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Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince – Review

by Stella Mary Newton

When it comes to finding information about clothing in the 14th century, there’s a couple of different places to get that information.

There’s for manuscript images. There’s various blogs around the place (like, Farmboy, Fetch me that pitcher which is about fitting sleeves in 14th C outfits but has other really useful links about 14th clothing.) Effegies And Brasses gives some more examples about… well effegies and brasses actually….

But when it comes to the analysis of clothing from written sources in the age of Price Edward (aka the Black Prince) is THE best book for 14th C re-enactors. It refers only to sources that are without question between 1340-1365, and everything is well referenced back to the original source, from wills, to laws, to poems and descriptions of events. (it has an amazing index. If the word is mentioned in the book, it gets referenced in the index, which is good, because I do not know how I would find things otherwise, since I am a flicker through and skim reader and there are many, many words per page, in two columns per page in this book, in length chapters. I would find nothing without the index.)

It has references to the clothing that the royals wore, and more unusually, references to the livery (clothing handed out as part of salaries to staff) and the dress of the poor. It talks about the different qualities of cloth available and the various sumpteries laws put into place


The lepers should always be clad in the clothes of russet, and enjoy the aforesaid rules forever.

It talks about how much things cost

But it’s super dry. It’s a very academic, very factual text in which written and illustrated images are distilled down. It’s a good reference book and I personally found it super fascinating to get these details which I didn’t know. (Like the beaver hat trimmed with ermine, with a silver dolphin on it’s crown presented from the dauphin to his father’s fool Jean in 1351. WHAT IS THIS EVEN?)



One day, I’m going to get super good at embroidery. And when I do, I’m going to make Queen Phillipa’s violet velvet dress with gold squirrels embroidered on it referenced in this book (pg 21). And it will be awesome.

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[tabs] [tab title=”Publishers Blurb”] 1340 to 1363 were years remarkable for dramatic developments in fashion and for extravagant spending on costume, foreshadowing the later luxury of Richard II’s court. Stella Mary Newton broke new ground with this detailed study, which discusses fourteenth-century costume in detail. She draws on surviving accounts from the Royal courts, the evidence of chronicles and poetry (often from unpublished manuscripts), and representations in painting, sculpture and manuscript illumination. Her exploration of aspects of chivalry, particularly the choice of mottoes and devices worn at tournaments, and of the exchange of gifts of clothing between reigning monarchs, offers new insights into the social history of the times, and she has much to say that is relevant to the study of illuminated manuscripts of the fourteenth century. Stella Mary Newton’s lifelong interest in costume has been the mainspring of her work, from early days as a stage and costume designer (including designing the costumes for the first production of T.S.Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral”) to her later work at the National Gallery advising on the implications of costume for the purpose of dating, and at the Courtauld Institute where she set up the department for the study of the history of dress. [/tab] [/tabs]

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How to attend your first medieval feast

So you’re attending your first medieval feast. Maybe it’s being run by a medieval club, or a theme event. Medieval dining is a foreign culture for modern people and it can help to know a few things heading in. I’m sure the first thing that medieval feasts conjure to mind is a barbarian with a turkey leg in his greasy fist, gnawing flesh from the bone. Well we’re here to tell you that not only is that bad manners, but turkeys are from the ‘New World’ and aren’t medieval.

We’ve tried to write this guide with many types of feasts in mind, so not all aspects will apply to all events.

Things you must have

  • Costume. People will understand that it’s your first feast so don’t worry that the outfits not complete or accurate. Strictness varies between events, so check when you book.
  • Bowl and plate.?If choosing one, make it a bowl. You can put dry foods?in a bowl, but you can’t put soup in a plate! Plain wooden bowls and plates from charity shops are an okay start. Those woven-wood bowls are better than modern plastics in a pinch.
  • Cup – Probably made from clay, glass, pewter or silver (depending on your status) in period. An aluminium tumbler or a simple glass tumbler are good cheats until you can get a period replica.
  • Spoon. For your first event, a plain table spoon out of the cutlery drawer will do. A knife and fork are optional extras.


Things which are nice to have

  • Knife – some food may benefit from additional carving.
  • Cushion – Medieval benches are hard and the longer you sit, the harder they get.
  • Napkin


All feasts will require a booking, and most will require payment up front. When booking, be sure to note any dietary requirements. (i.e. vegetarian, gluten intolerant, dairy-intolerant, allergies.) Most feasts will work hard to make sure there are dishes everyone can eat, but if you are majorly allergic to many things, you may have to simply bring your own food. This happens, and if you do suffer a tricky range of food intolerances, you’re probably accustomed to bringing your own food to places. There’s no need to advise your likes and dislikes – there will be a variety of dishes to suit all tastes.

When you arrive:

Typically there will?be a table at the entrance with someone with someone to greet you (sometimes colloquially, ‘the troll’).?You will need to sign any releases?required by the event, and then pay if necessary. Generally cash only at this point. Copies of the menu and ingredient lists can often be found here for perusal before the event. If you forgot to mention anything which could impact the event (like, deadly allergies) this is the person to talk to.

When you get inside the hall, some seating places may have baskets, plates, bowls, or cups at them. This signifies that this place has been taken, and you will need to find another seat. There will often be a “head” table, this is for the King and Queen or others high in the mock-hierarchy so don’t sit here either.

If you aren’t sure, ask someone else sitting down where you can sit.

Benches and Trestles – Beware of medieval furniture!?

Benches are evil. If you?find the seating is on wooden benches, first place down your cushion.

If you are first to take your seat, move to the middle so those joining you can slide in from the ends.

When arising from a bench, it is courtesy to announce to your bench companions that you are getting up, so that they can be prepared for the weight to shift and they don’t go falling off the other end when you get up and the bench overbalances and becomes a see-saw. To avoid being tipped on the floor, slide inwards of the bench’s legs.

Some feasts will use trestle?tables. This is a board, balanced on two trestles. While medieval, they can be incredibly unstable if pressure is applied unevenly on the edge of the trestle. Don’t lean your elbows on the table, or you’ll upset it. (Yes, this is where that rule comes from.) While sitting up without a seat-back can become tiring for us modern folk, don’t lean your arms, elbows or bosom on the tabletop, or drinks will be spilled.

Once everyone has a seat, clear?everything but your bowl, plate, cutlery and cup off the table. There’s about to be a lot of food and there won’t be room for anything not necessary on the tables.

The Removes

Most feasts will start with bread, cheese and maybe some nibbles on the table to start. Don’t fill up, there’s a lot more food to come.

Most feasts will be at least three courses, and each course will have several dishes in it.

You may be served in a “mess” which is basically like group?style serving?between a certain number of people (normally 6-8). When a new dish arrives, be mindful of?how many are in your mess and take slightly less than your portion to start with. In period, the dish was offered around the mess by strict social hierarchy but in our egalitarian society we usually just share the choicest morsels though basic courtesy.

If waiters bring a large pot of food around your table to serve from, turn out to them with your dish so they don’t have to pass the serving ladle over your head and drip gravy in your hair.

If a feast is particularly short on wait-staff, there may be a central serving point for tables to come up, one at a time, and be served each dish.

Medieval dishes were served in bite-sized portions, ready to be eaten with your spoon. If anything arrives in portions too large for your spoon, it’s more medieval to cut it all to size with your knife before you start eating, then pass those portions to your mouth with your spoon. The food can be held in place for cutting with the spoon, or with a fork or ‘pricker’, a single-tined medieval tool of undetermined purpose.?Don’t use your fingers where you wouldn’t in modern dining, and don’t use your knife to get food to your mouth.

Forks, where used, were typically for eating finger foods which were sticky or staining.

Medieval feasts often had sweet and savoury foods together (fruit in meat pies is common) so you may see foods which look more like desserts mixed between the savoury courses.

Expect to find a salter somewhere on the table: a dish, sometimes lidded, containing?ground salt for seasoning your food. You’re unlikely to find pepper though. Adding pepper is the cook’s job in medieval dining.

If this is a re-enactment feast, there may be a “Court” or other speeches and formal proceedings. As this is your first event,?clap when others clap, and try not to look too bored. They’ll get back to the food soon enough. There may also be performances between the removes, songs, poems, theater etc.


Many guests will be enjoying the immersive atmosphere of medieval dining, so it’s not usually polite to bring up modern topics totally unrelated to the meal. This might seem strange and restrictive at first, but there is typically plenty to discuss about the food and the event without straying to football scores, what you do for a day job and what your favourite video game is.

In some events, there may be people portraying the king and queen, baron and baroness or lord and lady of the manor. Although alien, these social hierarchies were a part of medieval culture, and so they are often re-enacted. You might see some people bowing, curtseying or otherwise acknowledging the highest status couple if they are passing in front of their table. This is never required of you, it’s just a?way of enjoying re-enacting medieval social customs. Similarly, you can expect a lot of ‘m’lord’ and ‘m’lady’ing at a medieval feast. You don’t need to respond in kind and you certainly don’t need to launch into your own ‘forsooth’ ye olde medievalle speake, but if you are stuck for something better than ‘G’day Mate’ or ‘Howdy Partner’ to say to people, then ‘m’lord’ and ‘m’lady’ will get you through.

Your server is not automatically a peasant, and is especially not a “wench” just because they are serving you. It was common for some nobles to serve at tables as part of learning to be a noble. You can ask how they would like to be addressed, but there will probably be a lot of servers, so m’lord and m’lady will hold you in good stead.

Under no circumstance should you go into the kitchen. Maybe you have a friend in the kitchen. Maybe you need to ask a question. Do not go into the kitchen. Questions can be asked from the door (don’t block the door though…), but do not go inside. Despite often being staffed by amateurs, the kitchen at a feast is as busy and dangerous as that at a restaurant and you will quickly make yourself unpopular if you cross that threshold.

Cleaning Up and Packing Down

Many feasts will provide a washing up tub for people to come and use at the end of the meal, before the last sweet course so that dessert can be eaten from a clean bowl, or sometimes even between courses. If this washing up station has any tea-towels for drying, it certainly won’t have enough, so bring your napkin or?own tea-towel up with your dishes.

Once the lights go on, it’s time for the pack down to commence. If this is a re-enactment group event, it’s good manners to help put chairs and tables away at the end of the event.

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The Medieval Cook- Review

The Medieval Cook
Bridget Ann Henisch

This is not a cookbook. There are no redactions and no receipes.

There is an awful lot of in paragraph sourcing though, and that’s nice, rather than having the information paragraphed with a footnote directing to the original source.

This book is about cooks. How they were treated, their station in life, from the cooks attending to the richest nobles to the ordinary “cotttage” cook.

There’s some illustations detailing cooks in manuscripts but the illustrations are done in a much better way compared tosome books and aren’t a weak part of the book.

The good:
Well referenced with plenty of primary sources used.
Interesting word with a good informative tone without being too dry.

Reccomend for anyone interested in the social and historical context of cooks and food itself.

Not for anyone who just wants to cook medieval receipes with no context.

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Two books about Monsters in Medieval Manuscripts

Monsters are a common theme in Medieval times, and show up frequently in the marginalia of the manuscripts. So here are two books that are about the monsters.

Medieval Monsters
By Damien Kempf & Maria L. Gilbert

Medieval Monsters has a brief description of what the monster was and gives an example of a medieval text in which the creature is described. It is a very much imaged based with the text taking up only a small part of the page (if at all).

The siren is a monster of strange fashion, for from the waste up, it is the most beautiful thing in the world, formed in the shape of a women. The rest of the body is like a fish or a bird. She sings so sweetly and beautifully that once sailors hear her song, they cannot resist going towards her. Entranced by the music, they fall asleep in their boat, and are killed by the siren before they can utter a cry.

The images aren’t referenced within the text, but there is a bibliography explaining which manuscripts were used for the book.

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Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps
by Chet Van Duzer

Unlike Medieval Monsters, Sea Monsters is a lot more text based. Duzer is keen to describe in detail why monsters were on maps (and in some cases, why they were not) and to describe in far greater detail the history of the various monsters. He makes reference also to the various legends about the monsters and to the characteristics they were said to had. Not just monsters such as sirens, dragons and mermaids are described but also what we now know to be ordinary creatures were also sometimes described as monsters.

the arms of the polyp (octopus) are so strong it can pull a sailor form a ship into the sea and then eat him.

I would recommend Medieval Monsters to those interested in the images, and Sea Monsters for those who have more interest in the history, legends and more importantly, 10th-16th century mappaemundi.

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[tabs] [tab title=”Medieval Monsters – Publishers Blurb”] From satyrs and sea creatures to griffins and dragons, monsters lay at the heart of the medieval world. Believed to dwell in exotic, remote areas, these inexplicable parts of God’s creation aroused fear, curiosity and wonder in equal measure. Powerfully captured in the illustrations of manuscripts, such as bestiaries, travel books and devotional works, they continue to delight audiences today with their vitality and humour. Medieval Monsters shows how strange creatures sparked artists’ imaginations to remarkable heights. Half-human hybrids of land and sea mingle with bewitching demons, blemmyae, cyclops and multi-headed beasts of nightmare and comic grotesques. Over 100 wondrous and terrifying images offer a fascinating insight into the medieval mind. [/tab]
[tab title=”Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps – Publishers Blurb”]The sea monsters on medieval and Renaissance maps, whether swimming vigorously, gambolling amid the waves, attacking ships, or simply displaying themselves for our appreciation, are one of the most visually engaging elements on these maps, and yet they have never been carefully studied. The subject is important not only in the history of cartography, art, and zoological illustration, but also in the history of the geography of the ‘marvellous’ and of western conceptions of the ocean. Moreover, the sea monsters depicted on maps can supply important insights into the sources, influences, and methods of the cartographers who drew or painted them. In this highly-illustrated book the author analyzes the most important examples of sea monsters on medieval and Renaissance maps produced in Europe, beginning with the earliest mappaemundi on which they appear in the tenth century and continuing to the end of the sixteenth century.[/tabs]

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Stuart Cookery – Recipes & History – Review

By Peter Brears

This is a cute tiny little book. It’s like the size of my hand from pinky to thumb outspread. Adorable.

The initial recipe is given and then a redaction is provided in the modern manner with the list of ingredients required at the start. (There is a bibliography but the recipes aren’t linked back to their original texts which is a bit disappointing.)

Aside from the recipes, it talks briefly about various ingrediants that they had – the new ingredients coming from the new world (including coffee from Arabia and Turkey) and the changes to baking thanks to improvements in this technology.

There’s a brief section on the equipment available in Stuart kitchens and then finally a section on the tableware that would have been set out.

This is a pretty basic little book. Anyone who has other Stuart cooking books or others from the general time period would pretty much have everything this book has to offer.

But, for those just starting out, it’s a pretty inexpensive way to get a handle on what they had (both equipment and ingredient wise) and so it is a good book for beginners.

Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

[tabs] [tab title=”Publishers Blurb”] Including over 30 recipes from the 17th century, this book also reveals the turbulent history of this troubled time when the country cast off its medieval traditions. It describes how new and more sophisticated tastes were reflected in the diet of the nation and the way people cooked and ate their meals. French cuisine became popular with the gentry; the medieval great hall was replaced by a smaller and more intimate dining room, and pottery dishes and bowls were used instead of wooden ones. The introduction of the fork improved table manners and the population enjoyed a variety of new foods – in particular, the exciting imported beverages of tea, coffee and drinking chocolate. The recipes include several that reflect the new baking skills developed during this period and the important introduction of the pudding cloth. Sack Posset (a favourite of Samuel Pepys), Knot Biscuits, Shropshire Cakes and Quaking Pudding are just a few of the many intriguing recipes to try at home. Illustrated in full colour and black & white, including some mouth-watering examples of Stuart delicacies. [/tab] [/tabs]

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Images in the Margins – Review

Images in the Margins by Margot Mcilwain Nishimura

This is a cute little book about the marginalia often shown in medieval manuscript. It talks about th history of marginalia and how it started in the large capital letters of earlier manuscripts.

Images in the Margins does a good job of detailing which manuscript in particular the images come form so it’s possible to look up digital copies of the text later. There’s also brief history notes alongside the marginalia, talking about the importance of hunting for instance alongside hunting marginalia.

Marginalia often serve as a good insight into the mindsets of the people copying the manuscript. It also often gives us clues into the more common aspects which aren’t always depicted in other places, such as the image of the swimmers.

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[tabs] [tab title=”Publishers Blurb”] “Images in the Margins” is the third in the popular Medieval Imagination series of small, affordable books drawing on manuscript illumination in the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum and the British Library. Each volume focuses on a particular theme and provides an accessible, delightful introduction to the imagination of the medieval world. An astonishing mix of mundane, playful, absurd, and monstrous beings are found in the borders of English, French, and Italian manuscripts from the Gothic era. Unpredictable, topical, often irreverent, like the “New Yorker” cartoons of today, marginalia images drawn in the margins of manuscripts were a source of satire, serious social observation, and amusement for medieval readers. Through enlarged, full-color details and a lively narrative, this volume brings these intimately scaled, fascinating images to a wider audience. [/tab] [/tabs]

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The Petworth Book of Country House Cooking -Review

By Peter Brears

“So what’s a Petworth?”
“Well, it’s a Great Estate in England, built in the 12th Century….”
“It depends on what the pound is selling them for.”
“…. I’m putting that in my review now.”

Although the Estate was initially built in the 12th Century, this book is about the family and management of the estate between the First and Second World Wars. (there is virtually nothing about the earlier periods of the estate, which I was greatly disappointed by.)

Petworth was one of the last great kitchens to still be running and this book talks about how that was accomplished.

There are four chapters; The Family and it’s Kitchens; Lady Leconfield and her Chefs; Petworth Recipes; and The Dining Room.

Petworth has some fantastic recipes in it, including one for Rum butter, which was a popular tea time treat, served wither on bread and butter, cream crackers, or scones, or spread on hot toast.

I would definitely recommend this book for anyone interested in the practicalities of how estate kitchens worked in the 1920-1940’s and for anyone interested in recipes of this time (particularly puddings. There are some great pudding recipes in here.)

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[tabs] [tab title=”Publisher’s Blurb”] Petworth House has been the home of the Leconfield family since it was granted to them by Queen Adeliza, the second wife of Henry I, in 1150. The kitchens dealt with a myriad of natural ingredients from eels and oysters to black pudding and quince jellies. The recipes include Oeufs Soubise made with onion and cream, Petworth Venison Pie, Mint Ice, Friar’s Omelette, an apple pudding which in fact has no eggs, and delicious Carrolines au Parmesan, savory cheese-filled eclairs.Peter Brears is former director of the Leeds City Museums and one of England’s foremost authorities on domestic artifacts, historical kitchens, and cooking technology.” [/tab] [/tabs]

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Early English Meals and Manners- Review

Something that I think more people should look into is manners. We spend all this time on clothing and cooking but not on how the food was presented, why it was presented the way it was, and how good mannered people functioned in society in general.

So here’s the most comprehensive book available on the subject for 14-15th century re-enactors. Available free online!

Early English Meals and Manners

The first link is mostly just the editors summaries as given in the sidenotes, and is a condensed version of the original text.

The second link has the original text (in digital form) and then the editors summaries from the first link on the right. It’s a bit harder to follow though, as it appears a bit disjointed in this form and the original text.

Early English Meals and manners is a collection of various texts and poems which detail aspects of manners and dining in the 14-16th Century English time period. (I must find some texts about France and other countries manners because that would be awesome to see the differences between the various countries.)

Boke of Nature
John Russell is known to have lived in 1415 but his date of birth and death are unclear. It’s likely that the Boke Of Nature is early 15th C, although it is most likely based on an early text which would be late 14th Century.

This particular version of the text includes sections of the Boke of Carvery, which is a known 16th century text so the book has been copied several times since the authors death.

The table manners described in the Boke of Nature, are for a pretty noble table, as John Russell was in service to the Duke of Gloucester when he wrote this book.

It’s still a fascinating read into the intricate manners of the late 14th/early 15th Century.

Of course, there’s nothing quite like a physical copy of a book, so here’s the link to the book on book depository.


Feature image is of a banquet given in Paris in 1378 by Charles V of France (center, blue) for Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor (left) and his son Wenceslaus, King of the Romans. Each diner has two knives, a square salt container, napkin, bread and a plate; by Jean Fouquet, 1455?60.

We sell napkins on our store, so if you need nice napkins for your feast kit, check them out.

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July 2016 Newsflash

Greetings Gentle readers,

Apologies ? a little late this month but we have been moving forward in leaps and bounds. First, the Abbey Stowe festival was a great success. Marvellous weather made for record crowds and great to see so many old friends as well as making so many new. Our new lines debuted and were very well received; they will be appearing on the website shortly.

At the same time, we are also moving into larger premises with all the attendant chaos that comes with any move. If all goes to plan, the new warehouse will have the space to conduct workshops as well as small niche events; but that is in the future. Meanwhile, we are all looking forward to having more space!
The next event for the Mainly Medieval stall will be St Ives Medieval Faire in September. We have also been asked to run a series of lectures on various domestic aspects of medieval life so drop through and have a chat. St Ives is a great event, growing every year and well worth a trip.
Until next time, we bid you all ? good reading!

Paul, Elden, Loreena and Roxy.

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Women’s Secrets – Review

Women’s Secrets
A Translation of Pseudo-Albertus Magnus’ De Secretis Mulierum with Commentaries
Helen Rodnite Lemay

This is an English translation of either a late 13th or early 14th century text written by a disciple of Albertus Magnus. It is currently unknown what the disciple’s name actually was (hence Pseudo Albertus Magnus). The text is about human reproduction and demonstrates how 13th and 14th monks saw women (spoiler, it’s not super complimentary….)

This version also has two separate commentaries on the text – one from Lyons 1580 edition of the text and one from Venice 1508, which are interesting reading themselves.

This is NOT a medical text book and is not even representative what people in this time period understood about reproduction. It’s a social cultural explanation of what the (celibate) clergy understood about life and women.

As part of an overall collection on medieval texts, this would be a good book. It was an influential book in it’s time and provides good insight into what they were thinking.

But it’s not a good book for anyone whose just starting out or who is interested in the more practical aspects of medieval medical and health. It’s incredibly dry in places and is pure text. Even the commentaries are quite dry in places so it’s more for people interested in reading academic texts.

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