Friday, 26 April 2013

Tudor Kitchen Garden (Sunshine and Showers)

Just a quick update on the Tudor kitchen garden. We've had glorious sunshine this week which is really doing the garden some good! The radishes are doing particularly well but I am pleased to report that seeds have germinated in every row. If this continues, there will be purple carrots, deer's tongue lettuce and giant turnips, fit for a Tudor (peasant's) banquet in the summer. I am going to plant the beans next week so will keep you posted.

Also, just to let you know that I will be coming on the Robert Elms' show on BBC London Radio (94.9fm) on Monday at around 1 o'clock to give an update on the garden. It's always great to catch up with Robert and St.John Stephen (who is the BBC's gardening expert). I would particularly like to get some tips from St.John on keeping the plants safe from slugs and snails. I have noticed a few holes in some of the radish leaves which are a bit worrying...

To the Manor Born

I have always been fascinated by family relationships and how kinship networks were used and relied upon in the medieval and Tudor periods.

I have been using a lot of manorial documents recently and what I find particularly fascinating is the way that even quite ordinary families can be traced over the centuries. The sixteenth and seventeenth century manor court documents for Kinlet (the home of the Blount family in Shropshire), for example, contain a number of references to members of the Southall family. They also appear in the records of the Borough Court, held at nearby Cleobury Mortimer, at the same time.

Southalls also appear in the1589 Glebe Terrier for Kinlet (a survey of church property), as well as the 1524-7 lay subsidy, which is a tax record. Tax records in particular can be an excellent way of following families through the ages. The 1327 lay subsidy for Earnwood, a manor in Kinlet parish, lists a Nicholas de Southall, who is the earliest member of the family that I have come across. John and Petronilla Southall appear in the 1381 poll tax return for Kinlet and can probably also be identified as family members – perhaps John was Nicholas’s grandson?

I would be very interested in hearing from any members of the Shropshire Southall family to see whether they remained in the same area or eventually moved away. One of the main areas of my research focuses on the Blounts and I have heard from a few current day members of the family, which is always great. One of the central aims of my project on the Blounts, which I am working on at King’s College, London, is to get the information out to a wider audience, particularly engaging with people in the local area. I trained as an archaeologist and am particularly interested in people rather than big themes – I want to know what people were doing, how they lived their daily lives etc. Family history can be an excellent way of achieving this and genealogists often carry out work that is useful to a wider audience specifically through the narrow nature of their focus.

Anyway, if you are interested in Tudor and medieval records for family history or more general historical research, look out for some of my articles in Your Family Tree magazine, which is available at newsagents in the UK or online. My articles on the main records for tracing ancestors back to 1066 (issue 126) and medieval tax records (issue 127) have already been published. An upcoming article will focus on early chancery records (issue 130 – June 2013). I also post information about my articles on my website -

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Radishes and Lettuces

I have been away for a week, working in the Shropshire Archives at Shrewsbury. When I cam back, I was very excited to find that we now have a row of radishes and a row of lettuces growing in the Tudor kitchen garden. Nothing else has put in an appearance yet, but the weather conditions have been perfect over the last week. I'll keep you posted!

At the very least, we should be enjoying a Tudor salad towards the end of June...

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Margaret of France

I have been carrying out some research on Grey Friars in London recently and was reminded of one of England’s least well known queens, Margaret of France, who was buried there.  It was a sad end for a woman who was a competent, if largely overlooked, queen that saw her tomb memorial taken apart and sold in the late 1540s following the dissolution of the monastery.

Margaret of France (c.1279-1318) is little remembered today and was, even in her own time, over-shadowed by her more famous predecessor as Edward I’s wife, Eleanor of Castile, and by her successor as queen, the notorious Isabella of France.  She played an important role in keeping the royal family together and her life appears, in the main, to have been a happy one. She was the youngest child of Philip III of France and his wife, Marie of Brabant and was born around 1279. In 1285 her father died and she was raised under the guardianship of her brother, Philip IV.

 In 1296 Philip invaded Gascony and took control of the duchy. Edward I was already committed to his war in Scotland and was unable to defend both areas. He had already made one marriage in order to safeguard Gascony from foreign attack and he was therefore eager, in 1298 to adopt the pope’s suggestion of a marriage between himself and a sister of Philip IV, and for his eldest surviving son, Edward, to marry Philip’s daughter, Isabella. At first, it was suggested that Edward marry Margaret’s elder sister, Blanche, who was a renowned beauty. At some stage in the negotiations, Margaret’s name was substituted for Blanche’s. Margaret came from a good-looking family and her brother was always known as ‘Philip the Fair’. While Margaret was always rather overshadowed by her brother and elder sister, she was an attractive woman in her own right and, according to the Chronicler, Peter Langcroft ‘the Lady Margaret, in whose least finger there is more goodness and beauty, whoever looks at her, than in the fair Idione whom Adamas loved’. Edward had no reason to feel short-changed by the substitution of Margaret for the fair Blanche.

Margaret arrived at Dover in September 1299 and was taken straight to Canterbury where she and the sixty year old Edward were married on 8 September. No record of the couple’s first meeting survives but Edward was apparently delighted with his young bride and the couple, against expectations, became close. Margaret was presented to the people as a peacemaker for her role in ending the conflict in Gascony and this made her popular, with the contemporary Song of the Scottish Wars commenting of the marriage that ‘next the king returns, that he may marry Queen Margaret, the flower of the French; through her the kingdoms receive a more complete peace. Anger begets slaughter, concord nourishes love - when love buds between great princes, it drives away bitter sobs from their subjects’. She quickly fell pregnant following her marriage and both she and Edward found they missed each other, in spite of the brief time that they had been together. According to the chronicler, Peter Langcroft, soon after Easter 1300:

‘Queen Margaret, by command of her lord the king, proceeds towards the North; she was advanced in pregnancy; by will of God Almighty at Brotherton on the wharf she is safely delivered of a son who is named Thomas at his baptism. King Edward receives information of it, prepares quickly to visit the lady, like a falcon before the wind. After her purification made solemnly the king resumes his road towards Scotland; the queen with her son waits at Cawood, on the River Ouse, much at her ease’.

Given that Margaret had only arrived in England in September 1299 and her first son was born on 1 June 1300, coupled with the fact that Brotherton contained no royal residence, it is clear that Margaret’s first child was premature. In spite of this, her son was healthy and as soon as she was well enough to travel she moved to Cawood which had been prepared for her lying-in. Margaret’s other deliveries went more smoothly and she bore Edward two further children: Edmund at Woodstock in August 1301 and Eleanor at Winchester in May 1306. It is a testament to Margaret’s good nature that her only daughter was named after her predecessor as Edward’s wife.

 Like Eleanor of Castile, Margaret spent most of her time travelling with Edward and she was a distant mother to her children. She involved herself in their upbringing as much as possible, personally selecting Thomas’s wet nurse, for example. She gave her two sons the gift of an iron birdcage and grieved for her daughter when she died young. Edward was also interested in his children and a letter survives from him to the steward of his sons’ household, telling him to ensure that they attended mass at Canterbury Cathedral and asking for a report on their conduct during the service. Edward asked for them to be brought to St Radegunds in September 1302 so that he could visit them.  In a further letter to the children’s household after the birth of Margaret’s daughter, Edward asked for details of what the baby was like. It is obvious that both Margaret and Edward attempted to stay involved in their children’s lives and Edward treated the children of his second family with more indulgence than the strict upbringings imposed on his first.

Margaret made an effort to be on good terms with Edward’s children from his first marriage. She had considerable contact with the future Edward II and, even though she was only a few years older than him, she filled the role of a mother to him. In 1305, the young Edward and some other youths invaded the estates of the Bishop of Chester, pulling down fences and allowing his game to escape. Edward I was furious with his son and sent him to Windsor where he spent six months in disgrace. He was only released through a reconciliation engineered by Margaret when she convinced her husband not to punish his son further.

Edward I was faithful to both his queens and he and Margaret enjoyed a loving relationship. There is evidence that he was anxious about Margaret’s health and happiness, as a series of surviving letters show. Margaret was diagnosed with measles in 1305 and Edward was very concerned for her health, cancelling arrangements that had been made for her to travel to see him. In a letter to her physician, Edward told him not to let her travel until she was fully recovered or he would suffer for it.

Margaret was an exemplary queen and her only recorded vice was a failure to control her finances. She was very extravagant and by 1302 Edward had had to give her £4000 out of wardships and marriages so that she could pay her debts. In 1305 her lands were  increased by £500 a year, again in order to service her debts. Margaret spent the money on luxuries: in 1302 she owed £1000 to an Italian merchant for fine clothes and other goods. She was left richly provided for in Edward’s Will but died heavily in debt.

 In spite of these debts, Margaret was a kind-hearted woman and she interceded with Edward on a number of occasions on behalf of people who petitioned her. She saved the life of a Godfrey de Cogners, who had unwisely fashioned the crown with which Robert the Bruce was crowned in Scotland. Margaret was kind-hearted even to her opponents. In 1303 or 1304 she issued a writ against two men for trespass in her park in Camel in Somerset. Since both of the accuseds were in Scotland when the writ was issued, she agreed to postpone her action against them so that they would not be prejudiced by their absence. In a letter to Edward’s chancellor, Margaret wrote:

‘Because we have granted, at the request of our dear cousin, Sir Aymer de Valence, that the exigence [writ]  which is running upon Sir Alexander Cheverel and Roger Parker  (who remain in the service of our said lord the king in Scotland) in the county of Somerset by the order delivered to the sheriff of the same place by our said cousin, Sir Hugh le Despenser and Sir Henry le Spigurnel, justices assigned to hear and determine the trespass which was committed against our said lord the king and against ourself in our park of Camel, should be adjourned until the feast of St Hilary next coming, we command and request you that you hereupon make the said Sir Alexander and Roger have our lord the king’s writ to the aforesaid sheriff in due manner, so that they in the meantime do not incur damage or danger by it for this reason’.

Margaret was not with Edward when he died on 7 July 1307 at Burgh-by-Sands on his way to yet another campaign in Scotland. Edward’s death was unexpected and Margaret grieved for him deeply, never contemplating a second marriage, in spite of being only in her late twenties at the time. She did not, however, retire from public life and, on 22 January 1308 sailed to Boulogne with her stepson, Edward II, for his marriage to her niece, Isabella of France.

The royal party returned to England soon after the wedding for Edward and Isabella’s coronation. Margaret’s brothers, the Counts of Valois and Evreux publicly voiced their disapproval at the prominence given to Edward II’s favourite, Piers Gaveston, at the ceremony and it is likely that Margaret also disapproved. Certainly, she retired from court soon after the coronation. She may also have voiced her concerns to her brother, Philip IV, and, in May 1308, it was reported that both Philip and Margaret had sent £40,000 to the Earls of Lincoln and Pembroke to finance their campaign to oust Gaveston from power. She had reason to dislike Gaeston as, at Easter 1308, Edward took Berkhamstead Castle from her and bestowed it on his favourite. Margaret played only a small role in the campaign against Gaveston and it was the only foray into politics that she ever made.

Margaret’s last public appearance was as a witness to the birth of the future Edward III at Windsor in 1312. She joined her niece, Isabella, two months before the birth and stayed until after the christening before returning to her own estates. She lived quietly for the rest of her widowhood and died at Marlborough Castle in February 1318 of some unspecified illness. At her request, she was buried at Grey Friars church in London, next to the altar in the choir that she had built. In spite of her brief life and even briefer marriage, Margaret of France appears to have been happy and she enjoyed a happier marriage than her niece and successor as queen, Isabella of France.

Unlike her predecessor as queen, Eleanor of Castile, and successor, Isabella of France, there is unlikely to ever be a biography of Margaret of France. She made very little political impact but, in spite of odds that were stacked against her, she was happy. By choosing Grey Friars as her burial place she also set a precedent and it became the fashionable place for the London aristocracy and gentry to be buried. You can read more about Margaret, who appears incredibly human in the surviving sources, in my book, England’s Queens: The Biography.

BBC Radio on Saturday

Just a quick note to let everyone know that I will be featured on the Robert Elms Show on BBC London Radio (94.9 fm) on Saturday morning (at some point between 10am and 10.30am). I'm going to be updating  everyone on the Tudor kitchen garden. As I said yesterday, there's not a lot to tell although the sunshine that we had today ought to be helping things along. I was last on Robert's show a few weeks ago when it was snowing heavily. At least we seem to have Spring now at last!

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Finally, some sunshine...

The weather started brightening up over the weekend and today it finally felt warm enough to start replanting my Tudor kitchen garden. Only four carrots and one radish plant have actually planted, with the vast majority of seeds casualties of the unseasonal weather. Hopefully it will stay warm now - I'm running out of seeds!

I thought that I would just do a quick run through of what I am growing. The seeds are heritage, which means that they are older varieties (although not necessarily as old as the Tudor period). They will however give a good idea of what contemporaries of Henry VIII were eating! I am only growing vegetables that would have been familiar five hundred years ago however and will hopefully be cooking up some Tudor recipes this summer.

I have two varieties of lettuce. The first is called 'Relic' and is a development of 'Deer's Tongue', which dates back to at least the early eighteenth century. It should have reddish maroon leaves which are narrow and pointed. The second variety, is Grandpa Admire's Butterhead Lettuce which was first bred in the early nineteenth century. This will give green leaves, washed with bronze and red.

I'm most excited about the carrots and have three varieties in the garden (although it is only the orange carrots that have sprouted). The first is 'Jaune Obtuse de Doubs', which is a very ancient French variety of yellow carrot. These may well have made it to the dining table in Francis I's France, perhaps even when Anne Boleyn was resident in his queen's household? The second variety are Dragon Purple carrots. Carrots were not originally orange and Tudor diners would have been much more familiar with white, yellow or even purple carrots. The final variety are orange: Royal Chantenay. Matthew Wilson, who is Channel 4 gardening expert, sourced this heritage variety for me.

The Tudors ate a lot of root vegetables. I have planted Rouge Long de Florence Onions, which are another traditional variety and should give deep purple coloured bulbs. My beetroot is a variety called 'Saungina', which means 'bloody' and I'm told the reasoning behind that name should be very apparent when they grow! I've picked giant varieties of radishes and turnips: 'Sicilly Giant' radish and 'Giant Limousin' turnip. I'm particularly excited about the turnips, which should grow to up to 25cm in diameter. It brings to mind the Russian fairy tale, the Giant Turnip, which has been a children's favourite for generations - again, this seemed appropriate to a heritage garden.

Finally, I also have a variety of winter cabbage ('Quintal de Alsace'), which is a traditional variety in France and Germany and should be very hardy, something that seems appropriate given the weather we have been having. I will also be planting some beans towards the end of the month.

I'll post again if anything happens and will also upload some photographs. It's very exciting and I am hoping that this will be an ongoing process, with the garden gradually getting bigger and more established as the years go by, just as would have been the case in a real Tudor kitchen garden.