Medieval

Domesday Book – Part 4 of 4

Return to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Domesday stayed with the Royal Treasury at Winchester from the late 11th century onwards, although it also moved about with the royal household from time to time. In the 13th century it went to Westminster in London and there, from King John’s reign to Queen Victoria’s, was kept in the Treasury of the Receipt of the Exchequer.

The Book travelled north with Edward II during the wars with the Scots. It went to York in 1300, and to Lincoln. To escape the ravages of the plague during Elizabeth I’s reign, the volumes would have been taken to Hertford. And in September 1666, Domesday must have gone with His Majesty’s treasure and records to Nonsuch Palace after the Great Fire of London.

By 1631 Domesday was said to be in Tally Court, Westminster, and scholars were studying it as a unique historical source rather than a legal record. From the 17th century it was kept in a stout wooden chest, reinforced with iron straps, and with three locks. It was then moved to Westminster Abbey Chapter House before finding another home in 1859 in the new Public Record Office, Chancery Lane, London.

Fear of bombing in 1918 saw Domesday evacuated to Bodmin Prison in Devon, and in the summer of 1939 it was sent under armed guard to Somerset, to sit out the second world war in the women’s wing of Shepton Mallet Prison.

Restored in London in 1945, it now resides with The National Archives at Kew.

Source: Secrets of the Domesday Book – The Pitkin Guide

Medieval

Domesday Book – Part 3 of 4

Return to Part 1, Part 2

A quarter of all land was used as pasture for grazing livestock. Riverside meadows also produced hay. Sheep were plentiful, as were cows, oxen and horses. Goats and pigs were also kept, and fish was sought after on a Friday (for religious reasons).

Crops of wheat, barley, oats and beans grew in around 35% of England’s soil. People milled grain by hand, or took it to a watermill, where the miller took a cut of the profits. In a bad year, when the crops failed, the people went hungry.

Among goods rendered on rent day was honey, the only sweetener available. Rents were payable to the steward who ran the manor, directing the farm bailiff who hired workmen such as carpenters and smiths. The yearly round of ploughing, harrowing, sowing and harvesting was organised by the reeve, who might be elected as spokesman by the peasants. Business was conducted at the lord’s hall, which served as a courthouse of justice as well as a home.

Only 18 towns in Domesday England had over 2,000 citizens. Oxford had 243 dwellings and York had 800 houses. Close packed towns of wooden houses with straw thatch meant that fire was a constant hazard. Allowing a fire to spread resulted in a fine, plus compensation to neighbours for any damage. A man accused of setting fire to a house had to produce 40 witnesses to prove his innocence.

Town markets were important assets but subject to downturns from unwelcome or unfair competition. They were regulated to try and prevent illegal trading, with appropriate fines imposed on miscreants.

The king also profited from death by natural causes, too, through death duties.

Source: Secrets of the Domesday Book – The Pitkin Guide

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Medieval

Domesday Book – Part 2 of 4

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Domesday is written in Latin. It is easy to read, but not so easy to understand as there are many abbreviations. The documents mention ranks in society, jobs that no longer exist, place names and measurements that are no longer used. However, despite all this, Domesday gives us an insight into life in England 900 years ago.

The survey split the country into seven areas, each visited by three or four royal commissioners. One bishop toured the Worcester circuit with his assistants, questioning both rich and poor at the county courts. People had to declare the value of their holding.

First there was a list of the county’s main towns and landholders (which were mostly all men; the only women landholders were mainly great ladies ie Queen Edith (Edward the Confessor’s wife) and the wife of King Harold). Then came a description of its estates, starting with the king’s. Church estates came next, followed by the lands of barons, knights and ordinary people. This pecking order mirrors Norman England’s feudal society. The king owned all the land (but held around 17%), he let the rest of the land (fiefs) to his chief warriors (barons) in return for military service. Barons leased land to knights and knights to farmers and villagers (villeins), who owed various duties and payments in return. At the bottom of the heap were slaves (who made up around a tenth of the population).

Domesday assessed what a manor was worth to its lord each year in money (taxes) and kind (crops, animals, etc) from his peasants. Dues from a mill or a mine on his land were added; and the number of pigs kept, eels caught, and so on, all had to be included.

Source: Secrets of the Domesday Book – The Pitkin Guide

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Medieval

Domesday Book – Part 1 of 4

Document Number One in the Public Record Office of Britain’s National Archives is the Domesday Book. In 1085, William the Conqueror ordered a survey of his new realm. Over the years, the county-by-county record has been studied by administrators and historians. By Victorian times, Domesday had become a national treasure. Imbued with mythic status, its name known to millions all over the world, yet few of those people have read a word of this document.

How it Started

For 20 years William the Conqueror had been king of England, after winning the Battle of Hastings in 1066 when the Saxon King Harold lost his life and his lords their lands. In December 1085, in Gloucester, William wanted to know how much revenue he was getting from the people. The resulting survey showed who was entitled to which bit of land. No one was exempt and there was no point in arguing over the details. The records in the Domesday book was final and became legal.

It took about a year for the questioning of landholders and tenants to be completed, however, the royal scribes had not finished writing the final version of the document when William died in September 1087, so work stopped. There were two volumes – Little Domesday, holding the raw results from Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk; and Great Domesday – so called because its pages are bigger than Little Domesday’s – giving the edited, shortened summary of information from all the other English counties (except Northumberland and Durham) and a small part of Wales. There is no coverage of Winchester, where Great Domesday was probably written, or of London. It has been suggested that Winchester, seat of the king’s Treasury, may have been a tax-free zone, while two blank pages in the Middlesex section were possibly intended for London’s entry.

Source: Secrets of the Domesday Book – The Pitkin Guide

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Medieval

Brewing Ale and Making Wine

Ale was made with grain, mainly barley. The barley was “malted”, that is, left to germinate or start growing in water. The grain was then roasted slowly to stop the seed from growing further. This malt was crushed and boiled in water. After the liquid had cooled, yeast was added. As the yeast reacted with the sugars in the malt, it changed them into alcohol. The ale was stored in wooden barrels. As ale went sour quickly, it had to be made regularly. In the later Middle Ages, a type of herb called hops was added, which helped preserve the ale for a longer time. Ale with hops is called beer.

Wine was used as a substitute for water and in cooking meals for feasts. Wine that had become sour was used as vinegar. Wine was made by first crushing the grapes, which required lots of people to tread on them with their feet in large stone or wooden tubs to press the juice out. The skins from the crushed grapes then floated to the top. Usually, if white wine was to be made, the skins were removed from the liquid. If red wine was being made, the skins were left to give the wine a dark red color. The skins of the grapes had yeast on them, and so the liquid started fermenting. The wine was stored in large wooden barrels usually made from oak.

Medieval

Medieval Cooking

Open fires provided the means to cook food as well as a source of heat for most people. Peasants and less wealthy people cooked on the fire in the centre of their houses. There was little ventilation and there were no chimneys, so it could get very smoky inside. Food was also cooked outside, as it was safer. A fire inside the house could easily spread and burn the house down. In large households there would be an open fire in a large kitchen built of stone. The cooks would have had many pots, pans, spoons, and knives to cook with and a large wooden table on which to prepare foods.

Anthing that required boiling was made in large pots and cauldrons made of iron or brass. The pots were hung over an open ifre or placed on top of a metal trivet that sat on the fire. The fire was fueled by wood or charcoal. Meat could be roasted on a spit over the fire, but this was expensive, as it used up a lot of wood. Meat and fish could also be grilled on a grid of metal bars called a grid-iron. For those without bread ovens in their homes, villages and towns had communal ovens where bread could be bked for a fee. In towns and cities people could pay a baker to bake their bread for them. There were also shops that would roast meat for people.

Eggs, beans, meat, and fish were fried on top of the fire in pans. In southern Europe, olive oil was used for frying. In other parts of Europe animal fat was used if it was available and affordable.

Medieval

Medieval: Did You Know?

…that a paillasse is a thin mattress filled with straw or sawdust and was commonly used in the middle ages.

…that a garderobe was a medieval toilet. Usually nothing more than a hole in the outer wall of the castle which dropped into a cess pit or moat. It is also claimed to be a useful place to store clothes, as the smell deterred moths. This is where the modern word “wardrobe” originated from.

…that a barbican is a tower or other fortification defending the drawbridge, usually the gateway.

…that a coif is a type of armored head-covering made out of chain-mail and worn under the helmet for extra protection.

…that a joust is a type of armored head-covering made out of chain-mail and worn under the helmet for extra protection.

…that a heriot is a payment owed to the lord of the manor by a serf’s family upon the serf’s death; usually the family’s best animal, such as a cow or horse.

…that Great Domesday seems to have beem completed by a single English scribe, able to handwrite an amazing 3,500 words a day. A second man then made corrections. He was French, and may also have been in charge of the whole survey. Some have suggested he was Samson, William I’s chaplain and later Bishop of Winchester. Another candidate is Ranulf Flambard, who became chief finance minister to William II (Rufus). Several scribes helped to write Little Domesday.

…that before 1066, it was noted in the Domesday Book, if one Welshman killed another, the dead man’s relatives could exact retribution on the killer and his family (even burning their houses) until burial of the victim the next day. The king took one third of any plunder from this. Stealing a cow or a woman in Herefordshire meant a fine of 20 shillings after the stolen goods had been returned. A sheep cost less – 2 shillings.

…that buboes are pus-filled egg-sized swellings of the lymph glands of the neck, armpits, and groin; typically found in cases of bubonic plague.

…that laws passed in the late 1300s aimed at maintaining class distinctions by prohibiting lower classes from dressing as if they belonged to higher classes.

Medieval

Time Line of the Black Death

1320 – 1346
The black death ravages China and the Middle East

1347
The black death reaches the Crimea, including Kaffa

October 1347
The black death enters the port of Messina, Sicily, via trade ships from the east

Fall/Winter 1347
Sicily is overwhelmed

January 1348
The black death enters France through the port of Marseilles; northern Italy is struck down

February 1348
Population of Avignon, France, is cut in half by the plague

April 1348
The black death reaches the interior of Italy

Spring 1348
Massacres of Jews begin

May 1348

The black death strikes in Paris

June 1348
The black death continues to spread across Europe, crossing the Alps into Bavaria

July 1348
Normandy is struck

August 1348
The black death enters England through the port of Bristol

September 1348

London succumbs to the black death; Pope Clement VI issues a papel bull calling for the end of Pogroms against Jews

End of 1348
The black death fades away in Italy

March 1349
The black death continues to spread through England and into Ireland

May 1349
Scandinavia is struck

Summer 1349
The black death strikes Tournai in Flanders (now Belgium)

July 1349
Scotland succumbs

December 1349
Pogroms against the Jews finally stop in Germany, but continue elsewhere

Early 1350
The black death spreads throughout the Netherlands

Spring 1350
Eastern Europe is struck

1351
The black death vanishes from Europe, only to return twelve years later

Source: Epidemic! The Black Death by Stephanie True Peters

Medieval

The Plague Maiden

Many medieval people believed in the existence of supernatural beings. One story of how the plague spread told of a beautiful witch called the Plague or Pest Maiden. The maiden was “born” as a blue flame from the mouth of a dying patient. She carried a red scarf and flew from house to house. When she waved the scarf through an open window or door, those within fell victim. According to legend, the plague was stopped in one Austrian village when a brave man chopped off the maiden’s scarf-holding hand.

Source: Epidemic! The Black Death by Stephanie True Peters

Medieval

Weapons of the Middle Ages

Knights were men of the sword. Their iron blades were heated, cooled and hammered many times before they became steel. Their blades were often damacened, that is inlaid with gold and silver designs. The knight held the sword by the hilt which was protected by two guards called quillions. The pommel, a large knob at the end of the hilt helped balance the blade. A longsword weighed between one and two kilograms and was used for cutting, slashing and occasionally thrusting. When not in use, it was carried in a scabbard. In battle, the longsword was usually attached to the knight’s breastplate by a thin chain so that it could not be lost.

The lance was made of ash, pine or some other wood and was between 2.5 and 4.5 metres long with a conical, triangular or lozenge-shaped point. By the 14th century proper hand grips and guards were added and an iron spike or ferrule was fitted to the butt so that the lance could be struck in the ground. If a knight grounded his lance, it was a sign that he wanted to talk or parley with his opponent.

Battle Axe
Battle Axe - Image from Wiki Commons
In addition every knight had secondary weapons such as the battle-axe, the mace or the war-flail. The battle-axe was a formidable weapon. At the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, Robert the Bruce of Scotland (1274-1329) was attacked by a young English knight. As the Englishman dashed forward the Scottish king rose in his stirrups and smashed his battle-axe down on the knight’s head, almost cutting it completely in two.

Maces were clubs with spikes or flanged heads. The were sometimes called “holy water sprinklers” because they were used by priests in battle. The war-flail was even more frightening. It consisted of a spiked iron ball on the end of a chain connected to a handle and was used to bludgeon opponents.

The foot-soldiers’ main weapons were longbows and crossbows. Knights would use neither in battle believing them to be unknightly weapons. The longbow was made of strong, supple yew. A notch was cut in both ends of the stave so that a length of hemp could be strung between them. Both the bow and strong were waxed and resined to keep them in good condition. The arrow or clothyard was about one metre long was armed with a metal head. Broad heads were used against foot-soldiers and thin bullet-like heads against armoured knights. The arrows were flighted with split quill feathers.

Crossbows, which were introduced in the 11th century, were made of wood or horn. After shooting, the string was drawn back by the archer placing his foot in the stirrup. He then attached the string to a hook in his belt and straightened his back until the string slipped over the retaining catch on the crossbar of the weapon. The bow was usually shot by means of some kind of trigger. Later a geared contrivance called a windlass was used to wind back the string. Crossbows shot short wooden or iron arrows called bolts or quarrels. Although much slower to load than the longbow, the crossbow was a powerful and accurate weapon.