Medieval Monday: The Labors of March

plowingWarmer March weather meant it was time to finally put most indoor tasks aside and get out into the fields. There weren’t a great variety of tasks associated with March, mainly because preparing the fields for plowing and planting was such an onerous chore that began at dawn and ended at dusk.  Getting the spring grain into the ground was one of the most important tasks of the season.

Medieval farmers generally had a three field system, where each season one of the fields was left unplanted. But leaving it fallow didn’t mean there wasn’t any work involved. The fallow field would have to be plowed several times during the year to keep the weeds under control and at the same time enrich the earth with organic matter. Every time the field was plowed, new weeds would grow, and livestock would be sent out to graze on it, with the added benefit that they would fertilize it with manure as they went.

plowing-and-pruning-in-marchPruning vines and trees continued in March, as did calving. By the end of March, some of the calves were ready to be weaned, which meant milk became available once again. Cows whose calves had been weaned were milked twice per day. The same was true of sheep. Another important food source which returned to the medieval diet in March was eggs. Hens require at least 12 hours of daylight to produce, which meant they began laying around the spring equinox at the end of March, and ceased production around the autumn equinox at the end of September.

This week you can also enjoy another episode of “Tales from the Green Valley” which focuses on what daily life would have been like during the month of March. As I watched, I was reminded that even though certain jobs took priority in specific seasons, many of them happened to some degree all year round. In this video, you will see in action some of the tasks that have been mentioned in past Medieval Monday posts, such as threshing and winnowing, milling wheat into flour, sending pigs out to forage, playing games, and brewing ale and beer for every day drinking. You’ll get to see some period recipes being made as well (like what they did with all that dried, salted fish saved up for winter). Again, it’s worth setting aside half an hour to watch this BBC production. It makes for excellent research and really sends you back in time!



Use the Medieval Monday Index to discover more topics relating to daily life in the Middle Ages.

 

Medieval Monday: The Green Valley in February

Today’s post is actually a video that I really think you’re going to enjoy! It’s half an hour long, but well worth the time to watch! A small group of historians and archaeologists restored and brought back to life an abandoned village in Wales, re-creating over an entire year what life was like in the early 1600’s. This would be considered the Renaissance period, but the humble agricultural lifestyle really hadn’t changed a whole lot. Much of this would be applicable to the medieval period as well.

This episode is not the start of the series, but it is the video from February, so you can see what would have been happening at this time of year hundreds of years ago. Really, really fascinating stuff. I encourage you to take the time to watch. I will include one episode each month going forward until the year’s worth of videos run out. Aside from doing this type of thing yourself, I can think of no better way to really put yourself back in time, to see and vicariously experience life from another era. Hope you enjoy it!



Use the Medieval Monday Index to discover more topics relating to daily life in the Middle Ages.

 

Medieval Monday: The Labors of December

winter-scene-2In the cold days of December, the fields were finally quiet, with the ground too frozen to work. Animals were taken care of, to ensure they would not only survive the harsh months to come, but that they would be healthy on spring’s arrival. After all, they would be needed to work. In bad weather, animals would need to be brought indoors and fed straw mixed with other nutrients such as corn stubble, or pea pods.  Other outdoor work consisted of mostly repair and reconstruction. Timber was cut, and fences and walls mended. If autumn rains had eroded the banks of the mill pond, they would need to be fixed as well.

cooking2

 

Most work had to be done indoors. Carving wood became a common winter activity–people made useful items like bowls, spoons, and cups. They repaired farming tools and household equipment. Baskets, nets, and harnesses were woven out of rushes or reeds. Women spent a good amount of time spinning thread, weaving, and sewing–making new garments and mending torn ones.

Women would also be carefully managing supplies of food; doing their best to feed hungry families even though the fresh foods gathered or harvested in autumn were now beginning to run out. Most peasant families were surviving on bread and pottage. The kettle was kept going over the fire day after day, the culinary monotony broken up by subtle changes to what was thrown into the pot. Common ingredients would have been beans, leeks, lentils, peas, onions, and herbs like parsley. Meat stock might be used for added nutrition, and possibly salted meat or dried fish on occasion. Eggs, cheese, and butter rounded out the winter diet on days when fasting wasn’t required.


Below I have two videos to share. One is very short and shows how bowls were carved using traditional medieval tools. He makes this look so easy, but I’m sure it takes a lot of practice to learn this skill. The other is December’s Tales from the Green Valley in which the team covers the topics of making preparations for Christmas, building a wood storage hovel, sewing, clothing, threshing peas, making mince pies and other Christmas foods, and decorating for Christmas. Some of the Christmas traditions (like the Yule log) are from a bit beyond the medieval period, but many of the other things they describe would have been the same. Enjoy!

 

Medieval Monday: The Labors of September

“Now in autumn, in which the fruits of the earth are assembled, is the time of reaping and of the vintage, and it signifies the time of the General Judgment, when every single person will receive the reward for his works.” – Hrabanus Maurus (9th Century Theologian)

Summer is nearing its end—can you feel it? For some of us the nights are finally getting cooler, and the birds are just starting to gather and circle in large numbers. With children going back to school, our routines have changed, and we’re already feeling some anticipation about upcoming autumn activities and holidays.

threshing2Medieval people had a heightened awareness of seasonal changes. The onset of autumn brought about a final burst of activity as they prepared themselves to endure an inevitable winter. The grain harvest that had begun in summer continued into fall, with threshing and winnowing of what had already been reaped from the fields. At the same time legumes, such as peas and beans, were gathered after they had dried on the plants. Never letting anything go to waste, the leftover leaves and stems could be used to feed the animals, or plowed under as fertilizer. Some fields would be plowed anew with seeds for rye and winter wheat.

Another significant labor for September was harvesting grapes for wine making. Because of the amount of land needed, and the extensive labor involved in both cultivating and working vineyards, they were usually only kept on large estates or monasteries. Wine was incredibly important in medieval society. It was consumed by most classes with meals, but also had medicinal uses, and spiritual significance as part of the Eucharist.

vineyardNew wine was the most common drink, which had very limited alcohol content. But stronger wines were also produced, and could be watered down if needed. There were many more variations in taste, smell, and color than people are accustomed to today. Wines might be red, gold, pink, green, white, or such a dark red that it had a black appearance. There was also a variety of flavor–some were pleasant and sweet (usually reserved for special occasions), where others might be more bitter, or even vinegary.

winemakingSometimes the type of wine chosen was dependent on the season (and which bodily humors were at play), on age, or on the state of one’s health.  Melancholy was thought to be the dominant humour in autumn, which was “cold and dry.” The Secretum Secretorum advocated specific foods, drink, and activities to combat the negative effects. “Hot moist foods like chicken, lamb and sweet grapes should be eaten and fine old wines drunk, to ward of melancholy…Overmuch exercise and lovemaking are not recommended…but the heat and moisture of warm baths are helpful in keeping melancholy under control.”

beehivesOther labors of September included gathering honey and wax from beehives, which would then be moved to suitable locations for winter. Cows would be bred to ensure there would be young calves in the spring. Any cattle, or other livestock, that there were not enough resources to feed through the winter would be sold or butchered for meat. The meat would then be salted, smoked, or otherwise preserved in anticipation of the winter to come. At the end of September, on Michaelmas, lords and other debtors collected their rents and payments.


In this month’s Tales from the Green Valley, learn about plowing with oxen, sowing seeds, harrowing, baking bread, period clothing, caring for pigs, and making period food (pigeon, apple fritters, mushrooms).

Learn more about life in the Middle Ages by checking out the Medieval Monday Index.

 

Medieval Monday: 7 Things You Didn’t Know a Medieval Princess Could Do

I stumbled on another great article last week and thought I would share it for my Medieval Monday post.  If you go through this and just skim the 7 headers for the quick answers, you’ll really miss out. The most interesting part of this is in the detailed accounts of specific princesses in history; their circumstances…and eccentricities. Once again, real history is anything but boring!


7 things you didn’t know a medieval princess could do

Many fairy tales tell us that princesses spent years confined to towers waiting for knights to rescue them, little more than decorative pawns to be traded by their father. But the lives of historical princesses paint a very different picture. Here, through the lives of the five daughters of Edward I, historian Kelcey Wilson-Lee shares seven lessons on what it was to be a real medieval princess…

#1 Medieval princesses could command a castle

In 1293, Eleanor, the eldest daughter of Edward I, married Henri, the ruler of the small province of Bar in present-day northern France. Four years later, Henri was fighting near Lille when he was captured by hostile French forces and taken as a prisoner to Paris. With her husband imprisoned, responsibility for securing the county fell to Eleanor. As the 14th-century writer Christine de Pisan wrote, a princess should “know how to use weapons… so that she may be ready to command her men if need arises”. Eleanor marshalled what remained of Henri’s army to defend her home – the castle at Bar – and wrote to her father and other allies to raise money for Henri’s ransom, successfully safeguarding the inheritance of her young children.

Almost 30 years earlier, another princess named Eleanor held Dover Castle against her own brother, King Henry III, for several months during the uprising led by her husband, the rebel baron Simon de Montfort. After the decisive battle at Evesham, in which Eleanor’s husband and eldest son were killed, the tireless princess nevertheless fought on, bringing in a siege engine to defend the castle and using its coastal position to ship her younger children abroad with money for their upkeep.

#2 Medieval princesses could marry for love

Joan of Acre, Edward’s second daughter, first married at the age of 18 to a much older man – Gilbert de Clare, a 46-year-old divorcee who was a troublesome magnate within her father’s kingdom. When he died five years later, his widow found herself extremely eligible: young, proven fertile (as a mother of four), and in sole possession of one of England’s most valuable estates. Coupled with her royal connections, the princess proved a strong temptation to powerful European rulers and could easily have found herself consort at a rich court far from England.

But Joan had fallen in love, with a dashing but landless young man in her deceased husband’s retinue named Ralph de Monthermer. Determined not to be parted from her lover, Joan married Ralph in a secret ceremony that contravened her vow of homage to her father (rich widows who held land directly from the monarch needed the king’s permission to remarry, since their new husbands would be empowered through control of their estates). The king was livid, but eventually he forgave his headstrong daughter, who managed to keep her estates and independent income, as well as the man she loved.

Read #s 3-7 at: https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/princesses-what-life-like-middle-ages-daughters-edward-i-eleanor-joan-acre/


Use the Medieval Monday Index to discover other topics relating to daily life in the Middle Ages.

 

Medieval Monday: The King

Sadly, this is the last episode of Medieval Lives with Terry Jones of Monty Python fame, but you can find all of my posts with these videos in the Medieval Monday index.

In this episode he talks about English kings, focusing specifically on the three Richards as examples. It is interesting to see how political spin hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years–just the motives and the methods of delivery. Can you really believe everything written in the history books? Perhaps not…

One interesting update, though. Since this was filmed, Richard III’s body has been found beneath a parking lot in the English city of Leicester. It was finally proved that he did suffer from scoliosis and had a slightly curved spine, but he did not have a hunchback as portrayed by Shakespeare  and others.


Learn more about the daily life in Middle Ages by browsing previous posts in the Medieval Monday Index.

Medieval Monday: The Outlaw

Here’s another episode of Medieval Lives with Terry Jones of Monty Python fame. He talks about the medieval outlaw–a topic that has a lot more surprises than I expected. Not all “outlaws” were bandits and murderers, and there was a fair amount of bureaucracy involved (not to mention strange and horrendous punishments). You won’t want to miss this one!


Learn more about the daily life in Middle Ages by browsing previous posts in the Medieval Monday Index.