Mid Anglia Group, Richard III Society

Archive for the month “March, 2019”

A Mediaeval Feast in Essex

I stupidly decided to cook a mediaeval feast to celebrate New Year’s Eve with some friends. I say ‘stupidly’ not because it wasn’t a success but because the amount of work and fiddly techniques nearly killed me!

I wanted to do something similar to one of the courses of Richard’s coronation feast, so about 15-20 dishes, mixed sweet and savoury. I had tasted some mediaeval recipes while at Middleham in July and loved the different tastes and rich flavours, so I bought the recipe book the dishes had come from. This was ‘The Medieval Cookbook: Feast for the King, compiled by Patricia Rice-Jones. I also had another book, The Medieval Cookbook by Maggie Black

I chose a variety of recipes and created the following menu: A Mediaeval Menu

Obviously, one person (me) would not be able to cook all this in one day, so I began early and started with the sugared almonds, crystallised ginger and mixed pickles. The recipes were not difficult, but very fiddly and time-consuming as they were all done from scratch. There were often several processes to go through for each dish. Even the sugared almonds required you to painstakingly add a tablespoon of sugared water to the almonds in a pan and jiggle them about over the heat until dry – several times over! The vegetables and apple for the pickle had to be hand peeled and sliced before the process started.

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I then made some stocks to freeze for several of the recipes, made from lamb and chicken bones. With the lamb stock, I made the venison stew – I did it in the slow cooker and the smell was fantastic! Not so when I tasted it! The unfamiliar herbs I had used (hyssop and savory) were extremely bitter and the stew tasted horrible. Knowing I could not serve this concoction as it was, I added honey, red wine and cranberries. Phew! It was delicious. I let it cool and froze it. Here is the finished dish, served in bread trenchers with a slice of frumenty.

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Venison stew and frumenty

The next cooking session involved pastries. I made figs in coffins and the chicken pasties with ready rolled pastry (I’m not a complete idiot!) and froze them to cook on the day. Then I made the ‘Grete Pye’. This was formed of a layer of minced beef with suet and spices. Then a layer of game meat, a layer of chopped dates and prunes with spices and finally another layer of minced beef. I made a pastry rose design to decorate it (of course!). Here are the figs in coffins and Grete Pye:

Over the next couple of weeks, I cooked various dishes which could be made in advance, such as the wine sauce for the salmon and the chicken (which would later be crowned with eggs). These are the finished dishes:

The day before, I spent most of the day preparing and cooking, in particular the Leche Solace (a sort of blancmange) and the Geli Partied with a Device had to be allowed to set in the fridge and the orange segments were marinated in honey and spices. The pictures here are of the Leche Solace and the baked orange served in the halved peel.

I will relate the procedure to make the Geli to show you how elaborate and intricate some of the processes were. This jelly was made with a bottle of fruity, white wine and a pound of sugar, some cinnamon, nutmeg and fresh ginger. After simmering for about ten minutes, it is cooled for three to four hours, then strained through muslin lined with coarsely-ground almonds. Milk is added and it is then strained several times through muslin until it clears (I gave up after six times – it would have to do!). Gelatin, dissolved in water, is added to the reheated wine mixture and stirred until dissolved. White rose petals were placed in the dish and the mixture poured over and left to set – I had picked the last white rose from my garden in November and frozen it. I had one leaf and I arranged it with some of the petals on the top once it had set. For me it was the most delicious item. Here is a photo of it.

Phto of Geli partied with a device

Geli Partied with a Device

On the day, New Year’s Eve, I was still cooking. I reheated the venison stew in the slow cooker, made the frumenty and Lombard slices, roasted the salmon and baked the frozen pastries. The sauce for the salmon had to be reheated and the pears had to be peeled and poached and the oranges baked. I made the dough for the fritters from scratch and left them to rise. Trying to time all of this was an absolute nightmare!

Photo of roasted salmon

Roasted Salmon

However, the feast was a great success, all except the sautéed lamprey, which was disgusting – we all tried one small piece and gave the rest to the dogs. There was so much food, I didn’t bother to cook the fritters until late in the evening, as no-one had enough room to eat any! The fritters and lamprey are pictured below.


The feast was finished off with a gingerbread ‘subtletie’ of a York Rose with gold leaf centre. I also made Hippocras (spiced wine) and served Lindisfarne mead.

Photo of gingerbread subtletie

Gingerbread Subtletie

My guests entered into the spirit by dressing up. All in all, it was a great success but I will never voluntarily make a mediaeval feast again, although I may well make some of the individual dishes and I have already used some of the more unusual spices that I don’t normally use.

Photo of 'mediaeval' guests

‘Mediaeval’ Guests

Richard III in Parliament

As Ricardians, you will all be aware of Matthew Lewis and many of you will have attended is talks or read his books. He is a member of the Richard III Society and a passionate advocate of our king’s good name and reputation.
I asked Matt to write something for our newsletter and I hope you will all enjoy it.

When writing my biography of Richard III (this will be the one and only plug, I promise!), I wanted to focus sharply on his parliament in 1484. As a result, and to give it more depth and context, his youth and time in he north dominated more of the story than his time as king because I wanted to see if it was possible to tie some of the actions of the parliament that have been widely praised directly to Richard. Detractors are quick to claim it was just the machinery of government in a way no one says about Henry VIII’s Reformation Parliament. Ricardians are keen to hold it up as evidence of Richard’s potential for good government, so I wanted to see which of these was supported by the evidence, or indeed whether the truth lay somewhere on a scale between the two.

Parliament opened at Westminster on 23 January 1484 and closed on 20 February, sitting for just twenty-nine days. The composition of Richard’s parliament remains largely obscured, and perhaps that should be no surprise. This session would pass Titulus Regius, and anyone wanting to make their way in Henry VII’s England after 1485 would hardly want to be associated with making his queen a bastard. William Catesby was elected Speaker, probably to please Richard, Dr Thomas Hutton was Clerk to the Parliament and Thomas Barowe was Master of the Rolls, but no other details have survived.

Bishop Russell, the Chancellor, drafted a speech for the opening of Parliament which we can only assume was delivered. Russell had drafted speeches for Edward V’s abandoned Parliament and the session Richard’s planned sitting in November, abandoned because of the October Rebellions. The draft speech likened the country to a human body, and contains language that seems to fit closely with Richard’s interest in equitable justice for those lower down the social ladder during his time in the north. Russell would say that within the body ‘no membre, be he never so nobille, that may sey to the leste or to the vilest of them all, I have no nede of thee’. The evil advise given to Edward IV by his counsellors led, Russell planned to say, to the blindness of the body: ‘was not hys pensissous sikenesse encreced by dayly remembraunce of the derke weys, that hys subtille feythe frendes had lede hym in?’

Russell’s speech would then go on to tell the Parable of the Lost Coin, in which a woman has ten coins and looses one. She searches her house and sweeps it clean to find what was lost, and when it is recovered, she calls together all her friends and neighbours to celebrate. The story appears along with the Parables of the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son to explain God’s attitude to sinners. Blinded and having lost part of what made it whole, England could not be complete, secure or just. Parliament, Russell would assert, was the place to put things right: ‘We be yn the place where thys shuld be tretyd. Thys tyme ys prefixed for the same entente.’

Russell redrafted his speech in January, but what remains is only fragmentary. One of the surviving lines is cryptic, but perhaps means nothing. The application of hindsight and the question of the fate of Edward IV’s sons might give it meaning that the writer did not intend, but Richard is frequently criticised for failing to explain what happened to his nephews if he had nothing to hide. One line of Russell’s draft explains that ‘There be many children, many menne of divers condicions and estates, yn thys Reame of England whoyse body muste be preservyd.’ Was this an allusion to the fact that his nephews were safe somewhere, a careful response to the rumours of October that would not reveal their location?

Once the session began, Parliament’s first business was taxation, granting Richard what he needed to run the country. Titulus Regius was passed into law next, confirming the events of June 1483 and Richard’s title as king. Other private bills mopped up outstanding issues and attainted rebels from October, as well as correcting an injustice Richard perceived in the dealings of his brother with his sister Anne, her daughter and the Duchy of Exeter. Parliament abolished benevolences, a system of arbitrary taxation Edward IV had introduced in 1475 to fund the French Campaign and had enjoyed using so much he had continued until it was despised. The public bills, though, were the real meat of the business and are where Richard might be most clearly seen at work. They were largely separated into those dealing with trade and those addressing matters of justice.

When it came to matters of trade, Parliament addressed issues around the size and quality of cloth and insisted on the importing of properly quality bow staves with other goods to ensure that the English military was not weakened by cheap imports. Foreign merchants were restricted from operating certain trades in England and were charged far greater duties than their English counterparts. Italian merchants came in for particularly harsh attention. They were required to sell all of their goods to English subjects at cost price. Not only that, but they had to then spend their money on goods from English merchants before leaving Richard’s shores. I’m not sure what they had done to upset Richard, but they were certainly singled out for special attention.

These measures were demonstrably in line with Richard’s attitude to trade when he was in the north. For example, he tried to secure treatment for northern merchants that would place them on a par with the favourable terms London merchants enjoyed on the continent. Edward refused to permit that but did allow some tax breaks to ease his rejection of the request. I am left wondering whether Richard had some grand plan to reduce the influence of the nobility, whose power, autonomy and tendencies to use corrupt methods as part of the system of livery and maintenance offended him. The rising merchant class might have been the perfect foil, strengthened to counteract the nobility. If so, it was a policy that Henry VII would identify with and pursue.

Justice is perhaps where we can see Richard implementing his previous policies and interests most clearly. Aside from land law reform, there was a focus on bail reform. Richard did not, as has long been suggested in some quarters, invent bail, which was mentioned as early as 1275 in the Statutes of Westminster. What was enacted in 1484 was significant reform to bail. Parliament now made it law that bail could no longer be denied where it had previously been withheld, and also prevented the seizure of goods before a guilty verdict. It seems that men’s property, which might be the tools of their trade or all they had to provide for their family, were being seized when they were arrested and were not always returned after an innocent verdict. This is a reform perfectly aligned to Richard’s interests in justice and the championing of the common man against his social superiors during his time in the north.

Parliament also addressed the issue of jury composition. In a move that might sound harsh to modern ears, when everyone is entitled to sit on a jury, Parliament set restrictions on those qualified to appear. Jurors were required to hold freehold land in the same county as the court sat worth at least 20s a year, or copyhold worth 26s 8d a year. Those appointing jurors were to be fined 40s for each unqualified member appointed. The issue that this was targeted at was the corruption rife in courts, bought by those able to pay off or intimidate jurors who were unable to stick up for themselves, or who were so poor that they could not resist the bribes. Richard’s Parliament cut off this path to corruption by making sure jury members were harder to buy off or bully. This concern for the common man was also prevalent in Richard’s behaviour in the north, demonstrated by his involvement in the problems of fishgarths, handing over his own retainers to face justice and writing to advise men that he had found in favour of their social inferiors against them in legal disputes.

Richard III’s only Parliament offers a small, narrow glimpse of the king he might have planned to be, but it is also the best view we can get. The Parliament and its legislation are often overlooked, but they demonstrate a continuation of a decade of policy in the north. The problem is that Richard was clumsy in trying to translate his radical ideas to the national stage. He had been working in a single region, with his brother to protect him. On a national stage, exposed and solely responsible, he failed to take correct account of the reaction of the nobility and gentry, those with the most to lose from a rebalancing of the political scales.

When looking for reasons why local gentry turned against Richard in October 1483 and why so many nobles failed to fight for him at Bosworth, it is tempting to look to the traditional reason; that people believed he had murdered his nephews. A more logical explanation, and one which fits the evidence much better, is that Richard’s reforms threatened those with too much to lose. He hadn’t put his counter measures in place before making his policies known and the loss of the support of the nobles and gentry was still too damaging to his cause for him to succeed. It shows a political naivety that I think Richard shared with his father, an inability to see the motives of those around him and a willingness to blindly believe they were honest and honourable, because he was, and he expected others to be.

Haunted Essex

Some of the venues in this article are surprising and the nocturnal visits sound very expensive but they include some classic historical venues. In Colchester, the Castle and (Howard) Red Lion are included, as is the Redoubt at Harwich, although the Kelvedon Nuclear Bunker and North Weald Station are much newer. In the north of the county, many of the locations are connected to Matthew Hopkins and his anti-witchcraft activities, or earlier victims such as Ursula Kemp (the St. Osyth Cage). In the south, there is also the Valence House, Dagenham.

Good luck ghost-hunting.

The Mortimer History Society

I have been sent the following which I think will definitely be of interest!

This is very good news for anyone who can’t attend lectures organised by the Mortimer History Society. For the first time people around the world will be able to see lectures held at their events. All three lectures at the recent event on medieval chronicles and other writings, with reference to the Mortimers, have been uploaded to Youtube and they are freely available to download.
Synopses of the talks are given below, together with the links to each. It will help the Society if you could click the “like” symbol for each lecture and also hit “Subscribe”. Don’t worry, no money is involved!

Writing & Reading Chronicles in Medieval England
Michael Staunton, Associate Professor of History at University College, Dublin
This talk looks at historical writing in England between the 12th & 14th centuries, a period especially rich in chronicles. In particular, it looks at how medieval writers saw their task, and how their readers might have approached such works. Chronicles are valuable sources of information about the past and they were intended as such, but there is more to them than a record of facts. English writers were often influenced by various traditions of writing, including classical and early Christian traditions as well as their own indigenous historical heritage. Furthermore, medieval historians took an interest in matters that now attract less interest and this paper will look more closely into these less explored corners of historical writing in an attempt to come closer to the way contemporaries wrote and read such works.
Link to the above lecture

Chronicles & Colleges: Constructing the Image of the Mortimers in the Middle Ages
Philip Morgan, Senior Lecturer in History at Keele University
This talk looks in some detail at chronicles such as those associated with Wigmore Abbey, the college at Stoke-by-Clare, and an unpublished short chronicle describing the battle of Pilleth in 1402 during Owain Glyndŵr’s rebellion. It examines how the Mortimers were portrayed within these diverse sources.
Link to the above lecture

The Mortimers in the Writings of Iolo Goch & Adam Usk
Helen Fulton, Professor of Medieval Literature at Bristol University
The Welsh poet Iolo Goch, composing in the middle decades of the 14th century, and the chronicler Adam Usk (c.1350–1430) were both keen observers of Welsh & English politics. A professional praise poet composing in Welsh for some of the great families of Wales and the March, such as Owain Glyndŵr, Iolo Goch also addressed eulogies to the English aristocracy, including Sir Roger Mortimer and Edward III. Adam Usk, most famous for his Chronicle, records many of the deeds of the Mortimers during these stirring years which saw the deposition of Richard II and the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr. This paper looks at selections of work by both writers to assess their viewpoints towards the Mortimer family and its role in the power politics of the late 14th century.
Link to the above lecture

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