Boar’s head anyone?

Day 4: Throughout the medieval period the boar’s head was regarded as a key part of the Christmas festivities – unfortunately by the time of Henry VIII there weren’t any left so Henry was reduced to wild boar pate sent as a gift by the king of France.

The Boar’s Head Carol dates back to the fifteenth century and references the “rarest dish all the land.” The actual serving of pigs at this time of year dates back much earlier to Neolithic times. Archeologists at Durrington Walls have discovered pits of pig bones that tell a story of midwinter feasting. The Anglo-Saxons referred to November as “blood month” because animals that couldn’t be kept over winter were slaughtered and many medieval books of hours depict November with a pig about to meet his end. Even the Vikings get in on the pig eating act with sagas recounting feasting upon wild boar.

Elizabeth Ayrton’s Cookery of England (1975) provides a recipe for the boar’s head, her recipe substitutes a pig’s head with that of a boar (incidentally can you still by such things?)

In wealthy medieval households the boar required much preparation. The head itself was stuffed with forcemeat and often gilded and decorated – it’s tusks may have been retained to make it look more lifelike and it might be given eyes created from sugar paste. It was carried to the table amidst much fanfare.

These days there are once again wild boar in England – follow the link for more information. I think I’ll stick to pigs in blankets and sausage rolls though.

A rendition of the Boar’s Head Carol can be found here:

Cooking and Dining in Medieval England by Peter Brears. 167-171.

Christmas – Anglo-Saxon style

The Stroud wassail bowl – National Trust.

Day two of the History Jar advent calendar of festive food and drink. Cristesmæsse is first recorded as a word in 1038. The Venerable Bede was not impressed with the Anglo-Saxon winter festivities:

They began the year with December 25, the day we now celebrate as Christmas; and the very night to which we attach special sanctity they designated by the heathen mothers’ night — a name bestowed, I suspect, on account of the ceremonies they performed while watching this night through. 

Least said soonest mended I think! I don’t think we need linger on Bede’s disdain for the primitive behaviour of the locals. And rather unfortunately he did not think so far ahead as to ask for some recipes so we’ll just have to move on to the booze.

Wassail is a traditional Christmas and New Year toast. It comes from the Anglo-Saxon words for “to your health” – “waes hael”.

A wassail cup often involves quite a lot of cider but not always. It would be offered to guests throughout the festive period. In some cases a large wassail cup was taken from door to door (not appropriate in these socially distanced times.) The other kind of wassailing involves gathering in orchards to pour the wassail over the roots of the trees to encourage a good return on the next year’s harvest. This kind of wassail can involve singing to bees as well. It often takes place on twelfth night.

This recipe dates from 1722 from a book entitled Food in England by Dorothy Squires:

Take 1 lb. of brown sugar, 1 pint of hot beer, a grated nutmeg, and a large lump of preserved ginger root cut up. Add 4 glasses of sherry, and stir well. When cold, dilute with 5 pints of cold beer, spread suspicion of yeast on to hot slices of toasted bread, and let it stand covered for several hours. Bottle off and seal down, and in a few days it should be bursting the corks, when it should be poured out into the wassail bowl, and served with hot, roasted apples floating in it.

I’m not sure what “suspicious yeast” looks like but I think after that lot no one would particularly care. The National Trust has a rather more palatable looking recipe which could be served as an alternative to mulled wine. The are lots of modern versions available.

And the non- alcoholic version courtesy of Saga magazine:

Serves: 6-8


  • 6 small cooking apples, cored
  • 125g (4½oz) demerara sugar
  • 1.5 litres (3 x 500ml bottles) of rich, fruity ale (I used a mix of Abbot Ale and Old Speckled Hen)
  • ½ grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp freshly grated or ground ginger
  • Cinnamon sticks, to serve


Preheat the oven to 120C/250F/gas mark ½. Bake the cored apples on a lightly greased baking tray for about 1 hour, until soft and easy to peel.

Meanwhile, put the sugar into a large heavy-based saucepan and cover with a small amount of ale. Heat this gently, stirring until the sugar dissolves. 

Add the grated nutmeg, ginger and the rest of the ale. Stir and keep at a gentle simmer.

Cool the baked apples for about 10 minutes, then peel, reserving a few strips, and blend to a soft purée. Add this to the simmering ale and whisk thoroughly.

Leave to gently simmer for about 30 minutes. The frothy apples should rise to the surface. Ladle into sturdy glasses and serve with cinnamon-stick stirrers and a strip of peel.

The wassail bowl and the Yule goat leading us in a Scandinavian direction.

Glisglis – a Roman gift and a recipe for a festive dormouse

Time for the History Jar Advent calendar and this year it’s festive foods and beverages.

In Ancient Rome dormice were kept in large terracotta pots called gliaria. And then they were fed hazelnuts, walnuts, cheese and pine nuts. Pliny says that they liked beechnuts as well. Erm – and then having been lovingly fattened up they were cooked. “There were also dormice rolled in honey and poppy-seed,” notes Petronius on one occasion. And I wouldn’t worry about the Roman rodent pots having an exercise wheel or not, apparently the glisglis sleeps for seven months of the year.

A glirarium exhibited at the National Archaeological Museum in Chiusi.

And before we all get carried away with the idea of Romans eating tiny dormouse at Saturnalia – their midwinter festival- it should be remembered that these dormice, the edible dormouse, are substantially larger than our native species.

glisglis- the edible dormouse- which is not native to the UK arrived in Tring in 1902 as part of Lord Rothschild’s wildlife collection…it escaped and can now be found in parts of the South East. They are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, so no giving them away to your guests to be fattened up.

The Roman cookbook entitled Apicius has the following recipe:

Stuff the dormice with minced pork as well as the flesh from all of the dormouse’s limbs, together with ground pepper, pine nuts, laser and liquamen and place them sewn up on a clay tile in the oven or cook them in a roasting pan.

Martial identifies dormice as a potential gift for guests but the Emperor Claudius banned this item from Martial’s list of 223 possible Saturnalia guest gifts as being too extravagant.

From the Lewis Carroll memorial window All Saints Church, Daresbury, Cheshire.

The dormouse being stuffed into the teapot is not an edible dormouse and thus not a suitable midwinter gift for an Ancient Roman or indeed anyone else for that matter.

Io Saturnalia!

Homemade remedies – Grandmother’s Embrocation

Turpentine comes from fir trees, I think, and to be honest I tend to think of it in a DIY context rather than a medical care setting. However, today, having watched Bake Off last week and clearly having taken leave of my senses I decided to make a couple of Cornish pasties for lunch – there will be no picture of them and the Bake Off tent is perfectly safe from my attentions.

However, the book I took the recipe from is called Farmhouse Fare and it belonged to my parents. This morning I looked at it rather more closely. It was printed in 1937 by The Farmers’ Weekly based on recipes sent by readers – or “Country Housewives” as it says on the front cover. It sold out but then the war came along and it wasn’t printed again until 1946 but there was still a shortage of paper so the print run wasn’t very long. My copy dates from the 1950s.

As I sat with my cup of tea I flicked through it’s pages and came to a section marked “For Your Corner Cupboard,” given that I have been writing about medieval remedies I thought I would have a look to see what the twentieth century had to offer and voila Grandmother’s embrocation which I do not recommend you try at home – really don’t even go there: 1/2 pint turpentine and 1 egg shaken up until it turns to a cream. Then add 1 pint of vinegar (slowly) and a small tablespoon of liquid ammonia – apparently it keeps for years!

Apparently turpentine was recommended in 1865 to remove worms – clearly it’s something that has bothered people down the centuries making me glad to be alive now rather than then despite the fact that most of us haven’t ventured very far this year.

In this case the embrocation, which is rubbed on before anyone gets too carried away, is designed to relieve the pain of rheumatism and arthritis not to mention aching limbs and sprains. Given that ammonia is caustic I can only assume that the heat generated by the above concoction would take your mind off most things – demonstrating that it wasn’t just during the medieval period that people applied some very strange concoctions to themselves in the hope of feeling a bit better.

Right – time for a quick time for a quick burst of George Formby’s song – Auntie Maggie’s homemade remedy I think.

And aren’t we all grateful for the National Health Service that made homemade embrocations a thing of the past? And with that in mind if you haven’t seen the Ruth Jones edition of Who DO You Think You, it’s definitely one to watch if you’re interested in the evolution of the National Health Service.

Calendar Houses

Bedstone Court calendar window

Bedstone Court in Shropshire was built by Sir Henry Ripley whose grandfather started Bowling Dyeworks in Bradford in 1806. I discovered on Monday, thank you Janet, that he purchased Bedstone Court in the 1870s and turned it into a calendar house – something I’d never come across before.

It has 365 windows, 52 rooms, 12 chimneys and 7 external doors. And it turns out that in the hall are 52 stained glass windows with include the signs of the zodiac and the labours associated with each month of the kind that you might find on a medieval calendar in a psalter or a book of hours.

It turns out that the Elizabethans introduced the calendar house in the sixteenth century – it was about the device that demonstrated your learning. Knole House in Kent built the year after Elizabeth I’s death boasts seven court yards and an eye watering 52 stair cases.

Scout Hall near Shibden in West Yorkshire is another calendar house – though in a state of ruin. It was built by John Mitchell, a silk merchant, in 1681 and boasted 365 panes of glass and 52 windows.

In the Midlands Bradgate House built by Henry Grey (yes it is that family) built a calendar house with 52 rooms, 12 chimneys and 365 windows – no, you can’t go and see it as it was demolished in 1925.

There’s not many of them – the investment and the attention to detail would have been huge but I think they’re absolutely fascinating.

Country Life Magazine

History Jar Challenge 16 – kings of France

Henry VI was crowned King of France when he was a child. Unfortunately for him the Hundred Years War took a downturn and by the end of his reign the majority of his father’s gains had been lost – the effect of this was to ensure that his wife Margaret of Anjou was deeply unpopular and that Richard of York who was a successful military leader gained political allies when Henry’s chosen general – the Duke of Somerset managed to make a complete mess of things.

King Henry VI of England

I very foolishly didn’t specify a time frame and I know some of my readers are very interested in the Early Medieval Period – or Dark Ages as it was called in that dim and distant time when I went to school. I’d have to say Dark Ages sounds more dramatic but I can see why it’s been changed.

France is named after the Franks who were a Germanic tribe. Clovis I is probably the best known of these kings. There are no prizes for identifying that the French were ruled by many kings called Louis!

Merovingian and Carolingian Dynasties (c. 410 to 843)

Chlodio – 428-445

Mervoch 445 (or possibly 448)- 457

Childeric I 457- 481

Clovis I 481-511 – he was effectively the first real king of the Franks with a kingdom that we would recognise, broadly speaking, as France. When he died his kingdom was split between his sons. So Childebert I was king of Paris, Chlothar the Old and Charibert were his brothers and ruled other parts of the kingdom- Neustria and Burgundy- which meant that further down the line the extended family went to war with one another to reunite elements of the kingdom.

Chilperic I

Chlothar the Great or the Young to distinguish him from the first Chlothar.

Dagobert I 629-639

Clovis II or the Lazy 639-657

Chlothar III 657-673

Childeric II 673-675. He and the previous king were both sons of Clovis II as was Theudric III who ruled from 675-691.

Clovis IV 691-695

Childrebert III know as the Just ruled from his brother Clovis IV’s death until 711 when he was succeeded by his son Dagobert III the Just, Chilperic II, Theuderic IV and Childeric III a.k.a “The Phantom King,” which sounds like something out of a Marvel comic. He was actually the last Merovingian monarch. By this time the so called “idle kings” had been overshadowed by their mayors of the palace – or household managers.

In 751 a new dynasty took control: The Carolingians

Pepin the Short ruled until 768 when he was succeeded by his son Carloman I and in turn by his brother Charlemagne – Charles the Great who ruled until 814. He successfully united much of western and central Europe.


814–840 King Louis I was not a king of ‘France’. He was also called Louis the Pious. He was the only son of Charlemagne who had been identified as an heir to survive his father. He was forced to abdicated in 833.

840–877 Charles II (the Bald)

877–879 Louis II (the Stammerer)

879–882 Louis III ruled jointly with Carloman.

884–888 Charles the Fat

888–898 Eudes (also Odo) of Paris (non-Carolingian)

898–922 Charles III or the Simple which is a bit unkind as the alternative translation simply means straightforward.

922–923 Robert I (non-Carolingian)

923–936 Raoul (or Rudolf, non-Carolingian)

936–954 Louis IV (d’Outremer or The Foreigner)

954–986 Lothar (Lothaire)

986–987 Louis V the Do-Nothing – which probably says everything that needs to be said.

Capetian Dynasty

Hugh Capet is usually considered the first king of France as we would recognise it. But it wasn’t as straightforward as all that – the kingdom of France was centred on Paris – it took time to expand.

  • 987–996 Hugh Capet
  • 996–1031 Robert II (the Pious)
  • 1031–1060 Henry I
  • 1060–1108 Philip I
  • 1108–1137 Louis VI (the Fat). This particular Louis was a key centraliser and a man who spent a long time fighting the Normans who had made their base in England. Much of the problem stemmed from the fact that Henry I of England having deprived his elder brother Robert Curthose of Normandy also took Gisors which was French.
  • 1137–1180 Louis VII (the Young) was first married to Eleanor of Aquitaine but the marriage was annulled and she married Henry II of England.
  • 1180–1223 Philip II Augustus
  • 1223–1226 Louis VIII (the Lion)
  • 1226–1270 Louis IX (St. Louis)
  • 1270–1285 Philip III (the Bold)
  • 1285–1314 Philip IV (the Fair) was the king who had the Knight’s Templar burned at the stake and who had his daughters-in-law imprisoned following the scandal of the affair of the Tower of Nesle.
  • 1314–1316 Louis X (the Stubborn or the Quarrelsome). His reign was short but he allowed serfs to buy their freedom. He had married Margaret of Burgundy ( a cousin) in 1305 but she was involved in the scandal of Nesle and imprisoned for adultery where she died. There was one child from the marriage – Joan who in addition to being a girl was also stigmatised by her mother’s behaviour. Louis married for a second time and had one sone John who inherited the throne in 1316.
  • 1316–John I died without a male heir which was unfortunate as under France’s salic law women were prohibited from inheriting. he ruled for less than a week under the regency of his uncle and when he died it ended a centuries old line of fathers handing the crown to their sons. Philip the Tall was Louis X’s brother but his uncle Charles of Valois wanted to rule.
  • 1316–1322 Philip V (the Tall)
  • 1322–1328 Charles IV (the Fair).

Valois Dynasty 

The Valois dynasty as more famous in English History books for their role as England’s adversaries in the Hundred Years War. Henry V married Katherine of Valois, the daughter of Charles VI.

  • 1328–1350 Philip VI (the Fortunate) wasn’t really that fortunate because his reign was dominated by who should be king of France.
  • 1350–1364 John II (the Good)
  • 1364–1380 Charles V (the Wise)
  • 1380–1422 Charles VI (the Mad, Well-Beloved, or Foolish) Charles believed that he was made of glass and that he would break if anyone touched him.
  • 1422–1461 Charles VII (the Well-Served or Victorious)
  • 1461–1483 Louis XI (the Spider)
  • 1483–1498 Charles VIII (Father of his People)
  • 1498–1515 Louis XII
  • 1515–1547 Francis I who was of an age with Henry VIII.
  • 1547–1559 Henry II
  • 1559–1560 Francis II was Mary Queen of Scots’ first spouse.
  • 1560–1574 Charles IX
  • 1574–1589 Henry III

Bourbon Dynasty 

The Bourbon kings of France included the absolute apogee of a European monarch, the Sun King Louis XIV, and just two people later, the king who would be beheaded by a revolution.

  • 1589–1610 Henry IV
  • 1610–1643 Louis XIII
  • 1643–1715 Louis XIV (the Sun King)
  • 1715–1774 Lousie XV 
  • 1774–1792 Louis XVI who managed to get himself executed along with his wife Marie-Antoinette.

And that is probably more than enough for the time being.

History Jar Challenge 14

James VI of Scotland and I of England

How many Scottish monarchs can you identify beginning from Kenneth III who died in 1005 and finishing with James VI of Scotland who became James I of England in 1603.

The House of Alpin, of which Kenneth was part, ruled from 848 until 1034. I’ve opted for an eleventh century start as it’s concurrent with the history written about in many posts of the History Jar and there were, as we discovered last week, many marriages made into the Scottish royal family.

Picture quiz 4

What is it? And which group of people associated with England’s history made it? I’ve given you the whole thing on this occasion. I shall give the credits for the image next week when I reveal the answer as to do so now would give the game away completely.

Store cupboard of quotes – week 9 Some Plantagenet monarchs

Dan Jones is a leading historian who has written several books about the Plantagenets. The Hollow Crown is a Sunday Times best seller and his book The Plantagenets: the Kings who made England is a must have for anyone with an interest in medieval England. In these quotes who is he writing about.

  1. “…………sent instructions to the royal servant Hubert de Burgh, who was serving as Arthur’s jailer, demanding that he should blind and castrate his prisoner.”
  2. “Had ……………… been richer, less beset by other problems and a more competent military strategist, securing Sicily for his second son might have resembled the masterful pan-European geopoliticking in which his grandfather Henry II might have specialised. Unfortunately, he was none of those things. He was a naive fantasist with a penchant for schemes.”
  3. “………… was, as one contemporary chronicler put it, “the man against whom no one could prevail except God himself.” The fourth son of William the Conqueror, he enjoyed an exceptionally long, peaceful, and prosperous reign of thirty-five years, in which royal authority in England reached new heights. After his father’s death in 1087, England and Normandy had been split apart. …………. ruthlessly reunited them.”
  4. The Holland family traced their own royal ancestry through …………. sister Elizabeth. In January 1444 the most senior Holland, John, earl of Huntingdon, was promoted to duke of Exeter, with precedence over all other dukes except for York—another elevation specifically credited to his closeness in blood to the king. John Holland died in August 1447, and his son Henry Holland eventually succeeded to his duchy.” 
  5. “Pope Pius II, watching England from afar, would later describe ……….. in this phase of his life as “a man more timorous than a woman, utterly devoid of wit or spirit, who left everything in his wife’s hands.”
  6. While …………… was accustomed to fighting on foot, Warwick was said by one chronicler to prefer to run with his men into battle before mounting on horseback, “and if he found victory inclined to his side, he charged boldly among them; if otherwise he took care of himself in time and provided for his escape.” 
  7. “….. had been the first nobleman north of the Alps to take the Cross in Autumn 1187. His departure to the Holy Land had been delayed almost two years by his quarrel with his father.”
  8. “He had the Plantagenet temper in perhaps the most potent form. It is said that in a fit of rage …………. once literally frightened a man to death.”
  9. and 10. Perhaps most surprising of all, the deposed and imprisoned King Henry was not murdered. This had been the fate of the two Plantagenet kings who had lost their crowns before him: ………………..died while in custody at Berkeley Castle in 1327, while …………………….was killed at Pontefract in 1400, the year following his deposition. Ironically, Henry’s survival was perhaps a mark of his uniquely pitiful and ineffectual approach to kingship—for it was much harder to justify killing a man who had done nothing evil or tyrannical, but had earned his fate thanks to his dewy-eyed simplicity. Permitting Henry to remain alive was a bold decision that Edward IV would come to regret. But in 1465 it must have struck the king as a brave and magnanimous act.” 

rhubarb – an international traveller

Illustration from – Home to the wonderful Richard Bell’s illustrations.

The pond is now awaiting plants and water feature. The raised veggie bed has been planted – at this rate the garden is soon going to look immaculate.

Any way, today’s post is about rhubarb. Apparently it’s a bit of a new comer being only about two centuries old on our plates before that it was used as a drug with purgative qualities – which means than my ancestral rhubarb must be fairly close to the first flowering of rhubarb as a pudding rather than a useful asset for any physician. Each generation on my mother’s side of the family is issued with a crown of rhubarb when they set up home for themselves. My rhubarb has come with me wherever I’ve lived- a crown divided and carefully replanted in a new location. I know for sure that it originated from my great-grandfather’s garden – an unusual piece of family history but there you go.

I should note that the Romans thought that anyone who ate rhubarb was a barbarian – not sure where or why that idea came about but it’s a thought to toy with next time you tuck into your crumble.

Chinese rhubarb has its first mention in 2700 BC where it was listed as a drug. It seems to have travelled to Europe during the fourteenth century – it’s description as East Indian rhubarb describes the route it travelled by. And yes it does bring Marco Polo into the equation. Someone once sent Thomas Cromwell – Henry VIII’s Putney minister- a rhubarb seed as a valuable gift. In 1542 rhubarb was worth ten times the value of cinnamon and four times the value of saffron. Apparently physicians wanted dramatic effects so that their patients knew they were getting value for money – think we’ll move swiftly on from that particular image.

In 1653 China opened its borders with Russia and the Russians began to trade in rhubarb – it all sounds very exotic doesn’t it? In 1704 the Russians listed rhubarb as something that they had the trading monopoly on. It was heavily regulated. By the 1860s the bottom had dropped out of the market.

The culture of rhubarb as a plant rather than imported as a drug began in Padua. It arrived in England in it’s plant form as a seed during the reign of Charles I and was cultivated from root division from 1777 onwards. As well it might have been because for part of the seventeenth century it was more expensive than opium. Cultivation gradually extended across the country – most famously to the rhubarb triangle of Yorkshire, thanks in part to the development of cookery during the Georgian period.

And now the sun has come out for the first time today and my garden is looking nicely hydrated. I’ve just got a path to put in using rescued edging stones and an Alnwick rose to move to somewhere that it will be happier – but who would have thought so many historic people could have been lurking in a rhubarb bed.

Prior, Mary. (2009) Rhubarbaria. Prospect Books