Wednesday 26 March 2014

King James I - Dogs, Hunting and the Nation's Discontent

Much has been written about the English Civil War and ordinary people rising up against the monarchy. King Charles I believed in his divine right to rule and his unilateral power to set religious practices for his kingdom. But it is Charles’ father, King James I who is the subject of today’s blog post. The reason? James’ attitude to dogs and hunting shows how out of touch the monarch was with his subjects and how the seeds of rebellion were sown.
Medieval hunts were confined to royal estates or private land
Prior to James I hunting was a well regulated pastime. The hunt took place in a royal park or on land owned by a nobleman. The huntsmen stood on wooden platforms or ‘pavilions’ and beaters forced animals forced through a narrow channel for hunters to shoot. Whatever the ethics of this activity the effect on local farming was minimal and the nobleman who arranged the hunt bore the expense.
However, with James I’s accession to the throne all this changed.
King James I- physically unprepossessing he liked
the presence that being in the saddle gave him.
James asserted, as William the Conqueror had, “a royal prerogative” to hunt. To this end it was expected all the subjects of his realm, from noblemen to peasants, would facilitate this sport. In practice this meant he was free to roam across any land he wished – and do tremendous damage in the process.
James wanted to hunt in the French style – which involved mounted huntsmen tearing across the countryside on horses. To this end he imported French hounds and fifty red deer from a forest in Fontainebleau. James’ detractors went so far as to say he spent his life in the saddle and in common with many country squires, hunting was all he seemed to care about.
“Does all go well with you? In all your letters I find not one word of horse, hawk or hound?”
Letter to James I
The royal hunt was allowed to ride over any land it desired.
In keeping with the French way of hunting with James placing restrictions on land owners and farmers. If the hunt was to pass their way he forbade the ploughing of land (furrows being a hazard to galloping horses) and ordered pigs to be confined (so their rooting didn’t create dangerous holes) Worse still, locals were commanded to take down any fences, walls or hedges that might obstruct His Majesty’s ride.
During the hunt itself mounted huntsmen and packs of hounds caused considerable damage – often trampling crops, damaging fences, destroying gardens and scattering flocks or herds of animals. But the disruption didn’t end there. Local common folk were ordered to provide workers to assist the hunt, taking them away from their work – if it was harvest time.
No thought was given to the damage to crops, livestock or land
In addition, a farmer was expected to provide food and fodder for all the royal party – which could easily amount to a hundred or so people. Attempts to appeal to the king to recoup their expenses fell on deaf ears. Indeed, during one hunt, a local hit on an ingenious way of getting the king’s attention – by kidnapping his favorite dog, Jowler.
Jowler went missing and reappeared later with a message tied to his collar which read:
“Good Mr Jowler, we pray you speak to the King, for he hears you every day, and he does not hear us. Ask that His Majesty be pleased to go back to London, or else this countryside will be undone. All our provisions are used up already and we are not able to entertain him any longer.”
Instead of taking note, James laughed the matter off and carried on hunting.
Farmers were expected to give the royal hunt free access to fields -
and might have his own dogs confiscated by way of thanks.
To add insult, the manner in which James acquired his hounds also caused distress. In 1616 he commissioned Henry Mynours, Master of the Otterhounds, to:
“Take for us and in our name [The King] in all places within this realm of England…such and so many hounds, beagles, spaniels and mongrels, as well as dogs and bitches fit for hunting the otter as the said Henry Mynours shall think fit.”
For an animal loving nation this was a step too far – especially as James seized some pet dogs to take part in another ‘sport’ he supported – bull and bear-baiting. To ensure there was no argument James appointed Edward Alleyn as “Chief master, ruler and overseer of all and singular games, of bears and bulls and mastiff dogs and mastiff bitches”. This gave Alleyn unlimited authority to seize whatever dogs he saw fit in order to send them into the ring.
Charles I - son of James I - following in his father's footsteps
People began to rebel. The officials whose job it was to enforce the dog levies, were increasingly opposed, some were even attacked and beaten. The local magistrates who were supposed to sentence the offenders, refused to put them on trial – the common man had had enough.
Another faction started to voice their discontent – that of the Puritans. They believed hunting was a sin. They referred James to the Old Testament and how God condemned King Nimrod – described as a mighty hunter. The Puritans argued that animals were provided by God for sustenance and to improve the world, and not to be treated cruelly and abused. As a concession to public pressure, James prohibited animal baiting on Sundays – but nothing else changed.

This brings us to Charles I and the English Civil War. When James I died and his son, Charles, acceded to the throne, just as his father before him Charles was inflexible when it came to matters of popular opinion. He believed in his divine right to rule as he saw fit and upheld unpopular policies such as dog confiscation that went to fuel the nation’s negative feelings and resentment toward the monarchy…

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Samuel Pepys : Drunk and Disorderly?

Thence Jenings and I into London (it being through heat of the sun a great thaw and dirty) to show our bills of return, and coming back drank a pint of wine at the Star in Cheapside.
Samuel Pepys diary.
Samuel Pepys, famed diarist -
recording everyday life in the second half of the 17th century.
When Pepys casually mentions drinking a pint of wine in the same sentence as the thaw and the pub, it makes me smile. Apparently, Pepys didn't think imbibing such a quantity of alcohol was anything out of the ordinary, which arguably it wasn't.

In the modern age the majority of people reading this post will have access to clean, sanitised drinking water - but this wasn't the case in the 17th century world. Although germ theory (disease is caused by micro-organisms) wasn't discovered until the late 19th century, instinct must have warned people that drinking dirty water led to awful stomach upsets. As such, alcohol was consumed more widely, by everyone from children and servants, to labourers and royalty, and perceived as being safer to drink than water.
Cheapside in Victorian times - a couple of centuries after Pepys' day
Even though people didn't understand why, they perhaps recognised the result that the brewing process made water safer to drink.  Of course we now know that boiling water, fermenting and the alcohol itself have disinfectant properties on some water-borne bugs.

Was the Population Permanently Drunk?
However, 17th century alcohol wasn't as strong as the modern equivalent. One reason for this was that the yeasts weren't as hardy as our modern varieties, and less tolerant of the alcohol produced during fermentation. This meant that the brews were naturally limited in strength, because once they reached a certain level of alcohol, the yeast died and the process stopped. Incidentally, these yeasts made for a cloudy drink, rather than the clear ales and wines of today, but the cloudiness was disguised by metal tankards or frosted glass.

As an aside, the small beer or wine produced was much sweeter than modern brews. Again, this was because the yeast died before all the sugar was converted to alcohol. Also, it is interesting to reflect that grain stores were vulnerable to spoilage by rodents -so the safest way to protect your harvest was to convert it to beer, which preserved the sugar and calorie content! (Don't forget, sugar was hideously expensive commodity.)
Apologies - couldn't resist this one! 
So was the population permanently drunk? Perhaps. But one knock on effect for Pepys could be that the quantity of alcohol he consumed contributed to the formation of his bladder stones.

And finally:
In this excerpt we learn that Pepys drank at the Star in Cheapside. Amongst the general population literacy rates were low and people liked places that were easily identifiable with a picture. Hence pubs, such as the Star, Bull or Bell, denoted with a painting on their sign were popular.
Pub signs, such as this one for 'The Boot' were pictorial
at a time when literacy rates were low.

Wednesday 12 March 2014

The Tudor Kitchen at Hampton Court Palace

In February I visited the rediscovered Chocolate Kitchen at Hampton Court Palace and whilst there, I took the opportunity to investigate HCP's magnificent Tudor kitchens.

My current WIP (work in progress) is set in a Georgian kitchen (pssst, just for you - a sneak peek at the cover) and so I was keen to soak up the sounds, smells and sights of the kitchens at Hampton Court Palace.
Due for release - summer 2014
"The usual daily consumption is 80 - 100 sheep and the sheep are very big and fat - a dozen fat beef, a dozen and a half calves, without mentioning poultry, game, deer, boars and great numbers of rabbits."
A Spanish visitor to the English Court, in 1554

Hampton Court Palace is a place synonymous with King Henry VIII. When he held court there he was joined by a small army of courtiers who brought their servants with them - all of whom needed feeding. This involved storing and cooking huge amounts of meat, fish and vegetables, and each item of food was stored in a designated store: The Flesh Larder for meat, The Wet Larder for fish and the Dry Larder for less perishable goods. It was down to a kitchen staff of around 200 people to prepare the meals in the Great Kitchen and once cooked, the finished dishes were garnished in the Serving Place.

In 1526 around 600 courtiers were entitled to take their meals in the Great Hall or common dining room ( the King ate in his private apartments). Those of people of lower status such as general court servants, grooms and guards dined at 10am and 4pm, and the most senior man at the table served the food (a bit like doling out school dinners!) 

Higher status courtiers ate next door in the Great Watching Chamber, which was more akin to a restaurant with finer dishes and more variety. In addition, around 230 domestic servants were entitled to rations, but not allocated a place to eat and so most likely took their food to their work station or lodgings. 

"God may send a man goode meate, but the devyll may sende an evylle cooke to dystrue it."
Andrew Boorde (1490 - 1549)

As you can imagine to prepare such quantities of food took a lot of organisation. Indeed, food production was just that, a kind of factory like process. As an example take the making of a pie: pastry cooks made the case, butchers prepared the meat filling, which was then cook by the boiling house staff. The cases were then filled and baked in the pastry ovens and cooked, sent to the servery for garnishing then taken to the diners. 

A large part of the diet was made up of meat, which was prepared in a variety of ways from roasting, boiling and stewing, to griddling (similar to barbecuing). Roasting was relatively expensive since it required a lot of fuel to heat the huge open fires, plus a man to turn the spit to make sure the meat cooked evenly. 
And finally, the food consumed needed to be washed down with something and this frequently took the form of beer. The average annual consumption of beer for the Tudor court was 600,000 gallons! 

Wednesday 5 March 2014

Turnspit Dogs : Every Dog has his Day

Note the dog in the wheel near the ceiling.
“How well do I recollect, in the days of my youth, watching the operations of a turnspit at the house of a worthy old Welsh clergyman in Worcestershire, who taught me to read.”
Anecdotes of Dogs, Edward Jesse, 1870
Before the use of dog-power, spits were laboriously turned by hand
This week’s blog post is about the ‘Turnspit’ dog – a breed now extinct. It was the purpose of these dogs to run inside a wheel which in turn powered a spit used to roast meat. Prior to this automation  roasting meats had to be turned by hand which was both labour intensive and unreliable. The invention of a dog-powered device was hailed as a great improvement.
“A dog…by a small wheel, walking round it and making it turn in such a manner that no cook or servant could do it more cleverly.”
Johannes Caius – 1576 – Royal physician and dog expert.

In the mid 1700’s Carolus Linnaeus mentions a breed of turnspit dog and later still, Charles Darwin mention their short legs as an example of genetic selection. Since the dogs had to work in a confined space short legs and heavy bodies gave them an advantage to turn the wheel. In France the breed were described as ‘Basset a jambs torses’ and pictures show a short-legged dog with a long heavy body somewhat similar to the modern Basset Griffon Vendeen.
“The Turnspits are remarkable for their great length of body and short and usually crooked legs. Their colour is generally a dusky grey spotted with black or entirely black with the under parts whitish.”
Bingley’s Memoirs of British Quadrupeds 1809
An example of a dog turnspit - From the White Hart Inn, Bath.
The work was hard, hot and lacking in stimulation. Whereas other working breeds had the thrill of chasing rats or pointing out game, the Turnspit dog did his work out of compulsion and a likely scolding if he slacked in his task.
“The poor animal…went about his employment like a caged mouse or squirrel with his recreation wheel…revolved in a treadwheel, which in this instance was connected with apparatus for turning the joints roasting at the fire and formed not so much recreation as extremely hard work.”
Charles G Harper – The Old Inns of England - 1906
See the detail above (wheel in top left hand corner)
Numerous stories exist of dogs evading their work, as mentioned by a Mr Wigstead, when writing about a pub in Newcastle where he observed:
“Great care must be taken that this animal [the Turnspit dog] does not observe the cook approach the larder. If he does, he immediately hides himself for the remainder of the day.”

In a large household where particularly heavy joints of meat were roasted, often two dogs were used, each alternating for a few hours in the wheel, or else worked on a ‘day-on-day-off’ basis. These animals soon became accustomed to this routine and if called upon to work on a day other than his usual, would hide away. Indeed, this regime is thought to be the origin of the phrase “each dog will have his day.”

Whether as testament to a dog’s intelligence or the drudgery of the work, other stories are recorded, such as that told of the kitchen of the Duke de Liancourt who had two dog-powered turnspits, used alternately. One day the ‘working’ dog went missing and so his companion was forced to work two days in a row. At the end of his duty, by wagging and whining, the dog took the kitchen staff to where his lazy companion was hiding and flushed him out.

A similar tale exists of a cook who couldn’t find the dog whose turn it was to work the spit and so attempted to put his favourite dog in the wheel. This dog rebelled and ran into the garden, found the missing dog and drove him inside where the latter went of his own accord into the wheel.

'With eagerness he still does forward tend, 
Like Sisyphus, whose journey has no end.'

- anonymous poem, Upon a dog called Fuddle, turnspit at the Popinjay, in Norwich
A prototype dog-powered sewing machine!
Even when not working in the kitchen, Turnspit dogs were put to other purposes. An old story exists of some turnspit dogs from Bath, who on cold Sundays were taken to church to be used as foot warmers. However, on one occaision this backfired whilst the Bishop of Gloucester gave his sermon and sited the line “It was then that Ezekial saw the wheel…”. On hearing the word “wheel” the dogs ran off, associating it with work to be done!

However, not everyone was oblivious to the hard lot of the turnspit dog. In 1866, Henry Bergh, founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, sited the dogs’ treatment as tantamount to slavery. He abhorred how the dogs were forced to trot for hours next to a blazing fire, with no access to water – and if they were tardy about their task the cook might even toss a hot coal onto the treadmill platform to enliven their paws.
Dogs were used to power other devices - such as a butter churn.
And finally, on a brighter note, in Robert Chambers 1869 “Book of Days” he recounts an anecdote about an 18th century ship’s captain. When the captain docked at Bristol he became angry with the locals over their lack of hospitality to his crew. In retribution, under cover of darknes he sent his men to steal all the town’s turnspit dogs. When the roast meat was all gone and the crisis became acute, the townsfolk apologized, opened their doors to the sailors and the dogs returned.