Medieval Cooking is Complex: A Complete Recipe Annotation

During the process of creating my pie for KASC, I had to not only do a lot of test cooking, but I also had to do a ton of close reading. Reading a medieval recipe is a complex and nuanced endeavor. Here is an example of my process of interpreting a recipe.

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More Women Workers in York: Looking at the Ebor Cause Papers

I have begun to explore additional research avenues for examining the lives and economic activities of women living in medieval York. One potential resource is the Ebor Cause Papers: these are records of individual cases heard in the ecclesiastical courts at York between 1300 and 1858. These cases represent a cross-section of medieval legal proceedings and can provide some insight into the daily lives of common people. The Cause Papers have been digitized, making them readily accessible to the casual researcher; I chose to use only the most basic records for this preliminary study. Under basic access, one can see the name, role (plaintiff, witness, etc.), and employment of participants in each case, as well as some other notes and details.

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Introduction to Historical Food Research

This is re-published from my old blog.

In the SCA, the first piece of research advice you’ll get (well, after “don’t try to back-document a project you’ve already completed”) is that you must know the difference between a primary and a secondary source. Generally, we define a primary source as an actual historical item (or text) and a secondary source is a modern interpretation of those historical sources. So if you’re researching clothing, a primary source would be an extant historical garment while a secondary source would be a modern book about medieval clothing.

Here’s a question for you: what’s a primary source for historical cooking? You can’t go to a museum and see (much less eat) the wedding feast of Henry and Matilda. Recreating historical food will always require you to synthesize multiple research strands. That’s the fundamental purpose behind this lesson: all of these types of sources that I describe build on each other, and the strongest research makes use not only of multiple individual sources but multiple strands of research and analysis.

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Female Guild Members in York, England between 1272 and 1377

This is an abbreviated version of a paper I presented at An Tir’s Kingdom Arts and Sciences Championship in March of this year. The full paper is available online:



Through an examination of archived medieval documents, this paper presents evidence for women in guilds and trades in York during the reigns of Edward I through III. I examined digital transcriptions of primary source documents, primarily the York Register of Freemen, extracting data about female names and occupations. By analyzing these data, I was able to compare my findings to those of other researchers who have written about women as workers in other areas of medieval Europe. Overall, I found that the situation for women in York was consistent with that for women in other medieval European cities: while women did participate (sometimes significantly) in wage-work, women’s participation was typically limited to certain types of jobs in certain industries, and women rarely achieved full guild membership.

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Women as Workers in Medieval England (a brief overview)

This is an excerpt from a research paper I presented at An Tir’s Kingdom Arts and Sciences Championship in March. The full paper is available in the files section, and includes a full bibliography and works cited; this post has been edited from the introduction to that paper and provides a broad overview of women’s roles in medieval English town economies. The original introduction had a large number of footnotes, because I love footnotes, which I have awkwardly inserted as parentheticals.

A woman making a nail and a woman doing laundry, both from a 14th century English picture Bible

The purpose of this research was to uncover evidence for women’s participation in trades, paid work, and commercial/craft guilds (as opposed to parish guilds) in York, England during the reigns of Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III, which covered the years 1272-1377. This was a transitional period in Europe, corresponding with a rise in urbanization and the subsequent boom of the guild movement. In England in particular this was a period of tremendous social upheaval; from the relative stability of the thirteenth century, the early fourteenth century brought a series of famines that significantly weakened both systems and people, and the devastation of the Black Death left chaos in its wake. Yet guilds persisted in spite of significant social upheaval, a phenomenon which has been relatively well-studied. In post-plague England, wages for skilled workers increased, and in general there was an increase in the percentage of the working population involved in trades rather than agriculture. (See Penn and Dyer, “Wages and Earnings in Late Medieval England: Evidence from the Enforcement of the Labour Laws” for more analysis of general post-plague patterns.)

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Making Your Own Paints: A Beginner’s Guide

The paints I made (plus some modern gold paint for comparison)
Paints I’ve made (plus some modern gold paint for comparison)

Pigments available to the medieval/renaissance illuminator included mineral and organic ones. The typical palette consisted of:

  • Black: from lamp soot, charred bone, other carbon sources (e.g. vine black, made from charred grape vines)
  • White: lead white; Cennini specifically mentions that other sources of white, such as chalk, have limited value to the artist
  • Browns: typically from various earth sources such as umber
  • Yellows: orpiment (arsenic sulphide), various ochres/earths, tin, saffron
  • Greens: verdigris (copper acetate produced via various chemical reactions), some earths, malachite (a mineral that also derives its color from copper)
  • Blues: lazurite (lapis lazuli, which yielded the expensive and desirable ultramarine blue), azurite, some copper compounds (including some forms of verdigris), indigo
  • Purple: turnsole
  • Reds: madder, minium (lead oxide), vermilion (cinnabar / mercuric sulphide), possibly kermes and cochineal

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Recommended Reading: A Selected Scribal Bibliography

These are some of the books and other sources that I consulted for my scribal project for Kingdom Arts and Sciences, and that I recommended as part of the classes I taught recently. Take a look, hopefully you’ll find something helpful. I have put my top picks in bold:

A page from a French book of hours from around 1400.
A French book of hours from around 1400. Pop quiz if you read the last post: what style is this?

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Major Styles of Manuscript Illumination: An Art Historical Survey

This is adapted from a handout from a class I taught at a Dragon’s Mist Arts and Sciences day in late April. The full handout is available in the Files section of this blog.

This is a broad overview of major styles in manuscript production in Western Europe. It is NOT a comprehensive list of every type of book art practiced in our time period, although I would love to put that together someday 🙂 This is intended as a guide for scribes, especially charter painters, to begin to recognize distinct styles and make their artwork fit more closely within a target style.

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Five Tips to Make Your Charters Look More Historical

This is adapted from a handout from a class I taught at a Dragon’s Mist Arts and Sciences day in late April. The full handout is available in the Files section of this blog.

Sketching and inking an image from a period original

  1. Pick a style and stick to it. Look at multiple examples from the same time period and place as the finished piece that you are basing your work off of or what you are aiming for. Choose similar colors and use the same types of decorative elements. For more information, see my post of an art historical survey of illumination styles.
  2. Use historical or at least historically plausible colors. Avoid layering white over green, and spend enough time studying manuscripts and pigments that you have a sense of what colors were actually available. Scribes in specific time periods and places used distinct color palettes. Spend time looking at accurate facsimiles of medieval illuminations to determine what colors and combinations they found appealing.
  3. Use gold paint or gold leaf, not both. I have found almost no examples were gold paint and gold leaf were both used in the same page, although I’m sure they exist. Leaf was more commonly used prior to the 15th century, after which gold paint seems to be more common. (I’m still researching this and welcome corrections.)
  4. Go through the process of creating an illumination from start to finish, including planning and ruling out the page, at least once. This will help you see how medieval artists conceptualized the page: manuscript art is unique in that it blends both textual and visual elements. Your painting on a charter needs to reflect the artistic style of the design and be somehow united with the text itself.
  5. Keep in mind the purpose of this art form. Illuminated manuscripts were used devotionally both within public spaces of worship and by private individuals. The aesthetic of illumination grew out of this context. Arguably, this is why manuscript illumination was more stylized than realistic. The artwork that we produce within the SCA is wholly secular; however, it does follow the same stylistic conventions. Additionally, the charters and scrolls we produce are intended to produce strong emotions in their viewers, and are physical relics that our Crowns and Coronets provide to those they value highly. SCA scribes surely take their work just as seriously as medieval scribes did!