Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Did the Saints Part over Medieval Politics?

By Kim Rendfeld

The official reason Saints Gall and Columbanus parted in the early seventh century is that Gall was too ill to accompany his longtime friend to Italy. But was that the real cause? Did they instead have a falling out over politics?

The pair went back decades. Gall and Columbanus got their education at Bangor, Ireland. Columbanus was born around 543. Gall was younger, born in Ireland in the latter half of the sixth century. His wealthy parents dedicated him to the Church as an infant, which probably means he was not their first child. At Bangor, Gall learned grammar, poetry, and Scripture, and was ordained a priest.

You might remember Columbanus as the young man who stepped over his weeping mother to leave home and pursue a life in the Church. He had forsaken all women, including her. That should be enough of a clue that he wasn’t the easiest guy to be around.

Still, he had followers. When Columbanus felt called to be a missionary to the Continent, Gall was one of his 12 companions. In early medieval times, travel was expensive, hazardous, and miserable, and the missionaries had no idea how the folk at their destination would receive them.

They landed in Gaul in 585, where they would have stood out. They spoke a different language, and even their tonsures varied from the Roman ones. Urged by the king of Austrasia to stay in his realm where he could protect them, Columbanus founded a monastery in castle ruins at Anegray.

The brothers lived an austere lifestyle. They mortified their flesh and practiced what a 7th-century monk called “extreme fasting,” eating only bark and herbs and the occasional food brought to them as charity. If we are to believe Columbanus’s hagiography, they received visitors seeking miraculous healing.

After a while, more monks joined the order, and Columbanus sought better place for his monastery. He chose Luxeuil, a site formerly sacred to pagans, a common practice. The abbey flourished for many years, but Columbanus got in trouble with Theoderic, the king of Burgundy, and Brunhilda, the monarch’s grandmother who ruled with him. Theoderic had sons born out of wedlock, and Columbanus refused Brunhilda’s request to bless them as heirs to the throne. He thought the king should get married and have children with a wife, but a queen meant less power for Brunhilda.

Theoderic was smart enough not to make Columbus a martyr, so he settled for the next best thing: exiling the troublesome missionary. Gall accompanied his leader on the heartbreaking journey in 610. They traveled along the Rhine to Lake Constance and settled in a wilderness near Bregenz.

And they began preaching again. They weren’t always popular. Apparently, people don’t take kindly to strangers breaking their sacred statues and throwing them in the lake. They also attracted the enmity of the governor, Gunzo.

Still, Gall adjusted to life in the area. He enjoyed fishing on the lake and knew the local language. Legend has Gall, like Columbanus, able to command bears. The stories for Gall vary. One has him rebuking the beast in the forest. Awestruck, the bear brought firewood for Gall and his companions, and everyone warmed themselves by the fire.

A year later, Columbanus left for Italy. Gall stayed behind, apparently too ill for a journey. But even when he got better, he did not follow Columbanus. As arduous as travel was, it seems like Gall could have found a way to join his friend. They had faced danger and hardship before.

Perhaps, they did have a falling out, and it had something to do with Gall’s assistance to Gunzo’s ailing daughter Fridiburga. Betrothed to Sigibert, one of Theoderic’s illegitimate sons, the young woman was believed to be sickened by a demon. Sigibert sent two bishops to Überlingen to heal her, to no avail. Gall succeeded where they had failed and cured her. As a reward, Sigibert gave the Irishman royal land near Arbon for him to pursue a religious life.

Was Columbanus angry Gall had helped the enemy? Was Gall tempted by the offer of land? Or was he moved by compassion, believing a young woman’s soul was at stake? After all, why had he ventured to the Continent if not to save souls?

Regardless of Gall’s motivation, the gift of land made him a leader. The monastery had humble beginnings. He built a small, windowless stone hut—a cell for prayer—and an oratory. Soon 12 monks joined him, and they, too, wanted cells.

Gall preached, continuing his missionary work, and kept to his simple life. Apparently, he didn’t want power. When the see of Constance became vacant, the clergy—impressed with his learning and piety—unanimously chose him. Gall refused, saying that electing a stranger to lead the bishopric went against Church law.

His decision was a sacrifice, considering that an early medieval bishop or abbot could live an aristocratic lifestyle, form alliances with the nobility, and wield influence. Perhaps, Gall wanted nothing to do with politics. Or maybe he feared that luxury would corrupt him and endanger his soul.

In 625, Columbanus’s successor at the abbey at Luxeuil died, and Gall was asked to be its abbot. He again had a chance to hold power and again rejected it. At that point he might have been in his 70s. Did old age deter him? Or did he prize his humble life above everything?

Gall would live on for a while. He died Oct. 16, 646, and left behind a legacy. The abbey that bears his name went on to become a center for scholarship in Europe.

Images are public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.


"St. Gall" by Albert Poncelot, The Catholic Encyclopedia

The Lives of the Saints, Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume X: October

Who Was St Gall” St. Gall’s Church, Carnalea, in Bangor County Down in Northern Ireland

Columbanus: Poet, Preacher, Statesman, Saint by Carol Richards

Medieval Sourcebook: The Life of St. Columban, by the Monk Jonas

Columba Edmonds, "St. Columbanus," The Catholic Encyclopedia

"Silverware in Early Medieval Gift Exchange: Imitatio Imperii and Object of Memory," by Matthias Hardt, Franks and Alamanni in the Merovingian Period: An Ethnographic Perspective edited by Ian Wood


Kim Rendfeld has written two novels set in early medieval times and is working on a third.

You can order The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, about a Saxon peasant who will fight for her children after losing everything else, at AmazonKoboBarnes & Noble, and iTunes. Kim's first novel, The Cross and the Dragon, in which a Frankish noblewoman must contend with a jilted suitor and the fear of losing her husband, is available at Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, CreateSpace, and other vendors.

Connect with Kim at on her website kimrendfeld.com, her blog, Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at kimrendfeld.wordpress.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Poster Boys of 17th Century England

by Anna Belfrage

Whenever people talk about those handsome Stuarts, chances are they’ll come dragging with Prince Rupert, nephew to king Charles I, valiant royalist commander, owner of a famous dog, and yes,  he was good-looking as can be seen in the attached portrait. So were his brothers – especially Maurice, but a friend of mine says there’s no point in expending much affection on a man who got lost on his ways to the West Indies (What can one say? Big, big sea, no GPS – plus there was a hurricane involved) which is why said friend remains devoted to Rupert.

Lord John and Lord Bernard Stuart

Good looks bred true among the Stuart men – as can be seen in this portrait by Anthony van Dyck of Lord John and Lord Bernard Stuart. This is a fascinating portrait. Arrogant and endearingly young at the same time, the two brothers are depicted in the late 1630s, sixteen and eighteen years old respectively. Lord Bernard, the younger, sports blue and silver, and if one looks closely, one can see he’s wearing pattens over his dashing boots, reluctant to sully those beauties in the mud and grime to be found on your average 17th century street. Long, flowing hair, rich clothes, that cape worn with flair – behold two men intent on making their mark on the world. It was 1639, the young men were presently on their European tour, and who could have thought they would soon be embroiled in the vicious fighting of the English Civil War?

The first Esmé, James VI's favourite
John and Bernard were the youngest sons of Esmé Stuart, 3rd Duke of Lennox. Their father, in turn, was the son and namesake of James VI’s favourite Esmé Stuart, a very frenchified Scotsman who to the dismay of other, more rugged Scottish nobles, exerted considerable influence over the young James VI. Our dashing Esmé Sr. was the cousin of James’ father, the murdered Henry Darnley – and had lived in France for the first twelve years or so of James VI’s life. In short order, he became first the earl, then the duke of Lennox – but he had to convert to Presbyterianism before he could succeed to those titles, as his Calvinistic countrymen would have no papist in such a position of power.

James loved his cousin. Given his singularly affection-free childhood, what with his mother being imprisoned in England and he himself being brought up in the strictest Calvinist environment possible, it is no wonder he was attracted to this new relation of his. Further to this, Esmé was elegant and handsome, carrying with him a whiff of a world outside the somewhat dreary confines of Scotland.

The other Scottish grandees did not much care for Lennox, and one who positively disliked him was James Douglas, the Earl of Morton and one of James’ former regents. Very few liked Morton, who does not seem to have believed much in silk gloves. It was therefore a rather easy matter for Esmé to rid himself of Morton by accusing him of being party to the murder of the king’s father. Morton was guillotined – a fancy novelty at the time.  Morte a la Francaise, as Esmé may very well have said.

Even with Morton gone, the Scottish Kirk remained suspicious of Lennox, as did most of the Scottish noblemen. Some months later, things had turned and James was forced to exile his cousin. Esmé returned to France where he shortly died, his heart being carried back to James as a little gift. I’m not quite sure how James reacted to this present—a man raised by Calvinists would have little time for any sort of relics, even if it was the heart of a beloved relative—but he was delighted to welcome Esmé’s nine-year-old son, Ludovic, now the 2nd Duke of Lennox.

Ludovic would go on to be quite the man about court, entrusted with one high office after the other. As can be seen, he wasn’t bad-looking, even if the beard is perhaps a bit too much for my taste. Whether Ludovic’s genes would have carried through to the next generation we will never know, as he died in 1624 leaving no legitimate heir. Instead, his title passed to his younger brother Esmé Jr., but this gentleman expired of spotted fever some six months later.

However, in difference to Ludovic, Esmé had plenty of children. Five of these were sons who survived to adulthood, among them the two handsome boys van Dyck immortalised in the portrait at the beginning of this post.

Both John and Bernard died fighting for their king. John was only twenty-two when he died at the Battle of Cheriton in 1644, and Bernard was to die a year later of injuries sustained at the Battle of Rowton Heath.

The dashing John and Bernard Stuart had an equally dashing older brother, Lord George. He has also been painted by van Dyck, but in a somewhat more pastoral surrounding. It is thought the painting was made to commemorate his marriage and includes a Latin inscription “love is stronger than I”. The reason for this was that George had been naughty and married on the sly, without either the bride’s parents, or, more importantly, King Charles I’s permission. For some time there, George was consigned to the dog house, but war came swooping, and just like his younger brothers, George hastened to place his sword at the king’s service. Just like his brothers, George died – at the battle of Edgehill in 1642. His little son was four…

By the end of 1645, only two of Esmé’s five sons remained alive. His eldest son and heir, James Stuart, was as handsome as his brothers – almost more, actually. Yet again, we owe van Dyck for having conserved this handsome man to posterity.

James Stuart

James Stuart, 4th Duke of Lennox and 1st Duke of Richmond, stands before us resplendent in his finery – and yes, the Order of the Garter is most prominently displayed. As loyal to his king as his brothers, James was to invest most of his fortune in shoring up the royalist cause. A brave fighter, he also accompanied the king during his confinement at Hampton Court, and after the king’s execution, James was one of the four noblemen who carried the remains of the king to his final resting place at St George's Chapel. He died some years later, leaving his titles to his very young son – who in his turn died in 1660.

The fifth brother, Ludovic, seems to have retired to the relative peace and tranquillity of his lands in France. A wise move, as he was the only one of the five brothers to remain alive when the Wheel of Fortune turned, thereby reinstating the monarchy in England. Once again, a Stuart sat on the English throne, and while Charles II may not have been quite as gorgeous as his distant cousins, he definitely had his share of the Stuart looks.

Charles Stewart, George's son
Seeing as Ludovic was a Catholic priest, he left no legitimate heirs, and so it was that all the titles, all the extensive landholdings, came to Charles Stewart, son of George, the brother who had died at Edgehill. Charles had his fair share of the Stuart looks, and could afford to spend lavishly on clothes and accessories. He married several times, the third time to his distant cousin the very gorgeous Frances Stewart (so gorgeous was Frances she was used as the model for Britannia on the coins minted to commemorate the war against the Dutch thereby proving good looks was not only the prerogative of the Stuart men) despite knowing Charles II had quite a tendresse for the lady in question.

Frances, La Belle Stuart
Apparently, Charles II had it in him to forgive the happy couple, and our Charles rose to become one of Charles II’s most trusted men, and it was in this capacity he was dispatched to Denmark in 1671, there to attempt to convince Denmark to join England in making war on the Dutch. While there, Charles drowned in Elsinore, and just like that, the Stuart Dukes of Lennox and Richmond had ceased to be. Or?

Charles Lennox
Some years later, the titles were resuscitated and given to Charles II’s son with Louise de Kérouiaille, Charles Lennox. At the time, the new duke was a boy of three, but over time he grew up to be a competent enough man and a great fan of cricket. And just like so many of the Stuart men, this little Charles had his fair share of good looks. No wonder, given his father and his pretty, pretty mother…

A handsome bunch, all those Stuart men. Personally, it is the portrait of James Stuart and his dog that I find the most compelling. Such a handsome, confident man – a good man, as expressed by the devotion in his greyhound’s eyes, as testified by how he placed his entire fortune at the disposal of his king. Ultimately, it would not help: King Charles I lost his war against Parliament, and men like James, like his brothers John, Bernard and George, paid the price for their loyalty. But once, those five Stuart brothers had it all. For a very brief period of time, the world was their oyster, there to be enjoyed in full. I hope they did!

All pictures in public domain and/or licensed under Wikimedia Creative Commons

Had Anna Belfrage been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. And yes, Edmund of Woodstock appears quite frequently. The first book, In The Shadow of the Storm was published in 2015, the second, Days of Sun and Glory, was published in July 2016, and the third, Under the Approaching Dark, was published in April 2017.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, she's probably visiting in the 17th century, specifically with Alex(andra) and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him.

More about Anna on her website or on her blog!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Nightingale in English Literature and Tradition

by Mark Patton

The nightingale is a bird rarely seen in Britain, and, increasingly, a bird that is also rarely heard. Birdsong in general was far more ubiquitous on these islands before the beginning of the Nineteenth Century than it has been since: both because, in the days before intensive agriculture and industrialisation, there were many more birds, but also because they had many fewer noises to compete with. The nightingale long occupied a special place in English literature and tradition because of the mellifluous quality of its song and because it is one of the few British birds to sing at night. Concerned by the decline of this much-loved migratory species, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has established a National Nightingale Festival, running until the 27th of May.

"Nyhtegale," from Alciato's Book of Emblems, c 1350 (image is in the Public Domain).

The nightingale first appears in a poem of around 1174, in which she engages in a debate with that other bird of the night, the owl, perhaps in imitation of the parsing contests in which trainee lawyers sought to prove themselves. The nightingale accuses the owl of inspiring gloom with her doleful call, but the owl insists that she is merely encouraging men to reflect on their sins, whereas the nightingale's merry song is more likely to inspire lust:

"And by my song I teach all men
They’d better turn their backs on sin,
And warn them against evil ways
Lest they be fooled for all their days;
Far better weep a while before
Than burn in hell forevermore! "

The Owl and the Nightingale, Jesus College Oxford MS 29, ff165-168. Photo: Jessefawn (licensed under CCA).

The Owl and the Nightingale, British Library, Cotton MS Caligula A IX ff233-246. Photo: Jessefawn (licensed under CCA).

In an anonymous poem written some decades later, the song of the nightingale is associated with romantic love, but inspires in the poet bittersweet memories of a happier season, spent in the company of a lover since lost:

 "When the nyhtegale singes,
    The wodes waxen grene,
Lef ant gras ant blosme springes
    In Averyl, Y wene ;
Ant love is to myn herte gon
    With one spere so kene,
Nyht ant day my blod hit drynkes
    Myn herte deth me tene."

The full poem, read by Eleanor Parker, can be heard here.

In John Milton's Sonnet to the Nightingale, written in 1632 or 1633, the bird's song inspires hope in the heart of the lover, and is contrasted, not with the owl, but with the cuckoo, a symbol of infidelity and cuckoldry.

"O NIGHTINGALE that on yon blooming spray
Warblest at eve, when all the woods are still,
Thou with fresh hopes the Lover’s heart dost fill,
While the jolly Hours lead on propitious May.
Thy liquid notes that close the eye of Day,
First heard before the shallow cuckoo’s bill,
Portend success in love. O if Jove’s will
Have linked that amorous power to thy soft lay,
Now timely sing, ere the rude bird of hate
Foretell my hopeless doom, in some grove nigh;
As thou from year to year hast sung too late
For my relief, yet had’st no reason why.
Whether the Muse or Love call thee his mate,
Both them I serve, and of their train am I."

In Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem, written in 1798, the poet, perhaps drawing on the Medieval tradition, first perceives the nightingale as a "most melancholy bird," but then insists that "In nature there is nothing melancholy";" that such associations are always our own impositions:

"My Friend, and thou, our Sister! we have learnt
A different lore: we may not thus profane
Nature's sweet voices, always full of love
And joyance! 'Tis the merry Nightingale
That crowds and hurries, and precipitates
With fast thick warble his delicious notes,
As he were fearful that an April night
Would be too short for him to utter forth
His love-chant, and disburthen his full soul
Of all its music!

The full poem, read by Tom Vaughan-Jones, can be heard here.

My various novels feature a number of bird species (the stone-chat, the skylark, the tree-creeper) which, even during the course of my own lifetime, have become less common than they once were; as well as a few (the peregrine falcon, the barn owl, the great bustard - for which even Thomas Hardy held out little hope) which, thanks to the efforts of the RSPB and similar organisations, seem to be on their way back from the brink. Perhaps what is truly melancholy, after almost a thousand years of cultural associations, is not the song of the nightingale, but the thought that it might ever cease to be heard. "Thou was not born for death, immortal bird," wrote John Keats:

 "No hungry generations tread thee down; 
The voice I hear this passing night was heard 
 In ancient days by emperor and clown: 
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path 
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home, 
She stood in tears amid the alien corn; 
The same that oft-times hath 
 Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam 

 Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn."

On which note, I leave the last word to the bird itself.

The Nightingale. Photo: Frebeck (licensed under CCA).


Mark Patton blogs regularly on aspects of history and historical fiction at http://mark-patton.blogspot.co.uk. He is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

Editors Weekly Round-up, May 21, 2017

by the EHFA Editors

Every week, our authors contribute wonderful and informative posts on British history. Check out this week's articles.

Digging Up Folklore
by Mary Anne Yarde

Catch articles from our archives every day! Follow us on Twitter

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Digging Up Folklore

by Mary Anne Yarde

In 1846 William John Thoms, a British writer, penned a letter to The Athenaeum, a British Magazine. In this letter, he talked about “popular antiquities.” But instead of calling it by its common name, he used a new term — folklore.

What did Thoms mean by this new word? Well, let's break it down. The word folk referred to the rural poor who were for the most part illiterate. Lore means instruction. So folklore means to instruct the poor. But we understand it as verbal storytelling. Forget the wheel ~ I think storytelling is what sets us apart. We need stories, we always have and we always will.

Edward III
But what does folklore have to do with history? Quite a lot actually. Let's take a look at one of the greatest British stories ever told, and that is the tale of King Arthur and his Knights.

Historically, Arthur is difficult to pin down. There are so many theories about who he was and where he came from that it is like chasing a phantom. Some experts have their feet firmly planted in the 2nd Century when they talk of Arthur. Others believe him to be a Scottish Dark Age warlord or an English Christian King. Of course, the Welsh and the Breton's also have candidates that fit the role. For a person whose very existence screams folklore—screams myth—there seems to be an awful lot of interest in him. And that interest has never gone away. We love the stories of Arthur and his knights, there is no getting away from that, and these stories have helped shape a nation. Look how obsessed Edward III was with Arthurian Legend. Edward was determined that his reign was going to be as spectacular as Arthur's was. He believed in the stories of Arthur and his Knights. He had even started to have his very own Round Table built at Windsor Castle. He also founded The Order of the Garter— which is still the highest order of chivalry that the Queen can bestow. Arthur, whether fictional or not, influenced kings.

The Sculpture at Tintagel Castle by Rubin Eynon
Likewise, Arthur and his Knights are, and always have been, a lucrative tourist attraction ~ those pragmatic monks at Glastonbury in the 12th century can contest to that. But so can English Heritage. Arthur draws in the crowds. At this very moment, the story of Arthur is being retold on the big screen. There is something about Arthur. There is something about the story that we want to believe is true. So how do we separate the fact from the fiction?

With difficulty.

In our search for Arthur, we are digging up folklore, and that is not the same as excavating relics. We have the same problem now as Geoffrey of Monmouth did back in the 12th Century when he compiled The History of the Kings of Briton. His book is now considered a ‘national myth,’ but for centuries his book was considered to be factually correct. So where did Monmouth get these facts? He borrowed from the works of Gildas, Nennuis, Bede and The Annals of Wales. There was also that mysterious ancient manuscript that he borrowed from Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford, but let’s not get into that today! Monmouth then borrowed from the bardic oral tradition. In other words, he listened to the stories of the bards. Add to the mix his own imagination and Monmouth was onto a winner. Those who were critical of his work were brushed aside and ignored. Monmouth made Britain glorious, and he gave us not Arthur the general, but Arthur the King. And what a king he was.

Glastonbury Abbey
So is Arthur a great lie that for over a thousand years we have all believed in? Should we be taking the Arthurian history books from the historical section and moving them to sit next to George R. R. Martin's, Game of Thrones? No. I don't think so. In this instance, folklore has shaped our nation. We should not dismiss folklore out of hand just because it is not an exact science. We should embrace it because when you do, it becomes easier to see the influence these ‘stories’ have had on historical events.

 All photographs are my own, apart from the portrait of Edward III which can be found on Wikipedia.


Mary Anne Yarde is the award-winning author of The Du Lac Chronicles series. 

Set in the 5th and 6th Century, The Du Lac Chronicles follows the fortunes and misfortunes of Lancelot du Lac’s sons as they try to navigate their way through an ever-changing Saxon world.

Book 3 of The Du Lac Chronicles is due to be released later on in the year.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Foods the Romans brought to Britain

by Cindy Tomamichel

The Roman Empire spanned a great deal of the known world in ancient times, acting as a conduit for the spread of Roman culture. After the invasion and occupation of AD 43-410, Britain would never be the same. For its people and the environment, the Romans brought new ideas and foods, many of which have become staples of culinary tradition.

There are a variety of information sources by which a picture of the foods of Roman Britain may be reconstructed. There is the actual foodstuff itself, where food such as grains, nuts and bones may be preserved by charring or carbonisation such as during a fire. Preservation by waterlogging occurs within peat bogs and estuaries. Fossilised remnants may also be found in latrines and rubbish heaps, where minerals such as calcium have replaced the structure. Food was also buried in containers in the burial sites of wealthier individuals. Shrine offerings are also another source of food evidence. Food containers may also carry the imprint of their contents.

Other sources include import and export evidence, such as amphorae for wine, oil or garum. Some written sources exist, even for such things as shopping lists, for instance the Vindolanda tablets “... bruised beans, two modii, twenty chickens, a hundred apples, if you can find nice ones, a hundred or two hundred eggs, if they are for sale there at a fair price. ... 8 sextarii of fish-sauce ... a modius of olives ... To ... slave of Verecundus.”

There is some evidence of Roman foods being imported to Britain well before the invasion. However, the invasion created multiple avenues of demand for Roman foods, which expanded the importation significantly. The Roman army was a major consumer, but also the desire to be seen as Roman saw a rise in demand for exotic imports. What in the late Iron Age was a trickle, soon turned to a flood of new foods available during the occupation.

Romans also brought food related ideas. Firstly there was a need to produce food in Britain on the scale required to supply the army. This need, coupled with the Roman habits of building roads and towns soon changed the face of agriculture. From small holdings growing mostly for personal consumption, it changed to larger farms specialising in growing enough of a product for market. The spread of new foods worked a gradual path out from the towns to the surrounding countryside.

In this way many new foods became established. New fruits and nuts included apple, cherry, plum, walnut, mulberries, medlars, and chestnuts. New vegetables were grown such as carrots, beets, garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, cabbages, peas, celery, turnips, radishes, and asparagus. Herbs were both medicinal and for cooking and teas, including poppy, black mustard, rosemary, thyme, garlic, bay, basil, borage and savoury mint. All these established and stayed popular even after the Romans left. Other foods were popular only during the occupation, or just didn’t establish well, such as grapes, figs, pine nuts and olives.

Another way in which plants may arrive is by stealth. The weed seeds are harvested and are within a bag of seed grain, or they are planted and the environment suits them too well and they escape and naturalise. Plants like this include ground elder, white mustard, alexanders, stinging nettles, greater celandine, and fennel.

Grains play a major part in diet and also part of the stability of society. A poor harvest would mean cultural unrest, particularly if the invaders were seen to be consuming large amounts. Grains already in Britain were various types of wheat, barley and oats. With the Romans came both an increased demand and new technology for ploughing and agricultural tools. They also introduced rye, millet and spelt. With the development of a closed field system, cattle could be alternated with crops such as grains, pulses and vegetables, increasing productivity.

Baking ovens are a common feature of Roman fortifications. This is a loaf of bread from a bakery in Pompeii. (source: http://www.pompeii.org.uk/m.php/museo-pistrinum-di-soterico-pompei-it-117-m.htm)

Part of many affluent Roman households was a garden, and perhaps this was the start of the English love of gardens which has spread with them all over the world. A typical house layout had a central courtyard garden, and here decorative plants such as box, foxgloves, mulberries, lilies, violets, pansies and roses would have been grown.

Part of a household might have included animal husbandry areas. For those longing for a taste of home, a snail farm or “cochlea”, would have been established, where imported Roman snails were raised and fattened. They were fed on milk and oats or spelt to purge and fatten them, then cooked in wine, with garum or garlic. Roman snails are still to be found in the UK. Hare gardens with semi domesticated rabbits also existed for fur, hides and supplies of meat. They also built enclosures to keep deer, as well as pigeon enclosures and kept chickens and guinea fowl.

Edible Snail - photo credit Fred Dawson via Visual Hunt /CC-BY-ND

Britain was already exporting beef before the invasion, and goats, sheep, chickens, pigs and deer were also being eaten. Pigeons, quail, geese, pheasant and guinea fowl were likely imported with the Romans. Ham in brine and bacon with their good keeping qualities were important for soldiers on the march.

Amongst the many cultural changes the Romans brought was the change in eating habits. While in the more remote rural areas people probably continued eating stews, roast meat and porridges, in the towns more people adopted Roman dining habits. These are familiar to us today as the three meal arrangement, with breakfast being quite small, a moderate lunch and a larger dinner as evening was for entertaining. Fast food was also a Roman invention, with many small bakeries and food places available for those who could not cook at home, serving things like kebabs and burgers. Bath houses were also popular social hubs were snacks could be purchased.

However diet varied with social status, location and job. Many remote Britons would have continued eating their normal food, perhaps adding some new vegetables, herbs or grains to the mix. The elite would be the major consumers of the imported foods such as wines from Gaul (France), dried dates and olives.

The soldiers had to buy their own food, and had a routine for doing so. They often had their own bread ovens, herds of cows, pigs and managed their own purchase of grains and vegetables. A soldier’s diet was also often supplemented by food sent from home, or by hunting local animals such as boar and deer.

Imported food consisted of things that would not grow or was not available in sufficient quantities. This included dates, almonds, olives and olive oil, wine, pine cones and kernels, fermented fish sauce (liquamen or garum), pepper, ginger and cinnamon.

After the Romans left Britain in AD 410, many aspects of their culture vanished. However, the hardier or more popular of the introduced plants and animals survived, becoming an integral part of the landscape.

The main reference for Roman food is the cookbook of Apicius, a Roman epicure of around AD 100. The book is full of recipes for main meals, and often has several variations on a dish or ingredient. While many of the ingredients are probably not to today’s tastes, many of the casserole and vegetable dishes sound interesting. Unfortunately none of the bread recipes he probably had are included.

Milk Fed Snails (Cochleas lacte pastas)–Apicius
After being purged and cleaned, the snails can be fried in oil and served with a wine sauce. Or they could be fried, then made into a soup with broth, adding pepper and cumin.

Vegetable and Brain Pudding (Patina frisilis)- Apicius
Take cooked and mashed vegetables and brains and mash to a fine paste. Add eggs, broth, and wine and place in an oiled baking dish. Bake and sprinkle with pepper when done. 

Libum - Serves 2 (A type of cheesecake) 
10 oz ricotta cheese.
1 egg.
2½ oz plain flour.
Runny honey.
Beat the cheese with the egg and add the sieved flour very slowly and gently. Flour your hands and pat mixture into a ball and place it on a bay leaf on a baking tray. Place in moderate oven (180C/400ºF) until set and slightly risen. Place cake on serving plate and score the top with a cross. Pour plenty of warmed runny honey over the cross and serve immediately. This is similar to a Greek cheesecake, which uses cottage cheese instead of ricotta. (Source: Sally Grainger The Classical Cookbook, published by British Museum Press.)

(Note: a variety of academic and website reference sources were used for this article, please contact the author if details are required.)


Cindy Tomamichel is a writer of action adventure romance novels, spanning time travel, sci fi, fantasy, paranormal, and sword and sorcery genres. They all have something in common – swordfights! The heroines don’t wait to be rescued, and the heroes earn that title the hard way. 
Her first book, Druid’s Portal: The First Journey will be out with Soul Mate Publishing in 2017. On Amazon May 17th. An action adventure time travel with a touch of romance set in Roman Britain around Hadrian’s Wall.
A portal closed for 2,000 years.
An ancient religion twisted by modern greed.
A love that crosses the centuries.
Contact Cindy on
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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Lordship in the Tenth-century – What was its Political and Social Function?

by Annie Whitehead

“No man can make himself king, but the people have the choice to select as king whom they please, but after he is consecrated as king, he then has dominion over the people and they cannot shake his yoke from their neck.”

So said Aelfric of Eynsham, (c955-c1010), and he tells us here of the absolute nature of kingship. The king is the lord of all the English, so if we are to discover the function of lordship, we should begin by examining the role of the king.

King Edgar

By the tenth-century ideas  about the spiritual role of kingship had developed along Carolingian lines. A well-documented example of this is Edgar’s coronation at Bath in 973. One school of thought is that Edgar delayed his coronation until he had reached the canonical age of thirty, but it is unlikely that he could have reigned successfully for so long (he succeeded his brother Eadwig in 959) without having been consecrated earlier in his reign, particularly in view of what Aelfric has to say about consecration. [1]

It is more probable that this coronation was based on the Frankish notion of ‘imperium’, stressing the king’s duty before God. Wulfstan, Archbishop of York, expanded this idea in his Institutes of Polity. His view was that a Christian king should be a just shepherd to his Christian flock, he was to help the righteous and to afflict the evil-doers, especially thieves and robbers. His true function was to purify his people before God and the world. [2]

The mutual obligation between the king and his subjects is illustrated by an incident in Aethelred the Unready’s reign. With the death of Swein Forkbeard, Aethelred was asked to return from exile in Normandy by the Witan (council), who declared that “no lord was dearer to them than their rightful lord, if only he would govern his kingdom more justly than he had done in the past."[3] The king was king, but his subjects would not allow him to neglect his duty to them.

Yet neither would they neglect to exalt a praise-worthy monarch. Florence of Worcester* summed up the virtues of King Edgar thus:-
“In the winter and spring, he used to make progress through all the provinces of England and enquire diligently whether the laws of the land and his own ordinances were obeyed, so that the poor might not suffer wrong and be oppressed by the powerful…Thus his enemies on every side were filled with awe, and the love of those who owed him allegiance was secured.”
There were, of course, more personal relationships, not only between the king and his subjects, but between the lord and his man. The argument continues among historians as to whether pre-conquest England was feudal; suffice to say that there was an English equivalent to the Frankish oath of vassalage, this being the Hold-Oath. The oath was essentially negative, a promise to do nothing to harm the lord. It included a gesture of bowing to the lord. The lord in his turn had certain obligations to his man.
“By the Lord, before whom this hallowed thing is holy, I will be steadfast and true to X, to love all he loves and shun all that he shuns, and never, by will or by thought or by deed do aught of what is loathsome to him, as long as he upholds me as I am willing to earn and fulfil all that our understanding was, when I bowed to him and took his will.” 
Naturally, the king could not rule without counsel. The witenagemot, or witan, was the royal council, and had the right, rather than the privilege, to advise the king. The king’s thegns owed their status and position to the king and were rewarded for their service (the word thegn originally meant servant.) It was usually the king’s thegns who were appointed as reeves, responsible for administration in the localities as a check on the powerful ealdormen.

The king with his witan

The most usual form of reward was that of a land grant. Many charters confirming these land grants still exist, such as King Edgar’s grant of land at Kineton to his thegn Aelfwold in 969. These grants, known as bookland, were not the same as the fief of feudal Frankia. They were granted by the king in the form of a book (charter) for services rendered. Aelfwold was granted the land at Kineton for all his life and could leave it to whomever he chose. The estate was free from all service except “fixed military service and the restoration of bridges and fortresses.”

Many grants were made to the Church, who in turn leased out land in return for service. A good example of this comes from Oswald of Worcester, who lists the service required of the beneficiaries of the land. They should fulfil the law of riding as riding men should, they should pay dues to the Church, swear to be humbly subject to the bishop and lend horses, build bridges, and send hunting spears.

Initially these endowments were made to the Church from the king, and only he could turn folkland into bookland. It soon became, however, the most common way for a lord to reward his man.

A grant by Aethelred the Unready shows how far he was prepared to support his men. His thegn, Aethelwig, gave Christian burial to men killed fighting in defence of a thief. Rather than censure Aethelwig, as Ealdorman Leofsige advised, Aethelred granted his thegn the forfeited land of the brothers who had been killed. [3]

Not all thegns were king’s thegns; many of them had another lord to whom they owed their allegiance. When these thegns died, the heriot (war gear) was surrendered to their lord and not to the king.

Aethelred the Unready

There was another aspect to lordship, an extension of the personal bond into the field of law. In the reign of Edward the Elder (899-924) a letter was written to the king explaining the history of an estate at Fonthill, Wiltshire. It describes how a thief, Helmstan, was required to give an oath to clear himself of the charges brought against him. He asked his lord Ordlaf to intercede for him, which Ordlaf did, even though his man was guilty. [4] This illustrates how a lord was bound to protect his man, whether innocent or guilty. Though the law codes might have forbidden the lord from doing this, often it was more beneficial for a man to appeal to his lord in this way than to appeal in the hundred courts.

By the middle of the tenth-century it was becoming customary for lords, ecclesiastical or lay, to receive grants of jurisdiction from the king. Usually these grants were laid down in the charters as ‘sake and soke’. The term implied jurisdiction and control of a court. It was not granted lightly, and these delegated rights were intended to emphasise rather than undermine royal authority. While the landowner enjoyed immunity from public courts, the court over which he presided was not held for his men, but was attended by men drawn from the neighbourhood.

There was also a much more specific form of private jurisdiction. All lords, be they bishops, earls, thegns or abbots, were held responsible for the behaviour of their men. “Such a responsibility involved an exercise in judgement, which would easily be formalised into the giving of judgement.” (HR Loyn) Fortunately, the monarchy was strong enough to ensure that the worst abuses were avoided.

Along with sake and soke, other judicial rights were specified. ‘Toll’ gave the lord the right to take toll on goods sold within the estate, and ‘team’ gave the right to supervise the presentation of convincing evidence that goods for sale actually belonged to the person selling them. ‘Infangenetheof’ gave the lord the right to hang a thief if he had been caught on the estate with the stolen goods still in his possession. By the end of the period, large numbers of hundred courts were in private hands.

A charter of King Aethelred's to his 'faithful man' 

Lords, of course, had always been involved with the public courts. Earls and bishops presided over the shire courts. It was here that arrangements were made for the collection of taxes. It was in the interests of landowners to be represented, as the king always was by his servant the shire-reeve. It was also important for lords to establish a presence at the hundred court, where much money could be lost and won. They were also commanded to give full support to the hundredsmen, whose job it was to supervise legal trading and to discourage cattle theft. King Edgar specifically ordered ealdormen Oslac, Aelfhere, and Aethelwine to give such support. “And they are to send them in all directions, that this measure may be known to both the poor and the rich.” [5]

Military duties were linked with the social function of lordship. From the time of King Ine (688-725) forfeiture of land and a heavy fine of 120 schillings was the penalty for a lord neglecting military service. After 899, as well as national obligations to fyrd service, and building bridges and fortifications, men were now to group themselves into tithings and hundreds to protect themselves. Ealdormen and thegns not only formed the select body of the king’s household retainers, but were, as landlords, responsible for the organisation, the summons and the assembling of the fighting forces. They were also involved in the financial and personal organisation which was essential to ensure that competent levies turned out to perform military duties on behalf of their estate. Lords, then, led their men and were responsible for them in times of peace and war and were at both times high up on the social scale, just beneath the king.

Although it was not necessarily a feudal society, a constant theme runs throughout tenth-century English society, that of mutual obligation. At the highest level, the king could demand loyalty and service from his subjects, but in return must rule them justly and protect them. The thegns, earls, and other landowners owed service to the king in judicial, military and personal capacities, for which they were rewarded. They in turn could expect loyalty and service from their men, but they were responsible for them and must protect them. Running though society in this way, the organised system which developed from the simple notion of personal loyalty was an integral part of all areas of central and local administration.

[1] DJV Fisher – The Anglo-Saxon Age Ch 12
[2] HR Loyn – The Governance of Anglo-Saxon England Ch4
[3] EHD – i 117
[4] EHD- i 102
[5] IV Edgar ‘Wihtbordesstan’ Code EHD i 41

* The authorship of the work of Florence is considered to owe more to a fellow monk, John of Worcester


Annie Whitehead is an historian and novelist who writes about the Anglo-Saxon era. The author of two award-winning novels set in Anglo-Saxon Mercia, she was also a contributor to 1066 Turned Upside Down, a re-imagining of the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings. She is a member of the Royal Historical Society and an editor of the EHFA blog. Currently she is working on a contribution to a non-fiction book to be published by Pen & Sword Books in the summer of 2017. Her novel Alvar the Kingmaker is set in the tenth-century during the reigns of Eadwig, Edgar and Aethelred the Unready and contains many scenes where the above-mentioned laws and charters were put into effect.