Magazine of the Gloucester Branch of The Richard III SOCIETY
We are nearly at the end of 2014 so I thought it appropriate that this issue of News & Views contained a few Christmas items and where better to start than a report on our own recent Christmas gathering.
Richard III Gloucester Branch Christmas event report
On Saturday 6th December we held our annual bring and share Christmas celebration and we had a good time eating and chatting together. There was plenty of food although no roasting boar, the nearest was sausage rolls and pork pie. Our yule log was a delicious roulade mince pies the fruit and spice variety not the medieval minced meat leftovers suet and fruit and spices. As many members drive to meetings, we try to keep off the alcohol. This means that ginger beer, apple juice and fruit juices are plentiful. All drinks possibly available at a Christmas feast. Cider would no doubt have replaced our apple juice. Many of our Christmas traditions have their roots in medieval times and before. Greenery to decorate our homes, rich food, spices, giving of gifts, attending church services, dancing and singing and maybe not pantomime but there were the mummers and mystery plays. Just a thought, in Richard’s household, did Ann buy the presents, who did she buy for? Is there any record of two presents being sent to the tower between 1483 – 1485? And if Christmas is a time for family who visited Richard?
That’s a good thought, Monica! Perhaps we should do some research on it. I have often wondered about the identical dresses that Richard is alleged to have given Queen Anne and Princess Elizabeth for the Feast of the Nativity, which led to such speculation. Would it be so awful to give your wife and niece similar dresses or did Ann buy the dresses?
On the subject of Feasts, how about this one?
North Curry Reeve Feast
When I was a child, I was brought up in a village, North Curry, near Taunton. North Curry is mentioned in the Doomsday Book and has a long and rich history. Richard I sold the Manor of North Curry to The Bishop of Wells in order to obtain cash to pay his ransom money after the failure of the third Crusade. In the 1200s, King John granted several Charters for Fairs and Markets and, in fact, it is generally believed that he spent several Summers hunting on his local hunting grounds.
It is generally believed that the North Curry Reeve Feast was instigated by King John and he was certainly commemorated at the feast. The exact date of the first Feast is not known but the earliest documented form states that the Reeve (he was the representative of the Lord of the Manor elected by the serfs) was made an allowance on Christmas Day to provide a feast for two of the Lord’s tenants. This feast was to consist of two goods loaves of wheat, a good dish of beef with mustard, a chicken stew, cheese, enough beer to drink and fuel to cook with. Two candles of a certain size were provided and the tenants could drink until both candles went out. A toast was drunk before a bread effigy of King John. Some games were played – one being an ancient Christmas game “played with a wastrel”! (Somebody might be able to tell me who or what that was!)
The Reeve also was given an allowance made by the Dean and Chapter of Wells to provide food to holders of chief tenements in the village, and “dealers” were selected to distribute food to other chosen tenants and the poor. There seems to have been some sort of pecking order in who received what. For example “the Second Poor” received the offal!
In later years, the Feast became very extravagant and involved corralling up selected animals in the local Pound with, not only the Reeve of North Curry, but the Reeve of West Hatch and the Lords of the Manor of Knapp and Slough – then outlying parts of the Manor – known as “Jacks” taking part. Various customs evolved e.g. the Jacks had to sing a verse about King John before they could enter the Reeve’s house and, when leaving, the Jack of Slough had to hold the stirrup for the Jack of Knapp for which he would be paid one shilling.
The bread effigy eventually was replaced by a huge mince (beef) pie on which would be stood a painted effigy of King John and a lady of the village was to act as waitress and carry the pie into the feast. If she carried it in a sedate manner, she was given one shilling.
The last official Reeve Feast took place in 1865 after which it was decided that the money given and money in lieu of gifts of food and drink would be amalgamated into a charitable fund from which the poor would receive gifts. I believe this fund still operates in some form and, occasionally, the villagers re-enact the Reeve Feast – having actually done so this year!
North Curry Church, often known as “The Cathedral of the Moors” as it is in a high position overlooking the Somerset Levels, from where one can see – as last Winter – a huge expanse of the flood plain.
Still on the subject of food, a Medieval recipe should the Vicar come to call!
This is a Devonian recipe and was given to the Vicar for supper when he called at Christmas time, as part of the celebration of the birthday of the Lord Jesus. Quantities are not specified!
Hashed potatoes, Pork belly (or chicken breast or pieces of gammon), seasoning and leeks.
Line the sides and base of a deep pie dish with creamed potato. Steam the leeks, chop them and spread on top of the potatoes. Poach the meat and spread over the leeks. Butter the top and brown under the grill or in the oven.
The Vicar must have been glad of a nice tasty supper amongst friends!
Submitted by Elizabeth Clarridge
Anyone for humble pie? While the most popular choice for Christmas dinner today is undoubtedly turkey, the bird was not introduced to Europe until after the discovery of the Americas, its natural home, in the 15th century. In medieval times goose was the most common option. Venison was also a popular alternative in medieval Christmas celebrations, although the poor were not allowed to eat the best cuts of meat. However, the Christmas spirit might entice a Lord to donate the unwanted parts of the family’s Christmas deer, the offal, which was known as the ‘umbles’.* To make the meat go further it was often mixed with other ingredients to make a pie, in this case the poor would be eating ‘umble pie’, an expression we now use today to describe someone who has fallen from their pedestal to a more modest level.
*See my article on the Reeve Feast.
Should you manage to bag yourself a piece of venison, here is a 15C recipe for baked venison to use up some of the leftovers.
English 15th Century Baked Venision
•2 lbs. ground venison
•1/2 lb chopped bacon (optional)
•grains of paradise
Mix ground venison and spices and put into the pie crust. Bake at 350 for about 45-50 minute, or until the meat has reached a temperature of 155F. If you wish, mix chopped bacon in with the venison for additional moisture and flavour.
HAPPY CHRISTMAS from Cynthia, Lyn and Leonard the Learned
Cynthia and Lyn were on an expedition to Norfolk in November, staying in Norwich. Whilst on a trek up Elm Hill to see the Paston House they saw me through the window of the Bear Boutique next door. Cynthia came in, clasped me close in her arms, cooed to me, carried me home to cosset me and the rest is history – rescued from captivity. You can see I have a keen interest in history and maybe you will hear more from me in the next News & Views. Until then to whet your curiosity, here is the Christmassy Bear shop and neighbouring Paston House.
See you all in the New Year. Meanwhile best wishes for a very happy Christmas.