – the first time this had occurred. De Montfort was unable to consolidate his victory at Lewes, however, and widespread disorder persisted across the country. In France, Eleanor made plans for an invasion of England with the support of Louis.

In response, and hoping to win wider support for his government, de Montfort summoned a new parliament for 20th January 1265 which continued until mid-March that year. It was held at short notice, with the summons being issued on 14th December, leaving little time for attendees to respond. He summoned not only the barons, senior churchmen and two knights from each county, but also two burgesses from each of the major towns such as York, Lincoln, Sandwich, and the Cinque Ports, the first time this had been done. Due to the lack of support for de Montfort among the barons, only 23 of them were summoned to parliament, in comparison to the summons issued to 120 churchmen, who largely supported the new government. It is unknown how many burgesses were called. The event was overseen by king Henry, and held in the Palace of Westminster in London, the largest city in England, whose continuing loyalty was essential to de Montfort’s cause.

This parliament was a populist, tactical move by de Montfort in an attempt to gather support from the regions, and was made up of selected, partisan representatives. It was not some kind of proto-democratic representative body.  The business of the parliament focused on enforcing the Provisions of Westminster, in particular its restrictions on the major nobles, and promising judicial help to those who felt they were suffering from unfair feudal lordship.

The parliament bought temporary calm, but opposition grew once more, particularly as de Montfort and his immediate family began to amass a huge personal fortune. Prince Edward escaped his captors in May and formed a new army, resulting in a fresh outbreak of civil war. Edward pursued de Monfort’s forces through the Welsh Marches, before striking east to attack his fortress at Kenilworth and then turning once more on the rebel leader himself. De Montfort, accompanied by the captive Henry, was unable to retreat and the Battle of Evesham ensued. Edward was triumphant. De Montfort was killed, and his corpse was mutilated by the victors.

The rebellion dragged on in pockets and was not fully crushed until July 1267. Henry III ruled England until his death in 1272, continuing to summon parliaments, sometimes including the county knights and on one occasion including burgesses from the towns. After 1297 under Edward I’s reign, this became the norm, and by the early 14th century it was normal to include the knights and burgesses, a grouping that would become known as the “Commons” of England and, ultimately, form the “House of Commons.”

Simon de Montfort’s parliament of 1265 is sometimes referred to as the first English parliament, because of its inclusion of both the knights and the burgesses, and de Montfort himself is often regarded as the founder of the House of Commons. This is certainly a case of overreach, or, at best, looking at history in hindsight. The House of Commons did eventually develop into a fully representative and democratically elected body, so historians can look back to how it evolved, and where it started. By looking backwards from what developed later, historians can mark de Montford’s parliament as the first body that involved commoners, and, by that standard, peg it as the beginning of the House of Commons. But the burgesses at the court were chosen by de Montfort, and, although they were free to speak on matters beyond taxation, they could not initiate nor pass laws. Whether this was the beginning of the House of Commons seems a stretch, but you can decide.

De Montfort’s parliament met in the palace of Westminster, and parliaments still do, although the buildings have changed considerably in the interim. The current building was built in 1834, after a fire destroyed large sections of the old one.

Back when I posted about Big Ben I mentioned HP sauce, because HP stands for Houses of Parliament: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/big-ben/ Now we are not talking about the Houses of Parliament in general, but the House of Commons, which meets in a chamber of the palace of Westminster. Therefore, we should focus on another recipe. The House of Commons once put out a cookbook of favorite recipes by MPs, so you could check that out if you want.

I am going to give a recipe (not from the book) for House of Commons pudding. It’s a bit like spotted dick except that the pudding is sponge cake and crumbled ratafia biscuits (or almond macaroons), infused with egg custard, mixed with raisins, and steamed.

House of Commons Pudding

Ingredients

2 oz/50 g seedless raisins
2 tbsp/30 ml medium-dry sherry
4 trifle sponges, cut into ½ inch dice
9 ratafias or 2 almond macaroons, crumbled
14 fl oz/400 ml milk
3 eggs
1 oz/25 gm caster sugar
vanilla essence
glace cherries
angelica, cut in strips
butter (for greasing)

Instructions

Put the raisins in a small bowl with the sherry and macerate overnight.

Grease a pudding basin with butter and line it with greaseproof paper. Decorate the bottom with glace cherries and angelica.

Place the diced sponges in a mixing bowl. Mix in the crumbled ratafias (or macaroons).

Drain the raisins and discard the sherry.

Place a layer of the sponge mixture in the pudding base, being careful not to disturb the cherries and angelica. Sprinkle in a few of the raisins. Repeat the layering until the basin is filled.

Bring the milk to just below boiling point over medium heat in a saucepan. Take off the heat. Beat the eggs and sugar together in a mixing bowl, then pour in the scalded milk. Add a few drops of vanilla essence.

Slowly strain the custard mix on to the sponge mix in the pudding basin, so that it seeps down through the layers. Let it rest for 1 hour.

Meanwhile prepare a steamer setup. You can either use a conventional steamer with boiling water in the bottom, and a perforated top part to hold the pudding basin. Or you can invert a saucer in the bottom of a saucepan and add one or two inches of water, and set the pot to boil. The saucer will keep the pudding basin off the bottom of the pan.

Cover the pudding basin with greaseproof paper, and secure it with string. You can also add a layer of aluminium foil.

Place the basin in the top of the steamer or on the saucer, cover the pan and steam for 1 hour.

Carefully remove the basin from the steamer, place a plate over the top, invert the basin and plate, and unmold the pudding carefully. Serve with egg custard.