Gaye Mack’s Blog

Food on Offer in Medieval Scotland’s 16th Century

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work Leave a comment

For today’s post I’m pleased to welcome Margaret Skea, author of  the debut novel Turn of the Tide,  the Historical Fiction Winner in the Harper Collins People’s Novelist Competition, released in Nov 2012 by Capercaillie Books.  You can find Margaret on Facebook and on her website www.margaretskea.com.  For her guest post today, Margaret offers us an ‘interesting’ perspective of 16th century foodstuffs and guidelines… surprisingly there seems to have been agencies remotely mimicking our own USDA or FDA !  However, not all of the offerings would be appealing to our 21st century palates…in which case, for those that view the Medieval culture as ‘romantic’, you might rethink this.  Bon Appetit!

Food Standards Agency 16th century style…Or…What’s in this meat pie?  

by Margaret Skea 

Readers in the UK may or may not be concerned about the current ‘horse meat labeled as beef’ scandal.  For those of you in the US or elsewhere who might not have heard, there is currently a Europe-wide crisis with horse meat DNA having been found in many supposedly beef ready-meals, burgers, etc., with Food Standards Agencies running rings round themselves, testing everything in sight to discover the scale of the fraud.  For the record, I’m not worried, though I would prefer to know what I’m eating.  And if I’m not currently enjoying any burgers, I am at least enjoying the host of jokes that the crisis has spawned–my (suitably historic) favourite:  “After finding Richard III in a Leicester Car Park, scientists have found his horse in a Tesco burger.”
 
Is the mislabeling and adulteration of food a new problem?  Definitely not.  I imagine it’s been an issue for millennia, but I personally haven’t delved further back than the 15th and 16th centuries.  It was certainly a problem then, however, and to protect the customer and avoid disorder there were strict market regulations governing what could be sold, where, and in what form.  

In Scotland, some regulations came from the burghs themselves, some by statute, and the penalties for breaching them were suitably harsh.  Take bread, for example.  Scotland, in common with most of Europe suffered from ‘bread riots’, with one notable difference–the rioters in Scotland were not the poor, desperate for reasonably priced food, but the bakers or ‘baxters’ themselves, protesting about price restrictions imposed by the burgh authorities in response to regular Acts of Parliament.

 
Most bread was made from wheat, though the poorest households probably made their own flat and fairly indigestible barley bannocks.  The price and weight of bread was set but fluctuated according to the price of wheat.  Burgh records describe the bailies taking flour ground from a firlot (roughly equivalent to an imperial bushel) of wheat to a baker and watching as the bread was baked.
 The resulting loaf was the standard against which all other loaves were measured.  Any baker selling underweight bread risked, at best, a fine and confiscation of his stock, and at worst, his oven being broken. 
Often the sale of bread, as of other foodstuffs, was restricted to freemen or women – those with Burgess status. ‘Outlanders’, coming into the burgh from outside, were sometimes allowed to trade, but only if they paid the burgh for the privilege. Quality was also controlled, different grades of bread being classified as ‘white’ or ‘gray’ – not the most appealing of names – but all was to be ‘good’ and ‘dry’, which probably meant well-fired and well-risen – nothing worse than a damp and soggy loaf! 
Ale was also strictly regulated – the price dependent both on the price of malt and the quality of the ale. Tasters, or ‘conners’ were appointed on annual contracts, and having graded the ales they chalked the set prices on the shutters or door of the brewsters so that they could be clearly seen. Anyone found to be over-charging could have the bottom knocked out of his brewing vessels. (Interesting that 16th century burgh authorities were concerned with imposing a maximum price for alcohol, while the current debate relates to minimum pricing.)

As now, horse was not a normal part of the 16th century Scottish diet – they were in any case much too valuable to eat. There is however plenty of evidence of the consumption of beef, mutton, pork and goat in the burghs, along with salmon, and seawater fish in coastal areas. Meat regulation was primarily concerned with quality and, as in the current horse meat scandal, with ensuring that customers knew exactly what they were buying.

There has been much discussion on the length of our food chain, with meat being shipped all round Europe before it lands on a British table. Back then the food chain was extremely short, animals were to be slaughtered outside, in public view, and importantly, at the point of sale .  One way to ensure that a customer knows what animal they’re about to eat.  There were other issues too – the sale of meat from ‘longsoucht’ (lung-diseased) animals was banned, as was the sale of damaged or poorly butchered meat.

Efforts were made to outlaw dishonest practices designed to improve the appearance of meat, for example blowing air into a entire carcass, which plumped it up – to much the same effect, I imagine, as the modern practice of the addition of water, or the bleeding of animals before slaughter, which masked last minute feeding.  Not everyone was so well protected though – a rather shocking regulation stated that putrid pork or fish should be removed from sale and given to lepers.

But to come back to the meat pie of the title.

One of the most interesting restrictions of all on the activities of butchers or ‘fleshers’ is found in the Ancient Laws and Customs of the Burghs of Scotland–prohibiting them from trading as pastry cooks–an attempt to stop them putting poor quality meat into pies? Perhaps, which begs the sobering thought – three hundred years on nothing much seems to have changed…There are many sources available for further information, here’s just one for starters for anyone who might be interested:

March M S (1914) ‘The trade regulations of Edinburgh during the 15th and 16th centuries.’Scot Geogr Mag 30 (1914) 483 – 88

 

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MOVE OVER KING RICHARD III, MAKE WAY FOR THE BONES OF KING ALFRED OF WESSEX

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work 2 Comments

 Last week archaeological authorities in England’s north announced that indeed, the skeleton found last summer underneath a municipal car park in Leicester is that of the notorious King Richard III.  Now on the heels of this discovery, a team of archaeologists from the University of Winchester down in England’s southern Hampshire are hoping to discover the bones of Saxon England’s 9th century King, Alfred of Wessex believed to be buried in St. Bartholomew church in Hyde, located a little north of Winchester. 

The saga of Alfred’s tomb is a complex one with enough twists and turns of which medieval mystery writers dream.  According to various resources, Alfred was originally although temporarily, buried in Winchester’s old minster upon his death on October 26, 899 AD.  However, about 903 AD, a new minster was built and consecrated next door and at that point, Alfred’s remains were moved to the New Minster; but this move  proved to be another temporary one.

Roughly about 1109 AD, King Henry I ordered the New Mister to be moved north of the city to the suburb of Hyde Mead.  When the new ‘abbey church’ of Hyde was consecrated in 1110 AD, the bodies of Alfred, his wife Ealhswith and his son Edward the Edler, were interred before the high altar…until Henry VIII’s rampage against the monasteries and abbeys in 1539. 

Amazingly, although the abbey church was demolished by Henry’s enforcers, the graves of several royals were left intact only to be accidentally discovered in 1788 during the construction of a prison on the old abbey site.  As often happened in such instances, the tombs were robbed, the bones scattered.  One of the stories that continues to persist is that a vicar ‘bought’ Alfred’s bones, although from an ‘unreliable’ source, and moved them to St. Bartholomew.  Anything is possible of course; the bones could be Alfred’s, although the sale of suspect ‘relics and artifacts’ is a practice that dates back thousands of years and remains so today…often under the guise of ‘lost’ art that turns out to be expertly forged!

If permission for the excavation is given, radio carbon dating will be used to determine the bones authenticity and if it’s proven that they are the bones of England’s greatest king, experts agree that this would be one of the most significant archaeological discoveries ever made.  Stay tuned! 

 

saxon list

Photography©Gaye F. Mack, Inc.

PARTIAL LIST OF BONES BELONGING TO ENGLAND’S SAXON KINGS AND BISHOPS BELIEVED TO BE CONTAINED IN THE MORTUARY CHESTS AT WINCHESTER CATHEDRAL

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THE BEGINNING OF THE END FOR HENRY II & THOMAS BECKET~JANUARY 30, 1164

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work 2 Comments

By January 30 1164, King Henry II of England  had evidently had enough of the ecclesiastical hierarchy protecting its own in criminal matters.  In an effort to curb the power of the Church’s courts, Henry laid down a document of sixteen articles known as the Constitutions of Clarendon.  Initially Henry’s Archbishop, Thomas Beckett and the bishops of the realm reluctantly agreed to observe the guidelines of Henry’s document including the article stating that if a member of the church committed a crime, they would be tried in the state court in addition to an ecclesiastical court.  This was particularly relevant to the exposure of priests charged with serious felonies having to answer to a secular court and punishment.

 So restrictive were Henry’s articles through the eyes of the clergy, particularly in matters of such crimes as well as  property and excommunication, that although Becket agreed to the articles as we might say today, ‘in principle’, he refused to sign the order.   On October 8, 1164 Henry ordered Becket to appear before a great council at Northampton Castle to answer charges of ‘contempt of royal authority and malfeasance in the Chancellor’s office’ of which Becket was convicted.

 Becket bolted, fleeing to the continent where he was protected by King Louis VII of France.  For six years Henry attempted to bring his archbishop to heel through various power plays of repercussion countered by Becket’s threats of excommunication against the king, bishops and the kingdom.    Finally in 1170 Pope Alexander III brokered a diplomatic compromise that allowed Becket to return from England; however, the peace between Archbishop and King did not last and on December 29, 1170 Becket was assassinated by four of Henry’s knights who misunderstood (or did they?) the King’s cry, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest!”

 A selection of the articles making up the Constitutions of Clarendon is as follows, noting that article three was particularly grievous to Becket and his fellow clergymen.

 1. If a controversy arises between laymen, or between laymen and clerks, or between clerks concerning patronage and presentation of churches, it shall be treated or concluded in the court of the lord king.

3. Clerks charged and accused of any matter, summoned by the king’s justice, shall come into his court to answer there to whatever it shall seem to the king’s court should be answered there; and in the church court to what it seems should be answered there; however the king’s justice shall send into the court of holy Church for the purpose of seeing how the matter shall be treated there. And if the clerk be convicted or confess, the church ought not to protect him further.

4. It is not permitted the archbishops, bishops, and priests of the kingdom to leave the kingdom without the lord king’s permission. And if they do leave they are to give security, if the lord king pleases, that they will seek no evil or damage to king or kingdom in going, in making their stay, or in returning.

6. Laymen ought not to be accused save by dependable and lawful accusers and witnesses in the presence of the bishop, yet so that the archdeacon lose not his right or anything which he ought to have thence. And if there should be those who are deemed culpable, but whom no one wishes or dares to accuse, the sheriff, upon the bishop’s request, shall cause twelve lawful men of the neighborhood or the vill to take oath before the bishop that they will show the truth of the matter according to their conscience.

8. As to appeals which may arise, they should pass from the archdeacon to the bishop, and from the bishop to the archbishop. And if the archbishop fail in furnishing justice, the matter should come to the lord king at the last, that at his command the litigation be concluded in the archbishop’s court; and so because it should not pass further without the lord king’s consent.

14. Chattels which have been forfeited to the king are not to be held in churches or cemeteries against the king’s justice, because they belong to the king whether they be found inside churches or outside.

 

Window Depicting Assassination of Thomas Becket~Canterbury Cathedral

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THE NEW YEAR NOT OPTIMISTIC FOR THOMAS BECKET ON DECEMBER 29, 1170

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work 1 Comment

While there was no shortage of dysfunction in King Henry II of England’s relationship skills, (let us not forget his on again, off again marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine, nor the desire of his three sons, Richard, Geoffrey and John wishing him dead at various junctures), the soap opera-ish saga between Henry  and his best friend-turned persona non grata, Thomas Becket, is legendary.   On this day 843 years ago, Becket who would become the most revered saint in England, was brutally murdered in Canterbury Cathedral by four of Henry’s knights who perhaps, misunderstood the message behind Henry’s  supposed outburst, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest!” (or words to this effect)

Most accounts agree that Becket was murdered in the late afternoon around dusk, which might have been(given the time of year) around 4 p.m. or during the Office of Vespers.  The knights having hot-footed it(or rather, hot-sailed) from France across the Channel arrived at the Cathedral demanding that Becket travel to Winchester to account for his actions(there seemed to be a question having to with with the use of Henry’s money) and to reinstate those whom he’d excommunicated. Becket refused, which was not a surprise, intransigence being one of his characteristics.

The following is an ‘eyewitness’ account from Edward Grimm who may have been a monk(sources vary on this point). Initially Grimm observed the attack  from a hiding place near the altar before becoming involved and himself, wounded.   Although his account was written some time later, it wouldn’t be a stretch to believe that Grimm’s lens was influenced by Becket’s subsequent elevation to sainthood.  Nevertheless, his ‘eyewitness report’  is often referenced and therefore we can assume  some accuracy to his words.

“The murderers followed him[Becket]; ‘Absolve’, they cried, ‘and restore to communion those whom you have excommunicated, and restore their powers to those whom you have suspended.’

“He answered, ‘There has been no satisfaction, and I will not absolve them.’

‘Then you shall die,’ they cried, ‘and receive what you deserve.’

‘I am ready,’ he replied, ‘to die for my Lord, that in my blood the Church may obtain liberty and peace. But in the name of Almighty God, I forbid you to hurt my people whether clerk or lay.’

“Then they lay sacrilegious hands on him, pulling and dragging him that they may kill him outside the church, or carry him away a prisoner, as they afterwards confessed. But when he could not be forced away from the pillar, one of them pressed on him and clung to him more closely. Him he pushed off calling him ‘pander’, and saying, ‘Touch me not, Reginald; you owe me fealty and subjection; you and your accomplices act like madmen.’

“The knight, fired with a terrible rage at this severe repulse, waved his sword over the sacred head. ‘No faith’, he cried, ‘nor subjection do I owe you against my fealty to my lord the King.’

“Then the unconquered martyr seeing the hour at hand which should put an end to this miserable life and give him straightway the crown of immortality promised by the Lord, inclined his neck as one who prays and joining his hands he lifted them up, and commended his cause and that of the Church to God, to St. Mary, and to the blessed martry Denys. Scarce had he said the words than the wicked knight, fearing lest he should be rescued by the people and escape alive, leapt upon him suddenly and wounded this lamb who was sacrificed to God on the head, cutting off the top of the crown which the sacred unction of the chrism had dedicated to God; and by the same blow he wounded the arm of him who tells this. For he, when the others, both monks and clerks, fled, stuck close to the sainted Archbishop and held him in his arms till the one he interposed was almost severed.

“Then he received a second blow on the head but still stood firm. At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living victim, and saying in a low voice, ‘For the Name of Jesus and the protection of the Church I am ready to embrace death.’

“Then the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay, by which the sword was broken against the pavement, and the crown which was large was separated from the head. The fourth knight prevented any from interfering so that the others might freely perpetrate the murder.

“As to the fifth, no knight but that clerk who had entered with the knights, that a fifth blow might not be wanting to the martyr who was in other things like to Christ, he put his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to say, scattered his brain and blood over the pavement, calling out to the others, ‘Let us away, knights; he will rise no more.’

Becket window

Window Depicting Assassination of Thomas Becket~Canterbury Cathedral

References:
   Abbot, Edwin A., St. Thomas of Canterbury (1898); Compton, Piers, The Turbulent Priest (1964); Hollister, Warren C., Medieval Europe: a short history (1975)

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REACHING FOR THE STARS WITH DR. BACH’S ASPEN & WATER VIOLET AS DECEMBER’S NEW MOON ARRIVES AND URANUS GOES DIRECT

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Balance, Karmic and Self-Discovery Astrology, Writer's Work Leave a comment

Not only will  December 13th bring us a new moon in Sagittarius, but a few hours after this exact conjunction with the Sun, Uranus finally ends its retrograde motion which began last July.  And this isn’t all; these two astrological events come packed with significant energy, pushing open the cosmic gate, compelling us to step through.

For more than a year, the doomsday mongers have been wringing their hands in anticipation of ‘the end of days’ through their misinterpretation of the Mayan Calendar coding.  But this isn’t the first time such dire news has been predicted.  Back in 1184 the Toledo (Spain, not Ohio!) astrologers put all of Europe in a panic over an ‘unusual’ forthcoming planetary alignment.  Obviously we’re still here but if you’re interested, you can access one of my prior posts on this event.  As in the case of that misinterpretation, we’ll be here long after this December.  Nevertheless, we ARE due for important shifts in our perspectives and actions; no longer will the focus on the material and duality serve us well.  This ‘Super New Moon’, (when the moon is closest to the earth) marks a momentous fork in the road along with the solstice (December 21st). 

 Cosmic Law reminds us that the macrocosm is a reflection of the microcosm and visa versa.  In other words, the state of our landscape outside is a reflection of the energetic landscape within us as well as the reverse.  As I write this posting, the morning news is full of the ‘level 5’ earthquake in Japan with its Tsunami warning, the escalating concern over Syria’s government using deadly bio-chemicals on its people and the intransigence stalling compromise in Washington.  The energy coming in with this new moon, Uranus’ forward motion and other timely planetary alignments will compel us to adjust our lens to new perspectives around participating in the solution rather than exacerbating the problem.

 Astrologically Uranian energy ‘rules’ the sign of Aquarius-the mental sign that sees the ‘bigger picture.’ Once this planet’s motion begins to move forward, we’ll be pushed in our soul evolution to ‘think and act out of the box’, personally, nationally AND globally.  As refreshing and exciting this interpretation of the Sagittarius New Moon and Uranus’ forward motion might be, they understandably come with the trepidation that always accompanies us when we step into the unknown.    Mythological half-man, half-beast, Sagittarius shoots his arrow to reach for the stars, unconcerned about the mysteries, for the excitement of the exploration is where it’s at.  Archetypically Uranus is the ‘light bringer’-the force behind those ‘light bulb moments’ of insight and wonder of the cosmos.  Nevertheless, some support as we step out into the unknown, is helpful.

Dr. Edward Bach’s flower remedies Aspen and Water Violet come to mind.  Bach placed Aspen in his category of fear, but Aspen’s fear is illusive rather than concrete knowing-not unlike the illusiveness of the Pisces/ Neptune energy, which I blogged on last time.   There’s a facet of Aspen’s energy that’s a mix between nervous anticipation and excitement.  You feel it in your gut, but you can’t quite put your finger on what ‘it’ is.  Often Aspen can be about heightened sensitivity or an intuitive perspective that simply needs quieting and grounding.

 The energy of Bach’s Water Violet is very ‘old’.  In my book, Igniting Soul Fire~Spiritual Dimensions of the Bach Flower Remedies, I discuss the concept that as one of Bach’s original Twelve Healers, Water Violet was a ‘soul type’.  In this manifestation, the ‘Water Violet’ comes into this life with a very deep knowledge, vision and wisdom that’s meant to be imparted for the greater good.  However, because of karmic betrayal issues, the type is reluctant to interact with others or to share its wisdom.  Thus, as a remedy, Water Violet energetically provides the courage needed in order to shift this perspective so that the individual can step out into the unknown with conviction, sharing its vision in the deep knowing that this is its destiny.

 

 DR. BACH’S ASPEN

 

DR. BACH’S WATER VIOLET

Photography©Dr. Edward Bach Foundation

 

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