A Longe Waye To Go For that Jokke

4 06 2014

 

Near the end of his long reign, King Cole, the great jovial king of the wild western lands of what became Britain, faced an existential threat–the solution he found, the fruit of a creative, but humble, mind, is still with us today.

To understand that gift we still treasure, we should first know the history that necessitated it.

In the British Isles, after the collapse of the Roman empire, and its slow replacement by what came to be called Christendom, the local animist and druidic religions briefly fused with the Christianity that had accompanied the occupying Roman soldiers in the course of the fourth century.

It was at this time when the Saxons began displacing the people the Romans called the Britons. The waves of the Saxons, along with Celts in the West and North—progenitors of the Welsh and Scots—created a web of competing but interdependent kingdoms. It is from this time period we get the names “Wessex”—for the kingdom of the West Saxons—Essex—the East Saxons—Sussex—the South Saxons—and “Northumbria”—for those north of the Umber river (though Northumbria is typically considered as having been in fact two kingdoms, not one).

The collapse of the Roman polity had allowed the rise of these kingdoms, but at the same time the absence of a coercive Roman authority prevented any particular strain of Christianity from taking root; as a matter of fact, some historians point to the burial rites of some of the midlands kings (for example, one of the kings of Mercia) of this era as explicit evidence that druidic and pagan religions in fact made something of a comeback, blending with Christian iconography

They call the period the Heptarchy, because seven independent though interdependent kingdoms of Angles and Saxons emerged with the receding of Roman society and the slow erosion of the Britons. It isn’t really a defined era; it emerged from the chaos of the Roman dissolution. This meant there was a lack of centralized cultural force—or, as some would have it, the absence of a single cultural influence made centralization impossible.

The effect of this, before the onset of a somewhat cohesive European Christendom, was that a culture of temporal pleasures was still somewhat common. The kings of the different kingdoms, at different levels of religious Christian development, allowed for the emergence of a hodgepodge of cultural norms.

Little is known about the family life or civic status of peasants of the time; it is only with the establishment of a stable and organized Catholic church that such records come into existence. But there is some record of the lives of the families of the royal courts, and of the proto-nobility that existed at the time, the witans, thanes, reaves, and other functionaries, often related to military service though increasingly serving administrative and commercial functions.

These were the pre-feudal equivalent of gentry, that class of persons have some property control or military function that granted them a level of autonomy within the social hierarchy. Historically as a general trend, the gentry family structure and the gentry norms were modeled to emulate those of the royal court; this was a practical necessity, because ultimate the ruling clique, whether they were a warrior band, a family clan, or some early version of the modern “royal family,” was the nexus through which authority flowed. While rulers of this period often relied to a great degree on sub-units of warriors or lesser “nobles,” these nobles in turn were balanced through the person of a chieftan or king. Thus the families and communities tended to blend together as a function of social necessity if nothing else.

That’s an important point, about the gentry family home. Perhaps always, but in the Occident at least since the reign of Augustus Caesar, who sought to contrast his austere Romanism with Mark Antony and Cleopatra’s “exotic” eastern decadence near the end of the last triumvirate, the popular perception of the Lord’s or King’s court and hearth set an important example for propriety in the home. In the nascent stages of civil development after the fall of Rome and the dissolution of the Briton realms, the organization of hearth life was a bit in flux; there was a particular importance to showing that there was some kind of stability in the noble houses, strong enough to support the increasingly volatile life on the estates, and manors of the countryside. For most of the Heptarch houses, again, this meant ascetic Christianity with a soupcon of pagan mysticism—at least that mysticism that was compatible with asceticism.

For Lord Cole, who would be known to history (and for the purposes of this joke) as King Cole, of the hilly lands of the West of the British Isles (what is now Wales), it was the appearance of merriment, and an emphasis on earthly pleasures, and of an unconcerned savoir-faire, that Cole thought would stabilize his kingdom in the face of constant Germanic and Scandanavian incursions, Celtic raiding, and the dismal politics of the seven kingdoms.

The accounts we have are sanitized by contemporary propriety, but there’s some reason to believe that the Colish court was fairly Bachannalian in fact. One can kind of understand his reasoning. It would be much like a married couple with kids, who see a disastrous divorce on the horizon, smiling through the ostentatious birthday party they paid for with three credit cards so the kids don’t catch on to the calamity in the offing. With seven-plus kingdoms and an international Christendom still in its nascence, any monarch worth his salt—a luxury good at the time—could have seen the end was night.

So Cole threw parties. His parties though actually worked something like a potluck. With the church not rich or organized enough to put on feasts, Cole used the potluck as a means to redistribute wealth. The manor lords and shire reaves—from where we get the word “sheriffs”—would, in alternating groups, be “invited” to feast and party with the king, and to celebrate their inclusion in the court, would throw a celebration in their local shires or as on the manor, and they would each bring something, and expect the wealthier freeholders and artisans to bring venison and beer (actually, most often a drink somewhat like beer, made without hops, called bog myrtle) for the benefit of the peasants, serfs, and other common people of their local areas. This was before the forest laws of William the Conqueror, when sylvan game was still available to those with the means to hunt, deer and elk.

So when Cole spent the realm’s coin on hiring a time of fiddlers, and motley fools and minstrels to not only perform for his court, but to travel rom shire to manor through motts and to the small towns coming to be known as burgs, it was something of a dark ages, pre-Christian Works Progress Administration.

And in fact it worked the same way. Artists, even in that time, were better employed by the powers-that-be, than unemployed and transient. Consider for example the 12th or 13th century protest song, sung by a recently unemployed minstrel of the warden of York. It was called The Song (or The Lament) of Husbandmen. It has in recent years received a renewed interest as a subject of scholarly research. The Song of Husbandmen was a song performed, likely in budding grain markets as the labor supply dwindled in the early stages of the Black Death, the first, stumbling phase of the War of the Roses.

The author of the Song of the Husbandmen is unknown by name, although the provenance of the song is attributed to a former minstrel of the lord of York, in the official chronicles of York. The Song is a product of the discontented cultural milieu which gave life to Lollardy—the proto-socialist religious movement that pre-figured the Levellers of the Cromwell period—and, likely, also to Wat Tyler’s Peasant’s Revolt of Richard II’s reign. In it, the unnamed author—remember, a minstrel whose previous duties had been to reflect his patron’s through-a-glass-rosily worldview back at him, phrases it to reflect the working poor laborer’s and peasant’s life back to him:

“I heard men upon the earth make great lamentations—
How they are injured in their work;
Good years and grain are all gone by;
No sayings are kept—no songs are sung—now we must only work.
There is no other way;
and yet we cannot live by our gleanings;
and what greater bitterness still—
every fourth penny is paid to the king.
We weep to the king, but are cast out…
We are hunted from hall to corner,
And those who once wore robes, we find in rags…
Worry and woe are awakened in the world,
and it is as good to perish soon as to labor so.”  

The lesson was fairly clear: just as kings and warriors have their glory reflected back to them in songs—like the Song of Roland—as a means of affirming their glory—so the songs of the unemployed minstrels served to validate what the working people knew was true—that they were disaffected, that they were being treated unfairly, that there were earthly causes of their lamentations, and what’s most important, that they were not alone—that what would otherwise be a single person’s complaint was in fact an entire class’s injustice.

So there was a valuable political function to maintaining minstrels, and troubadours—or more accurately, the forerunners of troubadours, who would emerge in the Languedoc region a few centuries later—and fools and heraldic poets not only at court, but as itinerants amidst the shire courts and markets, for use by manor lords and shire reaves to sow merriment in place of discontent. Among the rulers of the Heptarchy (the name historians have given to the system of seven kingdoms in the British Isles), Cole was alone in recognizing that seeding joy to flower was as legitimate a strategy as portraying ascetic discipline—and enforcing it by iron will.

So, this time of uncertainty and chaos, a sort of prefiguring of to the Anarchy of King Stephen’s reign, was a tenuous and dangerous time for monarchs. Cole, distinct from the practice of the rest of the Heptarchy, whether a function of his jovial personality, or a political necessity because of the unruliness of his vassal lords, chose to cheer the people to win their obedience, rather than cow them with brutality. His strategy made the hilly borderlands and the shires and counties that comprised them, the subject of raiding and legalistic power grabs by the kingdoms and lords to the East. But his strategy increasingly seemed like a wise one; whereas yeomen, peasants, and serfs rarely cared to which lord they paid their taxes and labor requirements—one noble was the same as any other—Cole’s subjects resisted the vassalage imposed on them by neighboring kingdoms. Troublesome and unruly as his barons and nobles were to Cole, so the common peoples’ loyalty to Cole made them unruly for interlopers.

Cole was a resourceful king, but even a resourceful man needs resources. Raiding had taken its toll on his kingdom. His realm covering much of what is now called Wales, relied on the sea and pastoralism for its food and trade. Danish coastal raiding made the fisheries unproductive, and a drop in population growth, likely due to a combination of pestilence and weak social reproduction incapable of sustaining large families, left a shortage of labor. In such times, actually, you’d expect pastoralists—those who raise flocks, and here it was sheep and goats—to flourish; unlike communities relying on cultivation, pastoral communities require very little labor for every ounce of food they can produce. However, in this case shortages of labor impoverished Cole’s fleet, both for coastal defense and fishing. Felling lumber—which was widely spread in this hilly region, so not concentrated for easy production—and building boats is very labor-intensive. Thus the haul form the seas plummeted. At the same time, raiding by the Scots, and brigands—the term “outlaws” would not come into use until after the Norman conquest, and the creation of the king’s forest law—raiding by Scots and brigands forced animal husbandmen to stay near to battlements and other local military installations (often leftovers from the Roman occupation). The effect of this was competition for useful pastureland, over-grazing, and leaner herds. Exasperating the problem, the Danes’ coastal raids typically ended in the paying of tribute, which Cole eventually had to do with sheep and goats as the treasury ran low.

Brigandry also made trade with the other kingdoms treacherous and therefore unprofitable; and besides, trade had not developed sufficiently, absent a financial infrastructure that standardized mediums of exchange and reliable credit. And anyway Cole’s subjects had nothing to trade to the other kingdoms: they lacked the nascent manufacturies and artisanal guilds of the eastern kingdoms, particularly, at that time, Wessex.

Records from the time are incomplete, despite the administrative continuity after the Norman conquest (records from the pre-Norman days are, gratefully, preserved thanks to William the Conqueror’s choice to retain much of the civic machinery of the Anglo-Saxon era). Nevertheless, we know that at this time Cole began casting about for some solution to the increasingly acute food shortage. In the absence of enough food, the happy songs of minstrels hit the ear as parody, not exaltation.

So Cole called in petty nobles, high-ranking clerks, aeldermen, manor lords and shire reaves who comprised his sort of ad-hoc Witangemot, an Anglo-Saxon advisory council comprised of notables of the realm. The Witangemot typically lacked administrate powers; they didn’t actually operate the arms of the state. Their role was purely advisory, although given their positions in society, their buy-in to major decisions was practically speaking necessary. The members of a convened Witangemot were called Witans when operating in that capacity, and despite their variable social stations, they were nominally equal when the Witangemot was convened.

Cole charged this Witangemot with finding a stop-gap solution until such time that the Heptarchy found a lasting means of preventing northern brigandry and the Danes’ raids. The result was a regal writ—at the time, more of an ephemeral royal order than a formal legal document, as they would become under Henry II’s legal reforms some centuries later—that his Witans should convene to put a workable solution before him. The proposal should be one that King Cole could implement to feed the people, while acknowledging both the manpower shortage and the kingdom’s dire situation in regards to specie, given the constant tributes—later called “Danegeld”—they were paying to coastal raiders.

There are records of this meeting in fact, although they are derivative; the manor lords had come, at this time, to requiring clerks located in the cities within their jurisdictions to maintain annual chronicles. At least three chronicles contemporaneously report on their Manor Lords’ attendance of a Witangemot (also termed a “liege conclave”) convened by the “merry” King, for the purpose of alleviating the misery of the common people as a result of the “Danes’ Plague.”

(This suggests that, indeed, contemporary observers considered the food shortage to be a direct result of Viking raiding, a plague visited from without, rather than by any internal mismanagement; mention isn’t made of Scots-Celtic borderlands raiding as a cause, although its effects are implicit in the way one chronicle in particular describes the various proposals proffered at the Witangemot, which take as a given the impossibility of expanding grazing land eastward or northward.)

The one chronicle that provides some detail about the proceedings of this meeting valorizes the local manor lord, but, surprisingly, does not impute the winning proposal to him; rather, it states that a western lands lord and shire reave made the most deserving proposal which, the chronicles states, the local lord gallantly championed.

We know something about this western lands lord and shire reave. First of all, rarely for the time, he was both the lord and shire reave, keeping both titles for himself. He was called Wellen the Rabbit in one chronicle, and Wellen Rabbit Haunch in another. Only two types of people have names like this in that era: commoners with no use for a surname, or high nobles whose nicknames differentiate them from others of the same name from the same clan. Those in the middle, from artisans up to petty lords, tended to have names like ours—given and family. The chronicles confirm what we’d guess, that Wellen Rabbit Haunch started life humbly, as an orphan in a western city, where’d he’d distinguished himself in service of the local lords Hunting Corps—a sort of public extermination service that hunted or trapped over-grown species, form wolves and deer to rabbits and hedgehogs.

(Ironically, a lord’s Hunting Corps typically didn’t hunt or trap rats, the most harmful species, because it was considered beneath the esteem and dignity of a lord to have his personal hunters running through alleys chasing rats.)

A personal (or Liege) Hunting Corps was headed by a captain. To serve as a public hunter was a step above peasantry, but not by much; they owned no property, generally, and were paid a wage, and likely many of them were itinerant: once one plague of hedgehogs was dealt with, they requested leave from their captain where necessary and sold their services the next shire over. The captain of each corps was a permanent member of the lord’s staff, hiring at wage enough men to deal with the problem at hand. They could be harsh and parsimonious employers; there are several mentions of these captains accusing groups of hunters and trappers of doing little more than chasing vermin from town to town to keep themselves employed. Captains were known to take fines—or bow-fingers—from hunters as punishment for perpetrating a fraud.

Wellen Rabbit Haunch, it seems, won the love of the locals for his acuity with a bow and arrow and ingenuity with a rodent trap. His manor lord elevated him to captain of his hunters, and by the description of one chronicle, it seems that Rabbit Haunch took the opportunity to transform the hunters into what we’d consider today to be a sort of public health department, using his lord’s seal to give orders regarding waste disposal, particularly of potential carrion, and quarantine—as a means of concentrating pests and vermin for easier trapping, or to reduce their numbers by drying up their sustenance. The chronicle describes Wellen Rabbit Haunch as having once punished one of his hunters for killing a pregnant wolf. The hunter complained to the Lord, and Rabbit Haunch subsequently explained that this was likely the last pregnant wolf in the vicinity, and without her pups, they would face overpopulation of deer and foxes. The lord was so pleased by the wisdom of this answer, and the foresight and public-mindedness of this fellow that he raised him to shire reave upon the death of the serving reave. He also granted Rabbit Haunch lands commensurate with his new title.

By and by, the chronicle states in its extended digression, the manor lord died heading a defense of the shire against a raid—presumably a Viking raid, although it is not clear—and the commoners and artisans moved to make Rabbit Haunch their new lord by acclamation, when it was clear that the dead lord’s heirs had perished along with him. As you can guess, this wasn’t the proper procedure of the day; in fact it was probably something of a revolt, since the distribution of lands and titles is the King’s prerogative. From what we can tell, it was completely unique. The King appears to have granted the manor lord’s lands to Rabbit Haunch, or at least sufficient lands to justify his recent elevation.

At the King’s Witangemot, Rabbit Haunch apparently sat quietly through the nobles’ and functionaries’ many suggestions—which included building new battlements and fortifications with slave labor, importing Benedictines monks from Dijon, newly known for their singular piety, to pray for respite from raids and bountiful harvests, to dunking gold paid to the Danes in poison as a means of killing them. After hours of fine speeches, the hall fell silent and no one else seemed likely to speak, exhausted by their exercising of the fine rhetoric skills they had learned from tutors.

At that time, Wellen Rabbit Haunch, “whome nonne called Lorde in his presence,” according to the chronicle, patiently explained why each of the proposals, though wise, was unlikely to work in practice, and then offered his own proposal: that each witan in attendance should go to the markets, congregations, and other gathering places of their common people and discover for themselves which families and clans were the “stoutest”—the most well-fed—and rank them by stoutness; they should then compare those lists with the landrolls to deem which families cultivated the smallest strips of land—at the time, land in England was farmed in long, narrow strips, because plows were pulled by oxen, who had wide and slow turning radiuses, thus requiring as few turns as possible for efficiency.

Rabbit Haunch’s reasoning was that these families would likely either know some secret of efficiency or fertilizations, or, more likely, some staple crop that provided the most nutrition for the least amount of arable land—or, he allowed, whether with irony or sincerity—they knew the best prayers to offer, or saints to pay to, to improve their yield.

The council, Rabbit Haunch suggested, could complete this work in a month, and reconvene at that time to share their findings, and thus offer the King a practicable proposal that could readily be implemented, rather than bringing him a menu of conjecture to choose from.

The chronicle reports that several of the nobles gathered there openly mocked the commoner lord for suggesting that ranking men such as themselves should “dig & root a-mang [among] commons,” for solutions, rather than turn to their own sense, or the expertise of the learned. Others—including the chronicler’s own master—immediately saw the practicality of Rabbit Haunch’s suggestions and clamored for its approval. The chronicler’s manor lord gave a “wyrte [worthy] discours,” on the knowledge of the commons when it came to maximizing yield of their holdings, and thus this was an opportunity to turn their “base cunning & græd [greed],” towards a noble purpose, acknowledging their facility with “various croppes,” and spreading “pig shit.” The chronicler’s recounting of his boss’s “wyrte discours,” suggests something tantalizing—that the lord, seeing the value of Rabbit Haunch’s plan but understanding better than the common-born man the tricky politics of accepting it, essentially gave political cover, by recasting the proposal as a canny exploitation of the lowly impulses of the lower classes, rather than a supplicating survey seeking instruction from inferiors. This would allow the Witans to save face among their peers, preventing gossip about exasperated nobility going begging among peasants for ideas. One wonders if the noble lord and Rabbit Haunch planned this poor-cop/rich-cop routine beforehand; the chronicler’s familiarity with Rabbit Haunch’s backstory certainly suggests that he was known to that court and there was some friendly relationship between them.

In any case, the proposal was accepted and brought to the King, who apparently accepted it in turn. The King’s own chronicle reports that the King bellowed merrily upon hearing the proposal, relishing the opportunity to go and hear stories from the people, and to bring them merriment himself: King Cole’s household reports show that his travelling retinue included his minstrels, up to a dozen of them.

There are mentions in some local church records about attendance of clerks and lords at feasts, but otherwise the trail goes a bit cold at this point. We can only assume the surveys were conducted per Rabbit Haunch’s suggestion. The next piece of historical evidence is a writ from the King, dated about three months from the first meeting of Witangemot, directing them to turn their “flocks,”—their non-freeholding subjects—to switch to production of cabbage.

Indeed, cabbage must have been the overwhelming commonality between the chubby families of Cole’s kingdom, because the writ came so quickly and was so unequivocal about the instant necessity of producing as much cabbage as was possible, as quickly as possible, to keep the people well fed until such time as the region either dealt with raiders or recovered lost labor manpower, or both.

The strategy seems to have worked almost immediately. For several years, cabbage, capable of being grown in the thin, rocky soil of the hills in comparably immense quantities—more calories per square inch of soil—formed the base of the diet of the region. It also likely combatted vitamin deficiencies that plagued young women of the time, thus decreasing—at least anecdotally—child mortality. And in fact, the local churches that kept baptismal records do show a marked and almost immediate uptick in infants surviving to baptism. Several contemporaneous chroniclers report a resurgence in druidic fertility rites, suggesting that families were willing and able to bring forth more children.

The correlation between cabbage the newfound fecundity seems to have entered the popular imagination of the time. One chronicle recounts a sort of proto-economic bubble hysteria that coincided with the years of bountiful cabbage harvest. Specifically, sub-artisans who had formerly been necessary as field workers, had begun designing and selling stylized cherubim as talismans for the protection of children. Perhaps because there were more first-time parents, the cabbage-cherubs were the cause of several small riots in marketplaces along the coast.

While the kingdoms of the Heptarchy struggled to stem the tide of Viking raiding and settlement—and I pause to note that “Viking” is a term of convenience; in fact the groups raiding and settling were disparate; and “Viking” is actually a verb, not a noun, that roughly means the process of raiding—and thus facing increasingly dire conditions and food insecurity, Cole’s kingdom persisted. There are even records of new building projects being under-taken; for example, an excavated manufactory, possibly to build mast cranes, dates reliably from this period based on inscriptions found there.

Yes, cabbage had saved King Cole’s kingdom, and his medieval Works Progress Administration was working to keep his people as merry as he was known to be. But minstrels have their logistic limits, and cabbage its savory ones. Now Cole faced a new problem: the people were turning off cabbage. Call it an early example of someone crying with two loaves of bread under their arms, but despite their relative prosperity, the people of the Colish realm couldn’t take very much more cabbage. What made the matter worse was that Cole had ordered his non-freeholders, his witans and thanes, and his reaves, to put all land under their direct control to cabbage production, and to pressure in turn freeholders to do the same. What measures were applied we do not know, but we can certainly imagine they were not pleasant.

Complaints must have been coming steadily, because the chronicles report that Cole was “bedeviled by worrye” at the people’s dissatisfaction. There is a report of the peasants of one shire disrupting a meeting of local thanes and witans, as close to an act of outright rebellion as you got in that period without warfare breaking out. The people did not want to eat cabbage any more.

One of King Cole’s colleagues in one of the other Heptarchy kingdoms may have made an example of his complaining people by means of heads and pikes. Cole was cleverer—or, some would say, weaker-willed. A Witangemot had served him well in keeping his people well-fed while the rest of the Anglo-Saxons starved, so perhaps they could help him in this crisis. The Cabbage Revolt was better put down through wit than violence.

This time, however, he expressly requested that Wellen Rabbit Haunch attend, he being the only named party in the royal writ ordering the convening of the Witangemot. This must have been a signal to the other worthies to assemble, that he was favored of the royal court and to be taken seriously—or at the least, not subjected to the derision he presumably faced in the prior meeting.

By and by, the Witangemot convened, and, we know from one of the chronicles, Wellen Rabbit Haunch indeed attended and indeed did not flunk the King’s faith in him. Showing again a simple belief that the people who do the work are the most likely to know how to fix the problem, Rabbit Haunch revived an old classic: why not ask the people to bring their best cabbage recipes to King Cole’s court, in the form of a competition. The King, Dionysian enough in disposition, could style the event a party, inviting all the “thanes, witans, and grayt men there assembled” and their families to attend, sample the fare, and determine the best way to prepare cabbage. The recipe could then be shared far and wide, and until the realm’s flocks returned to a size sufficient to feed the people, this new cabbage dish could ameliorate the people’s dietary ennui. The Chronicles that record the Witangemot do not report any dissent or even discussion on Rabbit Haunch’s proposal. It would seem that the purpose of convening this liege conclave was more to get the realm’s notables on the same page with Rabbit Haunch than to encourage some kind of meaningful discussion.

The date for the festival was set, and word was sent through realm and the shires that the King would offer a dear reward for the family that brought the cabbage dish that “best pleas’d Coel,” in the words of one Chronicle.

Records from this royal court were spotty—the realm was not large enough to necessitate record keeping, and fusion of personalities with the state meant there was no need for any accounting of royal expenditures—so there are no records of what went into preparations for what must have been the biggest public event of Cole’s reign.

But a minstrel’s song of the day recollects a great Colish festival that may have been this Great Recipe Festival:

Festus Coel ys come with love to toune,
With blosmen & with briddes roune,
That al this blisse bryngeth;
Dayes eyes in this sich and so,
Notes suete of Minstrals Coel;
Uch goo song singeth.
The threstelcoc him threteth oo;
Away is huere wynter wo,
Whan woderove springeth.
This foules singeth ferly fele,
Ant wlyteth on huere wynter wele,
That al the wode ryngeth.

The long and short of it was that a great festival came to town, which the minstrel compares to the Spring—“lentyn”—and he throws in a bit of a brag about King Cole’s minstrels for good measure. The theme of rebirth and a great flowering are consonant with what we know about the result of this festival, which gave birth to Cole’s greatest impact to Western civilization.

By the Chronicle’s account, thousands of people showed up to share their cabbage recipes. Travel and food storage being what it was, it is conceivable that they had to prepare these dishes on site, although there is no way to confirm this. Some recent excavations suggest locations for what amounts to a massive cooking competition, but these are probably flights of fancy: army encampments are much likelier explanations. The festival lasted nearly a week. Work in the realm came to a standstill as thousands of families competed for King Cole’s favor—and, frankly, to party. The strong likelihood is that Rabbit Haunch was put in charge of logistics for the event. The King’s own chronicler mentions a “worthye Reave,” who “commaundened” the festival, but offers no name—this is typical of the regal chronicle, which rarely deigned to name individuals below a certain rank. Favorite of the King though he may have been, to set his name in the King’s chronicle was unseemly.

The King himself tasted “mayhappes tenne thousaunds” cabbage dishes over the course of the week—certainly an exaggeration, but the point is clear. For King Cole, this was as much about business as it was a party.

What comes down to us is in fact is the dish. King Cole—and his “worthye Reave”—were immediately taken with it and immediately proclaimed it the winner (again, the name of the lowly chef is omitted). It was cabbage, shredded “to a fyne” (finely), and mixed with “stue o whipt eys,” (“stew of whipped eggs—i.e., mayonnaise).

The chronicle notes that King Cole proclaimed a winner that day, and sent a new law, in the form of writ, to “corners o the realm,” that finely shredded cabbage, seasoned with that “stue o whipt eys,” should be served by all families at least once a week.

And to this day, shredded cabbage and mayonnaise comes down to us as Cole’s Law.

Zing.


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