Sunday 31 March 2013

Tudor Kitchen Garden - Update

I thought that I should do a quick update on the Tudor kitchen garden project. Unfortunately, not much has happened in the last week. Although we don't have snow on the ground here, it is freezing outside and I think that any seeds already planted will have rotted by now.

I will get re-sowing as soon as the weather warms up, although I'm starting to worry a little about the July target. On a more serious note, unseasonably cold weather would have been of great concern to Tudor householders who were relying on their vegetables to feed the family. When I planted my seeds a couple of weeks ago, the weather was relatively warm and, although rainy, it looked as though spring was coming. Within a couple of days, the weather had completely changed and it was snowing! There is little that people could have done to prepare for this in the sixteenth century, except cover their plots as soon as possible in an attempt to keep their seeds warm enough to germinate.

It also seems as though Tudor vegetables are in fashion this year, with The Guardian newspaper including an article on the subject on their website ( this weekend. It's fascinating and highlights how much I am going to need to learn if I am really to be enjoying a Tudor meal this summer. I may look into growing some Skirrets in future years...

Sunday 24 March 2013

Snow in the Tudor Kitchen Garden

It's only been four days and we have already had our first setback in the Tudor kitchen garden project for the BBC's Grow Your Own campaign. Unfortunately, no-one told the weather that it is now Spring and it looks as though the seeds that have been planted will have been killed by the frost and snow this weekend. I'll re-sow next week if the weather gets any warmer, although I heard somewhere that we're due a new ice age...

Anyway, luckily we only had a few rows planted so it's not a big deal. Such a late snow would have been of considerably more concern for Tudor gardeners who were relying on their produce to feed their families. Seeds, which were saved over winter for sowing in Spring were valuable and a loss of a substantial part of their store would have been disastrous. I'm aiming to save my own seeds this year to sow next year. Seed saving must have been something of a science - letting a carrot plant go to seed, for example, means that you can't eat that carrot. It was therefore necessary to balance the needs of one year against those of the next.

I will keep updating on progress here. You can also listen out for progress updates on the Robert Elms Show on BBC London Radio on Saturday mornings. I was on there yesterday to introduce the project and will be featuring regularly over the coming months. Yesterday's programme is available on the BBC I-Player for the next six days.

Thursday 21 March 2013

A Tudor Kitchen Garden

Look out for me and my family on today's BBC London news at 6.30pm for the launch of the BBC's Grow Your Own campaign. As an archaeologist, I am used to working with a trowel, although not normally for putting things in the ground!

The campaign is a very exciting one and aims to get everyone thinking about growing their own vegetables, regardless of how big their plot is. You don't even need a garden - vegetables and herbs will grow in window boxes or in planters on balconies.

We are lucky enough to have a small garden in London and now have a vegetable patch and two large planters. My garden is a Tudor-inspired one and I want to look into just what the Tudor householder was growing and eating and have a go at planting these myself.

So far, I have planted both purple and yellow carrots which would have been the colours most commonly seen on the Tudor table. Surprisingly, orange carrots are a later development. There will be no potatoes in my Tudor garden, since these only arrived in England in the 1580s from the New World. Similarly, we wont be growing tomatoes. There are a wide variety of root vegetables which would have been a staple of the Tudor peasant's diet, including turnips and radishes.

I will be giving regular radio and television updates of progress and will also be updating here. Hopefully, this summer we will be able to have our own Tudor banquet!

Sunday 10 March 2013

Happy Mother's Day!

Since it is Mother's Day in the UK today, I have been thinking about mothers. The last Queen Mother, Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, held the role for fifty years before her death in 2002. She made the role her own but she was not, of course, the first prominent royal mother in England.

The Anglo-Saxons are commonly considered not to have had any queens. This is based on the ninth century writer, Asser, who produced a biography of Alfred the Great. Asser claimed that, due to the bad conduct of a queen named Eadburh, the office of queen was banned in Wessex. While it is true that most ninth century queens of Wessex were of low status, that is not the case for all Anglo-Saxon king's wives, with many, including Aelfthryth, the wife of King Edgar, and Emma, the wife of, first, Aethelred II and then Cnut, establishing themselves as queens. Even women who were unable to take on the political role of queen during their husband's lifetime were able to play a role as queen mother in the next reign.

The first prominent queen mother is Eadgifu, the third wife of Edward the Elder. On Edward's death, his second son, Aelfweard, who was his chosen successor, took the throne, dying soon afterwards. Edward's eldest son, Aethelstan, took the opportunity this presented to take the throne himself, something which led to rivalry with his stepmother, Aelfflaed, who was Edward the Elder's discarded second wife and the mother of his sons, Aelfweard and Edwin. Aelfflaed appears to have supported Edwin in a rebellion against Aethelstan, with Eadgifu, the king's widow, supporting her eldest stepson. It has been suggested that Eadgifu made an agreement with Aethelstan that the price of her support would be the recognition of her young sons as his heirs - certainly, Aethelstan never married, something highly unusual at the time.

Following Aethelstan's death, Eadgifu's eldest son, Edmund became king and Eadgifu began to witness charters for the first time, demonstrating her regular attendance at court. Following Edmund's murder his brother, the sickly Eadred, succeeded with his mother taking on quasi-regnal powers on his behalf. During the reigns of her sons Eadgifu was able to truly establish herself as a queen through the use of her power as queen mother. It is telling of how powerful she had become that her grandson, Eadwig, deprived her of her estates soon after he came to the throne, when he was attempting to establish his own wife as a queen. Eadgifu was probably involved in the rebellion in 957 which split England in two and brought Eadwig's younger brother, Edgar to prominence. When Eadwig died in 959 and Edgar became king of the whole of England, he returned his grandmother's lands to her.

Eadgifu was the first prominent queen mother in England. She was followed by Edgar's wife, Aelfthryth, who is popularly held responsible for the murder of her stepson, Edward the Martyr, and who took the regency during the minority of her son, Aethelred II (r.978-1016). Emma of Normandy was very powerful during the reign of her son, Harthacnut (r.1040-1042), with her eldest son, Edward the Confessor (r.1042-1066), wary of her power, depriving her of her lands and influence when he came to the throne. After the Conquest, Eleanor of Aquitaine was particularly powerful during the reign of her son, the absent Richard I (r.1189-1199). She was also influential in helping her youngest son, John (r.1199-1216) win the crown. Henry III's mother, Isabella of Angouleme, and Edward I's mother, Eleanor of Provence, enjoyed personal influence over their sons, even if they had little direct political power. Isabella of France, Edward III's mother, of course, was notorious for actually deposing her husband and ruling for her son for some time. In the fifteenth century, Catherine of Valois died when her son, Henry VI, was too young to give her any particular role, while Elizabeth Woodville was deprived of the chance to rule on behalf of Edward V, the elder of the princes in the Tower. Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII, while not actually queen mother, used the title of 'my Lady, the king's mother': making it almost an official role.

Motherhood was important to women in the medieval and Tudor periods. Bearing children was considered to be a woman's primary role and acting in support of a child was also seen as an acceptable outlet for maternal political ambitions. It is perhaps telling that, in the twelfth century, when the Empress Matilda and King Stephen fought for the crown, the Empress was heavily criticised for her political actions, while Stephen's wife, the highly active Matilda of Boulogne, received little censure. Stephen's wife was able to openly act on behalf of her husband and children, something which the Empress, as claimant in her own right, was unable to do.

Saturday 9 March 2013

Siblings with the same names...

Happy (belated) International Women’s Day!  To mark the occasion I wanted to look at an aspect of late medieval/Tudor family life that interests me – the names chosen for children.

It was surprisingly common in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries for siblings to be given the same Christian names – something which would be largely unthinkable now. It is perhaps no surprise that names were re-used after the early death of a child. For example, at Blickling Church in Norfolk there is a memorial brass to Anne, the eldest daughter of William Boleyn and Margaret Butler, who died young. This Anne Boleyn was the elder sister of another Anne Boleyn (the Lady Shelton of Henry VIII’s reign), who was born after her death. Clearly, cases such as these were about the commemoration of the dead and ensuring that an important family name remained in use (here, Anne was the name of William Boleyn’s mother, to whom he was close).

Sometimes two children born close together were also given the same name – for example, Catherine Howard’s lover, Thomas Culpepper and his brother, Thomas, who was close to him in age. Obviously this was not intended as an act of commemoration of the elder, still living, sibling, but, in an age of high infant mortality, it was probably done to ensure the continuation of the family Christian name in a similar way to the re-use of the name of a deceased child.

What I am particularly interested in, however, is the re-use of a name when the elder sibling had already survived infancy and would be considered to have a good chance of survival. This was often the result of a parents’ remarriage. Elizabeth Woodville, the queen of Edward IV, had two sons named Richard: Sir Richard Grey, the younger son of her first marriage and Richard, Duke of York, the younger son of her second. As queen, Elizabeth may have had little input into the decision to name her youngest son after her husband’s father. However, even here there is a sense that the re-use of a name was considered acceptable amongst half-siblings.

This seems particularly likely where the siblings concerned were paternal half-siblings. Fathers had a great deal of authority over their families in the period and would have been largely in control of selecting their child’s name. The first Anne Boleyn, who was the second wife of Geoffrey Boleyn, Lord Mayor of London, was the daughter of Sir Thomas Hoo, Lord Hoo and Hastings. Her father remarried when she was an adult, producing a further three daughters: Anne, Alianore and Elizabeth.  The younger Anne, who was the eldest child of this marriage, was born in 1448, some years after her elder half-sister’s marriage. The re-use of the elder Anne’s name was therefore not connected with concerns that she would not survive to adulthood – she already had.

The Hoo family were particularly keen on re-using names amongst half-siblings. I have been recently studying a chancery case brought by Anne and her half-siblings which, highlighting the confusion that could arise, refers to the ‘said Anne, Anne, Alianore, & Elizabeth’ as daughters of Sir Thomas Hoo. The sisters’ father, Sir Thomas Hoo, also had a paternal half-brother named Thomas Hoo, Esquire, with both brothers named after their father. This pattern was also not solely a Hoo family tradition. Elizabeth Howard, the mother of Queen Anne Boleyn, had much younger half-sister named Elizabeth who also survived to adulthood. These are only the examples in the Boleyn family. There are numerous examples from the period: the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, famously, was horrified when he heard rumours that Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s new daughter was to be given the name Mary, which was already borne by her elder half-sister.

So the question must be, why was a Christian name re-used by a parent when their child was still living and had survived infancy. The policy was considerably more common amongst half-siblings and it appears that the answer was that such families were considered as distinct units from each other. When a man or woman remarried and started a new family, this really was considered a new family, with the ability to once again commemorate ancestors or re-use favourite names. Although half-siblings recognised each other as siblings, and would refer to each other as ‘brother’ and ‘sister’, there was also a distinction between them.

I would argue that this distinction was due to the fact that, although inheritance in England was largely through the male line, the importance of lateral kinship was also very high. A person was considered to be the product of both their mother and their father’s families. So, for example, when Anne Boleyn reportedly threatened to marry Princess Mary to a low-born man, she would be debasing the throne-worthiness of Mary’s children due to the lack of status of the husband. Similarly, for Anne Boleyn, her links to the Howards were very important to her status – a family connection that came through her mother. When challenged on his plans to marry Anne, Henry Percy, heir to the Earl of Northumberland, defended her by pointing out her links to the Dukes of Norfolk and the Earls of Ormond, both of which came through female lines in her family.

Inheritance in England also passed through the full blood in the medieval and Tudor periods, with half-siblings rarely being heirs to each other – this was why Queen Anne Neville’s mother was able to inherit from her full brother, the Earl of Warwick, with her elder paternal half-sisters receiving nothing. This was also the rationale behind the mention in Edward VI’s Device for the succession that Mary and Elizabeth were only related to him in the half-blood.

Since lateral kinship was so important in the period, it is no surprise that, with each remarriage, a man or a woman was considered to start a new family, which was distinct from their previous. This accounts for the re-use of a Christian name.

For anyone interested, there is more on Anne Hoo and the other women described above in my book, Boleyn Women, which is available from July.