Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Acquisition, trade and wine - a plentiful supply for Medieval England

Recently MedievalMorsels visited Baron Rothschild’s stately pile in Buckinghamshire. Waddesdon Manor is jointly opened to the public by the National Trust and the Rothschild Foundation. It is  a spectacular chateau style house with a striking parterre, sculpted grounds with views to die for! First up, after enjoying our picnic, a visit to the relatively new suite of wine cellars!

More than 10,000 bottles of wine are stored in the vaults, documenting over 150 years of the Rothschild family’s ownership of two of the most famous Bordeaux vineyards in France: Château Lafite Rothschild and Château Mouton Rothschild. Even I had heard of these noble wines!

But it was not thoughts of grape and wine, political marriage alliances and traded goods in Medieval England (of which more below) that most inspired me during visit to Waddesdon Manor, the wine cellars and the wine shop. (Yes! One must exit through the gift and wine shops!)

Waddesdon's Gardener's Ale made with local quince!
Quince at 12th scale for a Medieval, Tudor dollhouse by MedievalMorsels

It was instead the sight of bottled Gardener’s Ale made from quinces - now there’s a Medieval brew if ever I have supped one! Do we have the industrious Cistercian monks to thank for this invention? Or your common or garden (excuse the pun) peasant who might have gathered quinces from a hedgerow and attempted a little home brewing?

Of course our earlier visit to the wine cellars had me thinking about consumption of wine in England in the Middle Ages. But even before these times, the Romans had imported wine to England and probably introduced viticulture. The Saxons had imported wine from noblemen’s estates in Northern France.

According to  Catherine Pitt’s Ph.D thesis on the wine trade of Bristol in the 15th and 16th centuries the Norman Conquest in 1066 reinforced English ties to French provinces in the North and guaranteed a supply of wine from these estates. Though it is claimed in the Domesday Book (1086) that there were 42 vineyards in England, England was not proficiently self-sufficient to meet its wine demands. In the thirteenth, fourteenth and most of the fifteenth centuries wine imported to England via Bristol and London mostly came from English held provinces in France.

Catherine goes on to point out that the marriage of Henry II of England to Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152, led to England acquiring a large area of southern French vineyards. Bordeaux being the capital city of Aquitaine.
Food by MedievalMorsels for Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine by professional doll artiste Louise Goldborough-Bird
The English loss of Burgundian provinces in 1224 meant the provenance of wine imported to England shifted from the North to the South of France. This was further secured by the marriage of Edward I to Eleanor of Castile in 1254, which included the wine producing lands of Gascony.  The wine trade with Gascony fell by half during the war with France, and the eventual loss of the province in 1453 brought an end to the English domination of the wine shipping business.

Diplomatic relations with Spain and consequently Iberian wine imports go back centuries too. Henry II married his daughter to Alfonso VIII in the twelfth century and the Anglo-Spanish trade boom of the late thirteenth century has been attributed to Edward I’s Spanish marriage in 1254. However, probably this wine trade was only minor compared to the Gascon trade.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

A honeyed life across the sea


One inch scale dolls house miniature food, raw honey by MedievalMorsels

Honey! MedievalMorsels has been inspired to add a new food to its range of Medieval and Tudor, Renaissance dolls house miniature foods. It’s about time honey was added you might say, we’ve been eating since time immemorial. So precisely what has been the source of this inspiration?

The hefty food history reference volumes in the town library? No, certainly not those...

A recent attendance at Leeds University International Medieval Congress - the second biggest annual gathering of Medievalist academics and their followers in the world - after all, its theme this year  was ” Food, feast & famine” ? Not that’s not it…

Stung by a bee? Thankfully not, no bees were hurt in the making of this blog post!


A sweet treat, honey,  for a Medieval, Tudor, Renaissance or rustic 1:12 dollshouse

Inspiration came from the image of a bee-keeping monk! This was no ordinary monk: he was young, he was keen to teach his craft to others, to ably demonstrate his know-how using the tools of his trade and the produce from his pastime. It was evident for all to see -  this young monk had a stinging passion for bee-keeping!


A monk bee-keeper with his wares at Bristol Elementary School’s Medieval Faire, Vermont , US

He had a primitive conical shaped bee skep, a bee hive to you and me, made from rushes wound around then fastened together with cord. He could tell you that monks needed bees to pollinate their monastery  herb and vegetable gardens and the crops on their lands. That monks also used the bees’ by-products. That honey was for the monks’ own consumption and to make mead, the first purposefully fermented alcoholic drink, known from earliest antiquity.  And that monks used beeswax to make fine, sweet smelling candles - much superior to tallow ones which were smelly and smokey, made from rendered (melted) animal fat. Eeew...

Was that alcoholic or non-alcoholic mead in this young monk’s jug? And had he brought a jar of honey, a fresh honeycomb and candles to sell from his market trader’s cart? Well, I judge that must be so…


Seth, then 12 a 6th grader, with bee keeper’s cart - culmination of weeks of medieval studies

But the marketplace in which this novice monk was selling his wares looked - erm - somewhat modern!  Was he a little out of time and place perhaps? Well, yes to both. Seth is the elder son of a miniaturist friend and he lives in the USA. So, not only is he in the wrong millennium (let alone the wrong century) for a Medieval monk, he is also on the wrong continent! But not to worry,  because he thoroughly looks the part in his bee-keeping outfit. And he certainly knows his stuff. Full marks all round - to our monk and the bees!

12th scale honeycomb for a dollshouse, handmade by MedievalMorsels

MedievalMorsels and honey bees have worked on this miniature honey project

A little bird, oops bee,  tells me that Seth, now at Mount Abraham Union High School has a younger brother Andrew who was a Medieval falconer back in 2014, and the family is wondering what Medieval trade their youngest, Meredith, will take up in 2018! And all of them love honey! But those are stories (with pictures) for another day...

Apple fritters dipped in honey or quinces stewed with honey anyone?

Let’s consider  the last words, researched by Seth, in praise of the indefatigable honey bee:

"A swarm of bees in May, is worth a load of hay.
A swarm of bees in June, is worth a silver spoon.

A swarm of bees in July, isn't worth a fly" - Unknown.