14th century girdle belt

Belts or girdles have been used by mankind for centuries, millennia even. Whether it was twisted rope, braided leather or studded with precious metals and gems it has the purpose of being the single most utilized accessory by men or women since the need to hold up a skirt or pair of pants. They come in a variety of thicknesses and materials that nearly boggles the mind. Archeological digs have discovered them as far away as China, and as close to home as the peat bogs of Ireland and ship burials in the Norse Countries. They have been represented in carved marble, early portraiture, miniatures in manuscripts and tomb effigies. They have evolved from pure utility of the peasant and middle classes to the almost useless bling of the upper-class in the middle ages.

When doing research for this item I wanted to make sure that it was within the period for my persona and the SCA. I have found many pictures supporting the 15th-century use of this belt, but few actually in the 14th century. I kept entering search criteria ” 14th-century girdle belt” and it would bring  up pictures of one type being the long, decorated buckled style. This simple round the hips with hooks and chain was pictured in 15th-century illuminations but not 14th. I knew it had been in use in the 14th century but was having difficulty finding it under the search criteria. That is until I went to La Cotte Simple and read her lovely article “Building a 1480 English Lady’s Outfit” and she had the correct name for the girdle. Demysent. With that one word, I was able to find at least 1 picture supporting the notion that it was worn in the 14th century, and it was in the same museum as the Well of Moses in Dijon France. The Retable de la Crucifixion carved in 1390 by Jacques de Baerze. That Wonderful Sculptor of wood carved a side panel full of Saints and one of them is a lovely lady wearing the Demysent (Picture1a).

Billede i 1391-1399 Altarpiece, Museum of Fine Arts, Dijon -.JPG

So, this one style was worn in three centuries, 14th, 15th and 16th. This one style of the belt can be used to accessorize three centuries of garb and not be out of place.

Where I found my inspiration:

The style of the belt that I wanted was to be found in a manuscript of plays written in 1400-1500 Item 12148 The comedies of Terence: folio 66r. It is not said at the website of the BnF Gallica as to which play this picture belongs but it is her belt which she holds in her hands that I really had the hot’s for. and the illuminator did a really good job showing the clasp at the end of the belt, for lo, it is a hook.

Housed in the National Museum of Antiquities Leiden is a lovely fragment of a studded leather belt with fittings. It’s got pretty bits nailed to it in a flower pattern, which is a center stud surrounded by six more flanked by a stud on either side and another stud between each flower set. The metal belt mount at the end shows that it may have been an add-on from a larger belt as it isn’t the same width of the belt and has two loops but no tongue and the mount is made to be used with a buckle that has a tongue.

the National Museum of Antiquities  Studded belt with fittings.jpg

The buckle is not what drew me to it, the studs and their pattern are.

On making my belt:

I chose not to go with a flower pattern, though it’s pretty, because of costs. I used turquoise sparkle rivets because by the time the Church in Rome finally allowed anyone not of the clergy, mainly Bishops, to wear “Turkey Stone” it had reached English shores in the 14th century. Nickel rivets to emulate the studs and chose instead of making metal mounts to use leather to hold the pouch hanger and “D” rings at each end. Why, because metal work requires skills I have yet to learn safely. when cutting the metal sheeting for the mounts I could not control my hands and cut myself when I got distracted. This is Not to say that I won’t try to make my own mounts at another time, but for now, the leather wrapped around the “D” Rings at each end will be just fine and look just as “peri-Oid” as any other modern made belt.

Materials, tools, resources/links

I tend to work with scraps and left-over’s for my persona’s belongings to keep the cost low. Living with a leather crafter has an advantage that I sometimes shamefully take advantage of: This is not one of them. To make this belt I am dipping into his business supplies and therefore will be paying for them, once done, so that his inventory will not suddenly become short.

Here is the basic supply list and the cost of the materials:

Turquoise sparkle Rivet: 14=$3.15 (because I like even numbers and have left the center back rivet as nickel)

Nickel D Rings 3/4 inch: 3=$0.43

307 D Solid Brass Nickel Rivet: 88=$5.60

3/4 inch wide 54 inches Black Bull hide Strap: $2.00

Mounts, S Hooks and Chain: To be researched and made at a later date.

Materials: $ 11.18 Time: 1.5 hours at $15 dollars per hour. This information is important should I decide to start making them for sale.

Leather Strap: Made using a large leather strap cutter while cutting bulk lengths of straps for belt making and other leatherworking projects. The leather itself is cut from a large bull hide purchased from Weaver Leather.

Hole Punch: I used a standard hole punch and mallet to put the holes for the decorative rivets measuring between each center hold of the design the width of my left palm. The design was then punched around the center holes the length of the belt blank. The rivets were then set in the holes and the backs put on with a set and the mallet. When setting the rivets I started with the turquoise rivets first as they are domed and would need extra care in setting, so a hunk of leather was placed on the anvil to protect the stones. I left the leather on the anvil when setting the non-stone bearing rivets to allow a dimple to form, while not a practice in the period that I know of, it looks pretty in my opinion.

To form the purse hanger I used a length of half inch wide polished leather strap and a “d” ring, held in place by two nickel rivet.

The Belt at each end is set with a “D” Ring so it can be worn with a ribbon until I can find the proper belt mounts and hooks for it, which can be found online, or I make them myself.

Sparkle Rivets and nickel silver dented rivets on Buffalo textured black leather strap



Belt Fragment with mounts:

Museum of Antiquities Leiden

Website: http://www.rmo.nl/collectie/zoeken?object=i+2006/4.20

BnF Gallica: Illuminated Manuscript MS664 The Comedies of Terence:

a. http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8458135g/f143.item.r=Lettre

Belt Buckles

1. CJ’s Metal Detecting Pages:


2. Rosalie’s Medieval Woman:


Images of the Belt in 14th, 15th and 16th Centuries:

1. BnF Gallica: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b55006914c/f41.image.r=Philippe%20le%20Bon,%20duc%20de%20Bourgogne.zoom

2. Jacques de Baerze: 14th century Wood sculptor

a. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_de_Baerze

b. Retable de la crucifixion Right Side Photo commissioned 1390: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_de_Baerze#/media/File:Retable_de_la_crucifixion-volet_droit-Jacques_de_Baerze-MBA_Dijon.jpg

c. Musee des Beaux-Arts: http://dijoon.free.fr/retable.htm

3.British Library: Edgerton 1070 f. 29v The Visitation http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=51666


Picture Annex

1. 1390-1399 Retable de la Crucifixion Jacques de Baerze

          a. Close Up

          b. Whole Right Side

2. Egerton 1070 f. 29v 1410 The Visitation 

3. Tapestry / Wall hanging 1520 Cluny Item #: 2823

Bruises and How to heal them: As may have been done in the 14th century

*Trigger Warning: This article has some harsh views on the Church in Rome. It is not written to offend anyone of an extreme devotion to the Church of Christ in any of its current incarnations.

The purpose of this article is to show how a woman in the middle ages would have healed the bruises of the people in her household. What tools, herbs, and supplies she would have used and what kind of education she might have had if she were of a status higher than that of a peasant, say a merchant or tradesman’s, a daughter.

I wrote this article for any person who would use the same methods to create a bruise salve for those in their households, those in Martialate, fighters, light, heavy and other’s of those types of activities..or just about anyone that needs a salve for pain and bruising.

Even though the lack of education for lesser classes,(A myth that has been debunked in England by the Peasants Revolt of 1381) would have made it hard for a peasant to have the education needed for advanced herbal medicine., a medieval woman could indeed have used the tools and herbs listed to make a bruise salve, because medieval woman of  any class would have known what herbs of the field to us in a bruise salve, even if they learned it from a local Herb Wife or Midwife. The education level of certain higher classes encouraged the lady of the house to run a healing still room or scullery for her household.


My Persona

Mevanou verch Rhys Yriskynit, or Mevanou daughter of Rhys the Tailor; born to Proswetel verch Brethoc and Reys ap Madoc Seis in the year of Our Lord 1441 in the few years before the start of what we now call The War of the Roses on the 24th day of March. Her Saint on that day would be Saint Gwuinear of the Springs. Her Mother had been trained in the verbal traditions of healing and midwifery. Her father born of the English speaker for the village of his birth sent Reys via monk to London to be the apprentice to a Sutor(shoemaker) but was turned away when there was no room for another apprentice. The monk quickly found him a place as an apprentice to a Tailor shop instead. Maddoc Seis was only too happy to find his youngest son out of dangers and predations of his elder siblings, who in typical Welsh fashion killed each other off. Mevanou was taught to read, write, do simple sums and all of the skills in using, preserving and healing available to her mother. She was taught by both parents the joys of sewing, embroidery and how to tend to a household.

I have found this recipe on a site called Stephen’s Florigilium[1], It’s called Bruise Cream. The recipe is a favorite among the fighters heavy or otherwise in the Society for Creative Anachronism. In this collection of messages each person listed their favorite recipe for the cream and I noticed that they all had some of the same ingredients, so I combined those in the lists that I knew would be helpful for bruising, and I simplified it down to the more basic recipe with amounts of herbs that would make just 2 cups of the herbal oil, which could then allow me to make a simple salve. I have been using this recipe for several years and finally decided to write a paper. which I then cleaned up for an article here.

In order to know if the herbs in my recipe were also used in the time period of my persona by her counterparts I then did research as to whether or not a woman of middle class would have had the knowledge either handed down to her by another woman, her mother or the local herb-wife or even the local Abbess in a Nunnery.

What follows is my discovery.

Every person who has been unlucky enough to fall off the swing set at a school playground has had an encounter with a bruise, or scuffed knee. While it healed we marveled at the colors of that bruise as it healed and wondered what was really happening and disappointed when it was fully healed as our badge of courage faded. Well, for those who know how a bruise happens but not what a bruise actually is, here is a lovely explanation.

Forgive me, but I am going to use the modern terminology to keep it simple.

A bruise also called a contusion, is a type of relatively minor hematoma of tissue in which capillaries and sometimes venules are damaged by trauma, allowing blood to seep into the surrounding interstitial tissues. Bruises can involve capillaries at the level of skin, subcutaneous tissue, muscle, or bone. A bruise may be named by the length of its diameter as a petechia (less than 3 mm), purpura (3 mm to 1 cm) or ecchymosis (1 to 3 cm), although these terms can also refer to internal bleeding not caused by trauma.

As a type of hematoma, a bruise is always caused by internal bleeding into the interstitial tissues, usually initiated by blunt trauma(falling off the swing set), which causes damage through physical compression and deceleration forces. Trauma sufficient to cause bruising can occur from a wide variety of situations including accidents, falls, and surgeries, the pounding one receives with the duct tape covered rattan sword from one’s opponent in the lists. Disease states such as insufficient or malfunctioning platelets, other coagulation deficiencies, or vascular disorders, such as venous blockage associated with severe allergies can lead to the formation of bruises in situations in which they would not normally occur and with only minimal trauma. If the trauma is sufficient to break the skin and allow blood to escape the interstitial tissues, the injury is not a bruise but instead, a different variety of hemorrhage called bleeding, although such injuries may be accompanied by bruising elsewhere.

Bruises often induce pain, but small bruises are not normally dangerous alone. Sometimes bruises can be serious, leading to other more life-threatening forms of hematoma, such as when associated with serious injuries, including fractures and more severe internal bleeding. The likelihood and severity of bruising depend on many factors, including type and healthiness of affected tissues. Minor bruises may be easily recognized in people with light skin color by characteristic blue or purple appearance (idiomatically described as “black and blue”) in the days following the injury. There, now you know what a bruise is.

Bruises go through a rainbow of color changes as the body begins to heal itself. The rainbow of color changes means that your body is breaking down the red blood cells that collect under the skin. As the red blood cells break down, they eventually get flushed away by the body’s natural process. These red blood cells cause the bluish, purplish, reddish, or blackish marks that are typical of a bruise. That’s where black-and-blue marks got their name – from their color under the skin. You can pretty much guess the age of a bruise just by looking at its color:

  1. When you first get a bruise, its reddish as the blood appears under the skin. 
  2. Within 1 or 2 days, the hemoglobin (an iron-containing substance that carries oxygen) in the blood changes and your bruise turns bluish-purple or even blackish. 
  3. After 5 to 10 days, the bruise turns greenish or yellowish. 
  4. Then, after 10 or 14 days, it turns yellowish-brown or light brown.   

It usually takes 2-4 weeks for bruises to disappear, depending on the person and how severe the injury is. Bruises can last from just days to months. [i]

Women in Medieval Medicine: Conflicting Attitudes

Like the lepers and lunatics with whom they were sometimes categorized, women occupied an ambivalent position in the eyes of the medieval Church and the medical profession alike. On the positive side, female saints; headed by the Virgin herself, were venerated for their miraculous healing powers; housewives were expected, as a matter of course, to supervise everything touching the health and welfare of their families; and all the larger hospitals and almshouses employed women to care for the sick, albeit often in mental hospitals. On the Negative side: although contemporary literature abounds with examples of fictional heroines noted for their medical skills, the authorities were in practice increasingly hostile towards those women who overstepped the bounds of their amateur or domestic role by setting themselves up as empirics of various kinds. Mistrusted by the ecclesiastical establishment, whose fears found expression in a series of legal measures designed to curb, if not completely suppress their activities, women nevertheless continued their freelance practices that were more often than not the inherited businesses from husbands or fathers. The Church, unable to completely curb these women set out to vilify them with rumors that these wise women were practicing the black arts. A bit more, in the medieval Church’s mind, women were so far inferior as to inherit their souls as many as 20 days later than boys while in the womb. Women had to work three times as hard to be taken seriously and often would be punished for trying to clean the slate and show that we were not inferior. This has changed little in the years since AD 380 when the Christian religion was made the official state religion of the Roman Empire by Emperor Constantine I.

As said before women were expected to care for the sick and infirm with the preparations of herbal remedies. In the Roman period, the women of the family treated the illnesses of ordinary folk, using methods and remedies handed down from mother to daughter for many generations. This practice continued throughout the middle ages with the same remedies being passed from villager to villager all through Europe. The recipes used were the same regardless of whether you were pauper or Pope. These were often written in commonplace books available to any who could read and afford them. Most would often learn the recipes from the wise woman before them, be that their lady mother or a nunnery if they had the money to be accepted.

 A woman of the middle classes would have learned to read and write under the hand of her mother or nurse, especially if she were the child of a tradesman[ii]. While young she would have been made sure to be able to do basic if not minimal mathematics in order to assist her husband in the running of his business, which due to the lifespan of women she would most likely have taken over the running of it after his death leaves her a widow.  Remember, that in the middle ages men still thought of women as their functions..wife, mother, housekeeper, servant etc. Her education would have been such to enable her to do her one womanly job in creating and raising the next generation. Remember that includes caring for the entire household and their health and well being, so knowledge of herbs for healing would have been part of it.

The Herbals and the People that wrote them

Many of the medieval herbals and health manuscripts were written by people who were putting their own thoughts onto paper or copying what had been written by others many centuries before them. Some of those writer’s thoughts had nothing to do with what those herbs were actually used for or were proven to be useful for in later centuries. Others were putting their religious dogma into the mix with the original wording of text being replaced with the chants and prayers of their faith.

Take heed when looking for a cure for some of the earlier diseases before the coming of Christianity, it’s likely you will not find the original text as it will have been changed to a church-approved prayer. To get to an earlier text you will need to be lucky enough to find much earlier manuscripts, and I wish you much luck. The world of medicine and healing went from a golden age of depression being seen as an illness that could be treated with herbs and therapy(Egyptian papyri) to depression being a madness that was the work of Satan and God who let the demons into your mind(Hildegard von Bingen). Also, a lot of works were lost when the first council of Nicaea convened and decided the fate of the doctrine of faith; a great many manuscripts became anathema and were destroyed. Those that were not destroyed were hidden and lost. More and more as the Church of Rome took control everything written and believed in; from medicine, women’s rights and who believed or did not were examined and became blasphemy if it did not tow the company line. While many a Christian doctor believed that the shite of a white animal was pure enough to be included in medicines and cures, those not of the Christian faith frowned and continued with medicines that actually worked, but were considered barbarous by pious Christians.  Some manuscripts that were believed to be written by women were often deliberately rumored to have been written by men to either discredit them or make them acceptable in the eyes of the medical schools and its bevy of boys club practitioners. Anything to do with the healing of women was left to women and was taboo to study or write about.Mostly because the Church in Rome was against anything that would lift up women in the eyes of mankind, and because women were considered dirty and the origin of Original Sin…so long as the church controlled how women were viewed, educated, married off and subjugated; We would not find equality…funny, today we are still having that issue.

The Red Book of Hergest

The First manuscript I looked at was the Red Book of Hergest and its section of medicine compiled in the late 13th century by order of The Prince of South Wales Rhys Gryg, who ordered his physician Rhiwallon to compile his medical knowledge in Welsh for others to make use of the information both then and during the centuries that followed. Rhiwallon lived at Myddfai, a tiny village in Mid-Wales. This little village was the center of herbal healing in Wales, and little has changed the centuries that have passed. Indeed even today the Elders of Wales prefer the herbal healers to the modern medical practitioners because they never gave up the Herbal traditions or even came to see it as an alternate form of medicine. Myddfai to the non-native Welsh became a legendary place, where the Fair folk gave the magic of medicinal knowledge to one man and his bloodline. This tradition was orally passed down from generation to generation in the form of rhymes and songs until Rhys Gryg had that knowledge compiled, but Rhiwallon being a man forgot to compile the knowledge of the wise women in the villages, thus leaving a very large gap for generations later to work on filling. The book had little in it to help me, other than to point me to earlier works and to show that the Welsh had a healing tradition of some merit. Rhiwallon did not cover the common herbs, nor bruising in the Red Book of Hergest, however his long descendant Jon Jones, physician of Myddfai and last lineal descendant of the family left behind his book of medicine in his own handwriting and in Welsh at a time when the English were generally how one communicated when educated in medicine. It is His book that I found a  remedy for bruising that had a recipe for a salve for “any kind of wounded integument. On Page 331, #176 of the English Translation from Welsh; One should know that the Integumentary System is the Skin. While not exactly the same recipe that I have been using it at least shows that healers used not just one herb good for bruising(a simple) they used several herbs together to make a powerful salve to heal a bruise or wound right well.

After some thought, I followed my nose to the works of the Anglo Saxons…They too were of the groups of people that had migrated eventually to the lovely British Isles, just as the ancestors of the Welsh did in the first of many Celtic Migrations. It’s a walk backward in time and publication, but it was worth the trip back in time. The History Channel likes to show the Angles and the Saxons as Hairy, Unwashed Barbarians as they like to portray them as Dirty Warriors. Which is NOT true. They enjoyed the Arts, Music and Herbal healing as well as educating themselves. Many of the Migrations that came to the British Isles were well educated, with different parts of their society being equal in standing, even the slaves had status, and Women, when the Christian monks and missionaries came to the Isles they readily found that women had equal standing..well, doncha know that had to go…

Bald and his Leech book

Written in the early 10th century in England under the direction of one Bald, who, if he were not a personal friend of King Alfred’s, had at any rate access to the king’s correspondence; for one chapter consists of prescriptions sent by Helias, Patriarch of Jerusalem, to the king. We learn the names of the first owner and scribe from lines in Latin verse at the end of the second part of the MS.

“Bald is the owner of this book, which he ordered Cild to write, Earnestly I pray here all men, in the name of Christ, That no treacherous person take this book from me, Neither by force nor by theft nor by any false statement. Why? Because the richest treasure is not so dear to me as my dear books which the Grace of Christ attends.”

The109 leaves of this book are written in a large, bold hand and one or two of the initial letters are very faintly illuminated. The Leech Book of Bald was as evidence shows, the manual of a Saxon doctor or leech, and he refers to two other doctors—Dun and Oxa by name—who had given him prescriptions.

The position of the leech in those days would have been very difficult, for he was subjected to the obviously inequitable competition of the higher clergy, many of whom enjoyed a reputation for working “miraculous” cures. The leech being so inferior in position, it is not surprising that his medical knowledge did not advance on scientific lines.

The treatments of many ailments are described within its pages; from being elf shot to flying venoms. The Anglo-Saxons had a love of herbs and there are many in that book used then, that is still in use today, among them: Arnica (Wolfsbane), Wood Betony, Vervain, Mugwort, Plantain, Yarrow, Comfrey, Calendula, and Juniper.

The recipes and treatments are written in Old English (Anglo Saxon), and translations are few and far between, especially descriptions and meanings of the words. There is a movement to translate all Old English Texts so that the newer generations will be able to see how their ancestors thought, treated and healed ailments.  As it happens, while searching the interwebs searching for a translation I found one in Rev. Oswald Cockayne, who did the work and his translations of the Old English Anglo Saxon manuscripts were published as Leechdoms, Worcunning and Starcraft of Early England in three Volumes. Volume II contains the Leechbook of Bald part I, II, and III. Also contained within is the Herbarium Apuleii, translated from the Lingua Romaic to Anglo Saxon and finally to English… Thank the Anglo-Saxons for being so thirsty for knowledge, without them, the English as a nation would not have been so Educated.

Bald was working with recipes and folk medicine drawn from the countryside around him, passed on from mother to daughter, father, and son, borrowed from the king’s physicians. He had gathered the recipes and treatments, and all evidence points out that this manuscript was the culmination of his knowledge so that he would have it on hand and not need to worry about forgetting any of it in my opinion; since I too have my notebooks written nearly the same way while collecting recipes. This one for coughs, that one for skin ailments, another for my persona’s herbal knowledge.

With regards to the way in which Anglo-Saxons used their drugs, it should be said that they mostly employed simples(single herbs as ingredients) in infusions or powders;  though there were quite a few containing often a great number of herbs, are uncomplicated and very different from the formulae of Galen. Each of the herbs in this recipe is covered in the Leechbooks and can be grown in an English Garden save for Arnica. Arnica also is known as Wolf’s Bane, is a Continental Herb and though is cultivated throughout northern Europe has not been introduced to England of the Anglo Saxons save by trade, as it is almost impossible to grow it anyplace that does not have alpine meadows or is too acidic in soil content. It may be that at one time English soil was not so acidic and Arnica could have been grown there, but scientific data of the range of habitat suggest that it may not have been grown there at all.  

The Anglo-Saxon pharmacy in comparison to those taught in the schools of such higher learning, such as Salerno can be considered of a lower state of medicinal practice. Herbs were used as watery infusions and decoctions, or made up with ale and milk in draughts, or as confections made with honey, or mixed with butter or lard as an ointment. At the heart of it all, I find that I prefer this lower state to the often dangerous formulae into which a great many heavy metals and other poisons which have been shown to be far more dangerous in the hands of uneducated snake oil salesmen of later centuries. Throughout the Leechbooks the herbs in this recipe were used either together or as simples to help with pain, bruising, and leprous diseases of the skin, so it’s not impossible that they would never have been used together, just harder to find evidence of.

The Leech book is rare in that it contains instructions for plastic surgery; the recipe, in particular, prescribes surgery for a harelip[iii]. Amazing isn’t it that in the 10th century there was a way to surgically alter a debilitating birth defect?

The Process

Herbal infusions have been made and drunk throughout history – both for their medicinal properties and culinary attributes. Our breakfast tea is, after all, simply an infusion of an herb in water. Herbal infusions can consist of just one individual herb or can be made of two or more herbs blended together.

Infusing an herb in oil allows the active fat-soluble constituents to be passed into the oil. Hot infused[iv] oils are slowly, simmered for a couple of hours, whilst cold infused oils are heated by the sun over several weeks. Both types of oil infusion can be used externally as a massage oil or added to creams and medicaments as in a salve.

Bald seemed to prefer the use of either lard or butter[v] as the base for all of his salves, but in looking at how fast butter goes rancid it would seem a large waste of materials to continually make the salves needed to cover the many ailments, but then again, those remedies were used pretty quickly and did not need to be kept longer than needed.

My Process is much the same as that instructed in the Leechbook of Bald, I took the herbs and pounded them together in a Mortar with a pestle,  This took quite a few hours due to my mortar being a smaller one of marble, (I then quit using the mortar and pestle and cheated by using an electric coffee grinder, ground is ground after all.); then added them to the pot of oils/fats and macerated them for a few hours, keeping careful watch to make sure that I did not burn the house down with a grease fire. When I got to be too nervous, I switched to a crock pot for the better control factor. The need for complete control of heat and time allows me to put all of the ingredients into the crockpot and leave it covered for the amount of time needed and not leave me with the worry of burning down the house or burning the herbs in the oil and therefore making the infusion useless. When the allotted time was done I removed the pot from the heat and allowed it to cool before straining out the herbs in a fine muslin cloth. That was rather fun, the oil was still rather warm as I squeezed the bag of herbs to get all the oil out. My hands had never been so soft and my osteoarthritis quit complaining about a bit, so It was all the proof I needed as to whether or not it would work.

The Herbs

Achillea Millefolium – Yarrow

Its name is derived from the Greek hero Achilles, and during the Trojan, wars were reputedly used to treat wounds. According to the many herbalists of that time, Yarrow is somewhat warm and dry and has a discreet and subtle power of healing wounds. If a person is wounded by a blow (bruised), let the wound be washed with wine. Then gently tie warm yarrow, cooked moderately in water and with the water squeezed out, over the bandaged placed over the wound. It will draw out the infection from the wound and the wound will heal. Today yarrow is valued mainly for treating colds and influenza, and also for its effectiveness in treating problems of the circulatory, digestive and urinary systems, and inflamed joints.

Arnica Montana – Arnica

Arnica can be found in many medieval herbals to cure the fires of overexertion and even for stoking the fires of sexual love, according to Hildegard of Bingen. “Arnica is very warm and has a poisonous heat in it. When a man or a woman burns with desire, if that man or woman’s flesh touches the greenness of arnica, they will burn with love for whoever is afterward touched with the same herb. The person will be so incensed with love, almost infatuated, that he or she will become a fool” In Modern Usage, however,  Homeopathic Arnica is a perfect fit for all kinds of childhood bumps, bruises and contusions, and many occupational and sports injuries. As a general rule, homeopathic Arnica is a prime candidate for any accident or injury that results in physical trauma consisting of bruising, tissue damage, broken blood vessels, black and blue skin discoloration and swelling. It is most specific to blunt forms of trauma, especially to soft tissues. Arnica can also be of benefit in strains, sprains and muscle injuries.[2] It comes as a little white pill approved by the FDA for internal use..for herbalists who prefer it as a topical ointment it comes in a little tube of cream. Do NOT use this on broken skin. It causes irritation to mucous membranes and the skin on your body is the biggest one. (if one uses the recipe below, and prefers to remove Arnica from the recipe, the resulting oil will still be just as efficacious as if it were included. Just remember to double the Calendula.)

Artemisia vulgaris – Mugwort

Related to wormwood, this herb is highly regarded medicinally in both East and West. It was planted along roadsides by Roman soldiers, who put sprigs of it in their sandals for their aching feet on long journeys. Used medicinally in compresses by many cultures for its properties in treating bruises and bites it is included in my bruise juice also for its antibiotic properties to ward off infection.

Calendula officinalis – Pot Marigold

These golden flowers have been a favorite among the herbalists for centuries. It has been recommended for everything from gastritis to inflammations of all kinds. Hildegard used Calendula for crusty scalp by pounding it in a mortar with bacon fat and smearing it on the scalp so that the crustiness falls off after a few days of use. Calendula is very useful for cuts and scrapes, mild sunburn and dry skin conditions.

Hypericum perforatum – St. John’s Wort

Old herbals often refer to tutsan (H. androsaemum), from the French toutsain or heal-all, which was also used to treat injuries and inflammations. I use this herb for joint pain, inflammation and fighter’s elbow. One word of caution: use of this herb has been known to make the user sensitive to sunlight, so please use precautions when out in the sunlight.

Juniperus communis – Juniper

Long associated with ritual cleansing, juniper was burned in temples as part of regular purification rites and in homes to ward off the plague. Called Savin or Juniperus Savin,  Imported from Rome, it was in the gardens when the Anglo-Saxons invaded and took over[3]. Several Medicinal papyri have survived dating back as far as 1550 BC in which contains Juniper berries. Now many herbalists use the berries for their help for inflamed joints, muscle pain, and gouty joints. oh, and don’t forget its very tasty inclusion in the recipe for a good gin.

Symphytum officinale – Comfrey

A country name for comfrey was knitbone, a reminder of its traditional use in healing fractures. The herb contains Allantoin, which encourages bone, cartilage, and muscle cells to grow. This recipe contains comfrey to do just that; encourage the healing of damaged muscles, and joints.

The Tools of the Medieval Kitchen

One simply cannot think of a kitchen without seeing the modern kitchen; full of modern appliances, knives, spoons, pots, and pans. The medieval kitchen would have been a tad different…not by much..there would have been none of the modern appliances such as stove and refrigerator..food storage would have been simpler than even the pantry. In most larger medieval homes there were different spaces used for the different functions of preparing food or even medicines. The Scullery was used for food storage and preparation and the kitchen with its fireplace where the pots and pans would be used to cook the food. Also in the scullery were the herbs hanging in bunches to dry for later use in culinary and medicine. There would have been shelves for jars of food sealed with waxed linen and twine and the same for the different herbs and spices(in those houses that could afford spices, a locked cupboard would have been built to keep servants from the temptation to steal the valuable commodities.)

There were Pots and pans for stews, soups, and frying and sautéing as with any household we can walk into today, most were made of thick clay with three or four feet on the bottom to keep the pot out of the coals of the fire. the biggest would hang from an iron hook for larger stews or roasts. The chief tools of the kitchen that I am concerned with would have been found in an apothecary shop. The chief tools used in every kitchen and most apothecaries were:

  1. knives and shears(scissors)
  2. mortar & pestle
  3. strainer, sieve, and/or colander (to filter liquids or foods ground in the mortar)
  4. cloths for filtering almond milk and cleaning surfaces, scouring sand, and tubs for washing.
  5. weighing scales,
  6. heat source (fireplace with iron hooks for pots.)
  7. clay jars for storage.

My kitchen has those things, in modern terms all the kitchen cutlery and scissors, tiny mortar and pestle, washcloths, straining cloths, strainer, wire sieve, Sink, scales, electric stove, crock pot and ball canning jars for storage of salves. I get most of my herbs from apothecary shops in town and online. They come in separate packages weighed out to my specifications and labeled so that I need only put them in jars for later use. When you go to the apothecary in your area, remember to mention that you need them in separate and labeled bags, not jumbled together hastily in a paper lunch-bag, it happened to me once..and in hindsight, I should have refused the lot and demanded that they do my order again. oh well, there’s always next time.

The Results

What I got was a lovely all-purpose itchy owie oil that I could then turn into a salve or cream. I tried it on myself first, (remember that part above about straining it?) thinking that if it works for my bruises it would work for anyone; then when friends found that I had been making bruise juice(the oil) I was offered up things in trade, now truthfully, those people asking for it were heavy fighters who at the end of the day on the field wanted something to make the ouch go away and I happily obliged. Don’t tell them, but I would have happily given it away for free, but in the one instance, I needed that tailors dummy really badly. All of the herbs work well together, in the oil base and those who use it are only too happy to take it off my hands when I make it. If it didn’t work, no one would want it.


Would my persona have used the tools and herbs to make the oil and the salve? Yes, she would have.

She would have heated the fats in a cooking pot(clay being the usual material) to make them liquid and added the herbs to make the salves and strained them through scraps of cloth or just left the herbs in the fats as it cooled. The cloth would have been linen, made from the retted fibers of the plant commonly called flax, and indeed she might have even used the scraps leftover from making her own clothes. Truly, I myself have used the larger scraps of linen left over from making my garb to make the straining sacks for herbal work.

After all of the reading and researching, I do believe that my persona would indeed have had the education and thus the use of the very basic tools to keep her household healthy and safe from the superstitions of the day, shite of a white animal indeed…

[1] http://www.florilegium.org/

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/larry-malerba/homeopathic-arnica_b_1081164.html

[3] Leechcraft,wortcunning and starcraft Cockayne Volume 2 Preface page xii.

[i] http://www.bruisemd.com/How_Bruises_Heal.html


[iii] Leechbook i, chapter 13 (pr Cockayne p 56).

[iv] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbal_remedies

Please take note that most of my trips to Wikipedia are in search of more questions to ask, and to take a peek at the bibliography of the authors and their sources.

I did not use them as First line sources due to the changeability of Wikipedia itself.



Bruise Juice Recipe

4 Tablespoons Juniper berries

4 Tablespoons Calendula flowers (if not using arnica double this)

4 Tablespoons arnica flowers (Remember that this will irritate the broken skin)

4 Tablespoons comfrey leaves

2 Tablespoons st Johns Wort

2 Tablespoons mugwort

2 Tablespoons yarrow

2 cups olive oil

Using a coffee grinder, grind all of the herbs together into a coarse powder and in a large crock pot place all ingredients. Cook for 8 hours on low heat then let cool. Don’t lift the lid, not even to stir it. Squeeze out the oil using muslin or linen bags and bottle. Store in a cool, dark place. it should last up to a full calendar year if properly cared for.

Use oil to massage painful joints and bruises.

Bruise Cream Instructions

8 Tablespoons bruise juice

3 Tablespoons Shea butter

3 Tablespoons cocoa butter

2 Tablespoons beeswax

Heat all in a double boiler until beeswax, Shea butter, cocoa butter is fully melted. Pour into a mixing bowl and put a wire whisk blade on the mixer and wait 4 minutes to let the mixture cool. Then turn the mixer on and slowly bring up to high speed and fluff the balm into a good creamy consistency. Spoon into jars and let cool…use on bruises and painful joints. Good to make ahead of time for the fighting season; your heavies will love you for it! The rapier fighters will adore you too!!! Okay, don’t forget anyone that may have any physical activities during eventing season…even if it’s just getting up to refill the big mead bucket they call a flagon…


Books Consulted

“Hildegard’s Healing Plants from Her Medieval Classic Physica” Translated by Bruce W. Hozeski, Beacon Press 2001

“The Medieval Health Handbook tacuinum sanitatis” translated and adapted by Oscar Ratti and Adele Wesbrook from the original Italian edition Luisa Gogliati Arano, Tacuinum Sanitatis, Electa Editrice. 1976

“The Complete Medicinal Herbal” Penelope Ody, DK Publishing 1993

“Medicine and Society in later medieval England” Carole Rawcliffe, Sandpiper Books LTD, 1995

“Medicine before Science” Roger French, Cambridge University Press 2003.

“The Greek Achievement” Charles Freeman, Penguin Group Publishing 1999

“Greek and Roman Medicine” Ian Dawson, Enchanted Lion Books, 2005

“The History of Medicine Vol. 1 Primitive and Archaic Medicine ” Henry E. Sigerist MD. Oxford University Press 1977

“The Genesis of Science” Stephen Bertman, Prometheus Books, 2010

“Herbals, their origin and evolution”, Agnes Robertson Arber Cambridge at the University Press, 1912

“English medicine in the Anglo-Saxon Times”, Joseph Frank Payne, Oxford at Clarendon Press, 1904

“History and Hygiene of Linen.” Harry C. O’Neill, Overland Monthly Magazine, November 1902

PDF E-Books, Booklets and Reports Consulted:

“Herbals: The Connection between Horticulture and Medicine” Jules Janick, HortTechnology April–June 13(2): 229–238

“Medical journals in the Eastern Mediterranean Region”

Report of a conference Cairo, Egypt, 7–9 October 2003

“Otology in Medical Papyri in Ancient Egypt” Albert Mudry, MD, The Mediterranean Journal of Otology 2005

“An Interlinear Transliteration and English Translation of Portions of


Possibly Having to Do With Diabetes Mellitus”,

Stephen Carpenter, Michel Rigaud, Mary Barile, Tracy J. Priest, Luis Perez, John B. Ferguson, Bard College Annandale-on-Hudson NY 1998

“The Old Egyptian Medical Papyri”, Chauncey D. Leake

Vice-President, University of Texas—Medical Branch Galveston


“The doctor in Ancient Egypt” J.F. Nunn


R. Van Hee Institute of the History of Medicine and Natural Sciences,

University of Antwerp, Belgium. Jurnalul de Chirurgie, Iaşi, 2011, Vol. 7, Nr. 3 [ISSN 1584 – 9341]

“The Papyrus Ebers” Translated from the German version by Cyril P. Bryan. 1930 http://oilib.uchicago.edu/books/bryan_the_papyrus_ebers_1930.pdf




JANUARY 12TH, 1893.].”


Physician to the Glasgow Western Infirmary, and to the Royal Hospital

for Sick Children, Glasgow; Honorary Librarian to the Faculty of

Physicians and Surgeons, Glasgow, etc. page 748 The British Medical Journal APRIL s, 1893..

Leechdoms, wortcunning, and starcraft of early England. Being a collection of documents, for the most part never before printed, illustrating the history of science in this country before the Norman conquest (1864) Cockayne, Thomas Oswald, 1807-1873 Vol. I, II, AND III

Internet Resources:

http://www.utm.edu – Galen



Hildegard of  Bingen

www.wikipedia.org – Used to start the path to knowledge and so as a minor resource, not a major one.

Mortar and Pestle


Slow cooking

Clay Pots

Ebers Papyrus


Trapezoidal Alms Pouch

Purses, Pouches, and Bags oh my! The things we put in them vary but they all have one thing in common. They were made to hold our stuff. As far back as recorded history goes, humanity has had a love for the purse. Today we collect purses and bags and clutches like they will disappear in an instant if we don’t buy it now. Back in the 14th century the ladies and gentlemen were NO Different. Judging by how many extant alms purses have been found up and down the Atlantic Seaboard of Northern Europe all the way down to the Egyptian Tombs,  we have always craved stuff and bags to hold that stuff…

Alms Purses or Aumonieres were so named because of the Medieval tradition of giving Alms or being generous to those in need. The Alms purses one finds these days has been carefully curated and stored by museums and churches around the world. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, I looked and found that the largest number of Alms purses are of the square or rectangular pouch type, usually embroidered and embellished during the 14th century with an embroidery technique that includes gold work couching and silk figure embroideries often called Opus Anglicanum which translates to English Work. This English work was well coveted throughout Medieval Europe as some of the finest needlework of the time. Mostly due to the costly gold wrapped threads than the fine stitches in silk. Look up ” 14th-century Alms Purse” on the internet and you will get a large avalanche of pictures and websites that celebrate the square or rectangular type. and then search for “14th-century trapezoidal alms purse” and you might get a dozen. Most are found and labeled as reliquary purses in church museums Or as donations to major museums.

Okay, now to the meat of the dish.

I have made many a pouch and purse. Some in linen, a few in leather; square, kidney-shaped and circular they have all come and gone. The Trapezoidal Alms Purse, however, I could not find a pattern for and it was frustrating.

The Collections housing the purses I found for this project as inspiration were of the usual listing style. Who once owned it, What it was made of, Its dimensions and some photos of it front to back and each of its bits if not complete. The problem is that so often these listings don’t give a full picture of its measurements. Width and length..that’s it. They don’t give width at the top and center, which would give a better Idea of actual measurements…This leaves one open to much error in pattern making.

The three extant pouches I used for designing the pattern and eventually making the pouch come from two museums.

G002610 Purse of Jan of Bravant Front.jpg
10-527907Lady on a Griffin.jpg

The First is found online at the Belgian Art Links and Tools, it is the purse of John of  Brabant.  The Second is housed in Paris, at the Cluny Museum – National Museum of the Middle Ages: Chaplain of a Bar Countess (the lady on the griffin).

And One Statue of the Prophet Isaiah (Claus Sluter 1395-1406)wearing the usual garb of a 14th-century man: his belt has that pouch hanging right there for all to see.

 Take a closer look at the statue of Isaiah as he was placed on the Moses Well. His pouch is dome topped and trapezoidal and also a ring pouch. which is to say a pouch with a ring for rigid support and a drawstring added for security. It does not have buttons for closure just tassels for decoration. It may have been simpler for the mason carving the statue to not have buttons. You can see that the inner ring of support was carved,  as a ridge just under the flap and his belongings showing inside. I love this pouch that Isaiah wears. It shows how it was hung from the belt with a strap and buckle, which many museums cannot show as the strap has long been worn away or lost. I love buckles they’re so fun.

Prophet Isaiah Well of Moses Champmol.jpg

Fabrics and Embellishment:

Mine: Plum Linen shell, White Linen lining. Thread: Heavy Duty Coats and Clark

Mine: Not embroidered. Hand Sewn with period stitches, bound with plum linen

binding. Mine Differs in Fabrics and Embellishment because Silk and real gold are out of my price range.

Original: Silk shell and lining appliqued slips embroidered in the images of an angel and a lady on a griffin.


embellished trim. Hand-knotted buttons.

How it was made:

The Pattern: From a picture and the information at the Cluny Museum of the Middle Ages I drafted the pattern to be approximately the same size as the pouch housed in the museum. I added 1/4 inch seam allowances to make adding the binding easier for narrow trim or ribbon. I cut the pattern out of thin cardboard recycled from inserts packaged with moving blankets, and a family sized box of Frosted Flakes.  They were of the right size. I used chalk to trace around the pattern on the plum and white linen and then cut them out. For the Front shell and lining, I pinned and sewed around the opening, clipped the curves and turned the seam. On the Plumb Purse, using 15 gauge steel wire I coiled a 2-foot length and fit it in place between the front shell and lining and carefully backstitched to keep it in place. I lay out the back with the lining on top and placed the front with the shell facing outward and pinned the layers together. Using bias cut binding in the plum from another scrap I bound the edges all the way around, making sure to carefully cover the coil of wire completely. I pinned the flap layers and bound them and placed it on top of the others making sure to keep the bottom of the flap parallel to the bottom edge, and finished it with a ladder stitch. I added a strap and buckle to allow easier hanging and removal from a belt or belt hanger, and when I added the rivets I carefully used an awl to place the holes so that I could later change it to a ribbon loop should I choose. You can see proof of usage of a strap and buckle as pictured on the statue of Isaiah

The Pictures from beginning to end are of the Blue Linen first then the Plumb Linen. I got so caught up in sewing the plumb that I forgot to take photographs as I made it. Many apologies.


Back Stitch, Running Stitch, ladder stitch (when attaching the front flap)

Sewing Techniques: Neckline Facing, Turning, clipping curves


Museum Links to Purses I studied online for making my pattern:

1.Embroidered Purse 1: 

2. Chaplain of a Bar Countess and her hinged frame Lady on a Griffin:


3. Purse of Jon of Brabant: http://balat.kikirpa.be/photo.php?path=X083569&objnr=40752&nr=1

4. Isaiah wearing the Pouch showing the buckle and strap for placing on a belt:

a.  http://www.ipernity.com/doc/jonathan.cohen/16790325

b.  https://lectionaryart.org/2017/01/16/isaiah-before-1500/

c. http://www.bluffton.edu/homepages/facstaff/sullivanm/sluter/sluter.html

5. Trapezoidal Pouch in the belongings of the Whore of Babylon: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b10533304x/f131.image

6. Rosalie’s Medieval Woman: https://rosaliegilbert.com/purses.html

7. La Cotte Simple: http://cottesimple.com/articles/aumonieres/

8.  St. Thomas Guild: Some Pouches: http://thomasguild.blogspot.com/2014/01/some-purses-from-st-thomasguild-part-ii.html

9. Larsdatter: http://www.larsdatter.com/pouches-framed.htm

10.  Historical Costume; Blanche Payne 1965

11. The Book of Costume; Millia Davenport 1948

Sweet Pickled Plums for Marinus’s Birthday at Rip Rap War

Rip Rap War. That time of year where we in Atlantia fight over who owns a tiny little island in the James River Estuary. No one gets to visit said Island, but we fight over who owns it on a yearly basis…This Island is the now-decommissioned Fort Wool, located on a man made island called Rip Raps across the mouth of Hampton Roads Harbor from Fort Monroe, is also in Hampton.
This year was a Banner year at Rip Rap War. We had Three very very Talented Ladies Raised to the Order of the Laurel, and one very Chivalrous Man Knighted.
It was also the Barony of Marinus’s Birthday and on the Friday of the event they had a marvelous potluck. I made sweet pickled plums as my contribution to the food filled event. Someone made shepherds pie and it was to die for. Shout out to whomever they are, that stuff was the Bomb!
My contribution is an easy thing to make.
You’ll only Need:

2-3 pounds plums pitted and cut lengthwise into 1/4-1/2 inch wedge/slices.

2 1/2 cups granulated sugar/or 3 cups honey

1 1/2 cups white vinegar

1 tsp each Fennel, coriander and mint


Pack the plum slices into jars.

In a sauce pan put vinegar, sugar and spices and bring to rolling boil. remove from heat, stir and let cool 5 minutes with lid on pan. Pour the liquid into the jars until at the max line or 1/4 inch from the rim. Put on lids and let cool 30 minutes. If water canning follow the directions on the package of jars and canning pot.

Place the jars in the fridge and keep at the back of the fridge for 1 whole week, turning the jars over every day. Don’t Shake The Jars! it bruises the fruit and makes them mushy.

Good for Hard Pears, Early Peaches and other stone fruits.

I wonder what I shall make for Next year?

The Cappa Leonis Coronation Robe

I have been a participant and enthusiast of the Society for Creative Anachronism for many many years, and in all this time have heard of finding the One Thing. Yeah, people used to mention finding that one extant item that has all the things on it. That mythical thing. The One Thing to prove all their favorite techniques were used within the time period espoused in the SCA.
We all have a quest to find that One Thing, but for us embroiderers there is at least one anomalous item that has almost all the things on it. It’s Not a dress.  That One Thing or Criptid Extant Piece that according to many historians, back when the internet did not exist, could not possibly exist…because if they had not found it..nobody would…well…(yeah, I know…jerkiness does not become me..In my defense…It’s 330 am and the insomnia Fairy is visiting)
Thanks to the oh so lovely Internet and Tourists..Many Cathedrals have opened up websites that share those treasures in a grand gesture so that people will come and visit their treasures. And the tourists who visit those treasures have shared their photos of the visits and the exhibits. Good Gads..I wish I could travel.
Cuz the first place I so would visit is the Aachen Cathedral and it’s treasury, where textile geeks will find that Criptid Piece so craved.

Picture taken from the website listed at the bottom.
The Coronation Robe/Cappa Leonis is that Criptid Piece. Part of the Aachen Cathedral Treasure, this one Extant Item has all the Things.
Made in the 14th century…thats the 1300’s..it has appliqued gold roses, and couched decorative trees and vines and get this…tiny little birds made using tiny stuffed figures covered in detached button hole stitches..These birds are about the size of a us quarter. The all over design of this lovely Coronation Robe is little white and yellow flowers..of get this..French knots…of silk thread on scarlet silk velvet..with gold-work embroidery so well done it looks like woven gold bands appliqued as a grid border..I have always gotten told that French knots are not within period..Guess what ladies..in this one instance..this one item..there they are in all their knotty glory..French knots..I doubt they called them French Knots in the middle ages..but whatever they called them back then..this stitch has come a long way.. Oh and don’t forget them little birdies. Modern embroiderers call that technique “Stumpwork”, but whatever they were called in the middle ages, finding them on one garment and made before 1650 is literally a gift from the gods. Layers upon layers of appliqued braid-work, intertwining vine-work, stumpwork birds, Laid gold-work and ribbon, and all on the front band…Wow…and the bottom hem itself is a marvel. Embroidered with the figures of all the saints and apostles and clapper-less silver bells that ring softly as the robe is worn. That thing must have wowed the crowds in a coronation when it was first finished.

Going to be in Germany this year?

Go and see for yourself the Cappa Leonis Coronation Robe at: https://www.aachener-domschatz.de/neue-ausstellung-ab-15-september/ and don’t forget to share those pictures. So that those of us who cannot travel can see that marvelous coronation robe through your lenses.

They updated the site and it’s dated for September 21st..so ignore 15 September in the link…

Needful Needlework of the Day

Good Morning Ladies and Gents!

Today being the day before Independence Day here in the USA I will post a lovely stitch for you to learn. It’s Historic and was used by Elizabethan Englanders to decorate everything they could get it sewn on. Mostly in metallic passing threads of gold and silver, sometimes it was done in silk threads as well. Don’t believe me? ask the V&A Museum about some of their coifs.

here’s the link to learn it. https://trc-leiden.nl/trc-needles/techniques/embroidery/embroidery-stitches/plaited-braid-stitch

A 12th Night Gift and Story Exchange

Although this post is way past 12th Night here in Atlantia, I wanted to wait until the recipient had received my gift. Then I forgot to post this. My apologies. My gift was an embroidered pouch done in the Elizabethan style. This pouch contained sewing tools and a matching needlebook.  The story is from the point of view from the Bag itself.

The Bag

The Making

I began as a large square of fine fabric hemmed and used as a cover for glassware displayed in the windows of a shop. Every morning I would be taken off of the wares in the window and stuffed into a bag of others like me, only to be taken out and put back over the wares at the end of the day. Sunrise allowed me to see out the windows in the morning. The view was not so undesirable as the street sweepers came by each morning and scooped up the muck from the cobbled stones put down the day before by people coming and going and the animals they brought with them. Then came that fateful day that I was taken down and not returned to the bag, but dumped into the rag bucket due to dirt and day to day stains. The shopkeeper’s boy was a lazy boy and did not want to wash me.  A young woman stooped over and plucked me from the bucket, shook me out and quickly folded me. I could feel the joy of her luck at finding such a large piece of fabric for her needs. Her companion was surprised at the action but lauded the thrift and luck. I was stuffed at the bottom of her basket and the days shopping was put on top of me. All through the afternoon, I listened to the sounds of the markets and the shops and the voice of the baskets owner planning what use I would be put to. Part of me was to become an apprentice piece. A piece of work made to show the skills of the maker in order to become an apprentice. Most apprentices start out as children as young as six years of age, but occasionally an apprentice could be taken on if the apprentice could show themselves to be of sufficient skill. The girl was excited at the thought of succeeding her father in his business if she could show she had learned enough skills to show she was serious, as he had not yet found her a suitable prospective husband. It would not be hard to show her skills at embroidery, after all, she had grown up among the embroiderers employed in his shop and to keep her out of mischief, was sat down at a small slate and with plain thread and needle was taught the different stitches on a scrap of linen. Her mother let her continue, but added mathematics, reading and writing to the curriculum, and at her father’s insistence, drawing. After all, if you could not draw the designs, you would have to employ an artist to put your designs on paper and that was costly. At the end of the day, I was handed over to the companion to be washed. After being washed and hung to dry I was then folded and tucked away with the other belongings. It was dark but fragrant with dried herbs and the belongings tucked in with me were kind enough to share their knowledge of my new owner. The young woman was the only daughter, came a quiet voice from the bottom of the clothes press, “I was once the dress of another, but was sold at a shop and was purchased to be made into something suitable at a later date.” From off in a corner came the sibilant rustle of metal in a bag. “We are fine gold and silver spangles found on floors, and in the mud and muck outside. Picked up and washed and hidden away here until we have a use.” Faintly from above, I could hear the footsteps of people coming and going, the lid occasionally lifted and yet another belonging placed within. Each thing placed here in the box with us was only too happy to tell their tales and so my knowledge of the world grew.

Skeins of embroidery thread wrapped in sackcloth muttered to themselves and would not share their origin, but we in the bag could tell they hadn’t a story to add as they were newly spun and dyed, we would have to wait until they were embroidered to get a firm story of their making. Our owner was talented and smart and into the chest would come and go most often the little book in which she would draw her designs, and copy others from other books. Diligently she drew instructions for each stitch and gave descriptions. The little book was quite talkative and described the stitches as they were added to his pages. He could not show us the pictures in the dark but told us what they would look like when finished. I looked forward to seeing the pages one day.

Then came the day that I was to finally be used, or rather part of us, I was cut into large pieces and the smallest of me was stretched out onto a frame and each part of me not used was folded and put back into the chest. I was finally being put to use. The frame I was stretched upon was put on a stand next to another set of windows, and outside I could see the bluest skies, filled with birds. The room was small but the windows took up the most of it, running from one corner to another with deep sills to place one end of my stretching frame on so that the light would reach all of me. Over the top of me was placed a sheet of thin velum which had been poked full of holes in a design that I could not see, and it was pinned in place. A few moments passed and then I was gently tapped with something over the vellum and could feel a powdery substance filter through the holes. This went on for quite a few minutes until they were satisfied that there was enough of the powdery substance covering the holes. The vellum was unpinned and then gently removed. The girl seemed satisfied and she then brushed a staining liquid following the design of the dots made by the powder. The other embroiderers in the shop were working away, speaking of this bit of news or that bit of gossip, needles flashing in the sunlight streaming through the windows.

Then the stitching began, the book lay open and very carefully she began to stitch the vines and outlines of flowers. She called the stitch the split stitch as she went along very carefully stitching the tiny stitches. She called the color of the vines green and I watched the light flash off of the sharp needles and felt the pull of the thread as it was pulled through me. Each stitch swift and gentle gathered at length along my surface. She would embroider from dawn to nearly dusk, then cover me with another cloth until the next morning. It did not take long, mere days blending into weeks and she was finished with the vines and outlines, for there were days that I sat without her working upon me. I enjoyed listening to the other embroiderers, their gossiping let me know why I wasn’t being worked on, her father had found her a suitor and they were planning on a courtship. Days later the girl came back and then the spangles and paste jewels were applied and the silver-gilt thread couched down. The girl and the women in the shop talked about the young man and his being worthy of her. It was not a matter of being worthy, she said above me as she sewed down the spangles, it was a matter of her father needing a male heir for the shop and his goods. Being an only child was not enough reason to allow the mother to run the business after the father is gone, but it worried her that this man would ruin them if he were the wrong man for the job. Father is having someone follow him to make sure he is not a gambling man or wastrel. It doesn’t matter, either way, I must still be able to perform the duties of embroiderers, as well as a housewife. This piece must please father and mother. I must learn all of the stitches and techniques within a year once I am accepted. It really should be a bit easier for me, I grew up here in the shop alongside mother, and can remember how to do the stitches. I was allowed to stay home rather than be apprenticed off to a strangers household because I am an only child, but must still prove to the guild that I am good enough to sell my work.  I can only hope that this piece gives them enough of my skills to gain approval. Once I am done embroidering this, mother is going to send it to the guild for judging. It will then come back to me and then sent down to the purse-man to be sewn into a pouch. I will need it to hold my needlework tools when I go to meet his family. Don’t tell father, I rather like his older brother better. He did not smell of ale and smoke and spoke well around me and my friends, and did not speak down to me as if I were an empty book.  I learned much as she pulled threads through my fabric. Soon the work was done, and I was left on the frame to be taken down the street to the guild house and my judging.

The Judging

In the morning light, I was wrapped in dark fabric and carted down the street to the guild house. When I was unwrapped there were four men and five women leaning in over my embroidered surface. They were silent as they ran their hands over the stitches and tested the knots on the back to see if the spangles would come off easily. I listened as they discussed the merit of her stitches, and level of skill. It was an important judgment and their seriousness gave me an idea of how hard she had worked the stitches upon my surface. They went away and returned later to have me wrapped back up and sent home with a sealed letter to the girl. After being unwrapped and placed back upon the stand I listened for the response, her happy laughter told me she had done well. That afternoon I was removed from the frame and carted off in a wrapped parcel to the purse-maker.

The Poucher

Into the shop of the purse-maker, I was taken and unwrapped along with the note from the girl with instructions as to which style of the pouch I was to be made into. The old man grumbled a bit then handed me over to his son, note and all. The son spread me out onto a large work table and placed a template over me, covering completely the design embroidered upon my surface. With a bit of thin paint, he traced around the template, making sure to put dabs where seams would meet up. I was then lifted and placed face down over a chunk of linen large enough for a lining and basted down.

The stitches that bound me to the white linen lining were simple back stitches, close to the edge of the circle I had been cut into once the lining had been basted down. All the way around my edges the needle poked and the thread pulled through me. He left a space un-sewn, and after clipping the edges all the way around me, turned me right side out to hide the stitches and clipped edge. I could see in the dim light of the shop once more. Shaking me out he pinned around the edge to lay me flat and sewed around the edge. Once close to the edge and again a bit further in for a double row. Holes were punched and bound with thread and a ribbon pulled through.

I was finally a finished piece; my girl would be an Embroiderers Apprentice.

The End.


The Rules of Courtly Love: A journey to avoid the modern romance novel.


I went on a quest to find Courtly Love and found only that there were rules. The history was harder to find, except they that follow them are fools. Highborn or Low, Swift or slow; the gifts were the same and yet, the pageantry was more beautiful than the stars above when they were first in the heaven’s set.


In my quest to find out what Courtly Love was all about; the internet brought up many, many sites for my perusal. Much of it was tripe, and so off to the library, I went. The many books available were mostly Romance Novels. Again tripe, but you know it’s still something to read and it was still something to read back in the middle ages…Roman de la rose, Petrarch’s sonnets to Laura, Dante’s Divine Comedy being a few of the romance novels of their time…

In the modern romance novels, we find the theme. The uncaring Lord marries his Lady she then falls in love with the Knight/Troubadour/stable hand…etc… Or, The Lady is widowed when her Lord goes off to war and his Liege Lord sends his replacement to woo her and wed her. Or is it the other way around? After some difficulties both fall in love and wed and all ends well and happily ever after and all that rot…Who here wants to barf at the thought? I know after reading the tripe I did. So I set off in search of real historical research to wet my appetites.

Eleanor of Aquitaine

This amazing woman came into her inheritance over two illegitimate younger brothers in a time when sons illegitimate or not were getting control of the fortunes of their fathers over daughters. Her father on his deathbed sent messengers to the king of France, who surprisingly enough was also on his deathbed; to beg him to protect his daughter and the lands she was inheriting. That king then betrothed Eleanor to his son of the same name Louis. To make sure that the marriage went off without a hitch he sent his son to his bride with two bishops and an army, and after they were wed gave in and left this mortal coil. Eleanor’s husband then became King of France and the Aquitaine and other fine holdings were brought under the control of France.

After many adventures, squabbles and a crusade the married couple were seen to have difficulties and even after having several children together could not keep their marriage off the cliffs. Upon doing some research the king found out that they were too closely related, which suited both of them in order to gain a divorce. The king divorced her and took custody of their children and Eleanor got her lands and holdings back. She met Henry, future king of England and jumped in with both feet in love. Again with the marriage to a headstrong but well-made youth? Eleanor, you cougar you! With this marriage came sons and daughters, dynastic fights and imprisonments, just what you’d find in modern romance novels eh? Tired of the squabbling yet Eleanor?


In 1168, Eleanor of Aquitaine left the court of her husband Henry II and took up residence in her ancestral lands of Poitou. Having served as viceregent for the king in England, she had no difficulty pursuing her duties as a ruling duchess, and she wielded the power of a feudal lord and accepted the responsibilities that went with it. With a clever hand and a shrewd eye, she turned a district that had been on the periphery of events for forty years into the center of financial and social life.


As a result of this sudden burst of activity, Eleanor’s court in the city of Poitou drew vassals paying homage, squires training to be knights, young ladies acquiring their education, and visiting future kings and queens related by blood or marriage to the duchess. Because she was a woman of renowned beauty, charm, and style as well as extraordinary humor and iron willpower; the poets, chroniclers, musicians, philosophers, artists, and literati who always flocked around her also congregated at Poitou.


It was out of this heady mix of royalty and romance that the movement of courtly love emerged. That’s what the history books say; however, her father (William X, Duke of Aquitaine) had been one who aspired to the philosophy of Fin’ Amours or Fine Love which had been developing in the Occitan through Troubadours and writers since the 11th century. Her Own Grandfather William IX, Duke of Aquitaine was a poet and troubadour. He was also a womanizing pig according to some of his contemporaries, but usually, this was said in admiration.


There was very little that was new about courtly love (amour courtois). Poetry devoted with great ardor to a beloved lady had flourished in the Arab culture for centuries. The “courts of love,” where suitors would seek advice on matters of the heart from the queen while the king ruled over his courts of law, had also been around for quite some time in literary tradition. New rules of etiquette were already on the rise among the elite, though they were the source of much amusement and scorn from the rugged fighting men of the nobility. The cult of the Virgin was rising in popularity. And tales of Arthur and his knights, so inextricably woven into the fabric of chivalry and courtly love, had been circulating for years.


Nevertheless, this point in history was the supposedly defining moment of courtly love — its time to flourish — thanks to the dream of one woman and the literary work of one man.


The woman was Eleanor’s daughter (from her previous marriage to King Louis VII of France), Marie de Champagne, the man was a clerk known as André the Chaplain (André le Chapelain or Andreas Cappellanus), who had worked at the king’s court and may have accompanied Marie to Poitiers in her employ. Marie (supposedly) set him to work writing a handbook on a code of behavior concerning love. André took as his model, perhaps at her suggestion, Ovid’s Ars Amatoria (“the Art of Loving”). Ovid’s work concerns how to seduce a woman, and among its rules are appropriate forms of dress, approach, conversation, and toying with a lady’s affections, all designed to amuse. In the Ars Amatoria, the man is in control, and the woman is simply his prey.


But André (very likely at the command of his employer) turned the Ars Amatoria inside-out. In his Liber de Arte honest amandi et reprobatione inhonesti amoris (“Book of the Art of Loving Nobly and the Reprobation of Dishonourable Love”), the woman becomes the mistress of the game. It is she who sets the rules and passes judgment on the hopeful suitor. In Ovid’s work the lover sighs with passion for his pursuit, but in le Chapelain’s Liber the passion is pure and entirely for the love of a lady. It should be understood that Andre wrote his treatise for the courts of the king of France, where Eleanor was not in high esteem, and there have yet to be found any letters or documentation of Marie ever visiting her mother in Poitou.

The rules outlined in André’s work are in many ways far-flung from the reality of the times. In the medieval world, women rarely had any power to speak of (Eleanor was a notable exception) due to the church’s teachings. The nobility were warriors, and the arts of war, leadership and politics occupied their minds. More often than not, a nobleman thought of his wife (or future wife) as a breeder, a servant, and a source of yearly monetary gain. There are of course the rare exceptions, such as Eleanor and several nuns and mother abbesses.


The Troubadours were welcomed from town to town singing the songs of love to lords and ladies at the courts, bringing news of the different affairs and disastrous star-crossed loves that were going on so far away. In a time where learning to read and write was not so common, minnesingers would often memorize their poems and songs. After literacy became a little more common, they wrote their own books of songs and poetry and published them but few remain behind as famous as the Codex Mannesse.

The Codex Manesse is an anthology of the works of a total of about 135 Minnesingers of the mid 12th to early 14th century. For each poet, a portrait is shown, followed by the text of their works. The entries are ordered approximately by the social status of the poets, starting with the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, Kings Conradin, and Wenceslaus II, down through dukes, counts, and knights, to the commoners.


Most of the poems are Minnesang, but there are also other genres, including fables and didactic poems.

The oldest poets represented in the manuscript had been dead for more than a century at the time of its compilations, while others were contemporaries, with the latest additions of poems being written during the early 14th century.

In the portraits, some of the nobles are shown in full armor in their heraldic colors and devices (therefore with their faces hidden), often shown as taking part in a joust, or sometimes in single combat with sword and shield, and sometimes in actual battle.


Some images are motivated by the biography of the person depicted, but some designs just draw their motif from the poet’s name (thus, Dietmar is shown riding a mule, since his name can be interpreted as meaning people’s horse, while others draw on imagery from their lyrics (Walther von der Vogelweide is shown in a thoughtful pose which exactly matches the description of himself in one of his most famous songs).


On the giving of gifts to one’s inspiration


There were even rules about what one could give to one’s lover. Seriously, rules about accepting a gift from a lover. If they got greedy it looked bad on not only the lady but on the knight who gave the gift. Throwing pearls before swine, so to speak.

“A lover may freely accept from her beloved these things: a handkerchief, a hair band, a circlet of gold or silver, a brooch for her breast, a mirror, a belt, a purse, a lace for clothes, a comb, cuffs, gloves, a ring, a little box of scent, a portrait, toiletries, little vases, trays, a standard(flag) as a keepsake of her lover and to speak more generally a lady can accept from her lover whatever small gift may be useful in the care of her person or may look charming or may remind her of her lover; providing however that in accepting the gift it is clear that she is acting without avarice.” Andreas Cappellanus



How a court of love was constituted


The rule was that all the ladies who composed the courts should be married or widows.

Another principle of selection was that they should belong to the high noblesse of their district. It appears that there was no exact regulation regarding the number of ladies in a court of love. As a general estimate, the number of ladies in the court ranged from ten to sixty, and most of the time was probably of an average of these numbers.


The court of love was not always composed exclusively of ladies. Upon request, the trial could be held by the seigneur of the district, who pronounced the decree necessary “with the advice of his council,” composed of gentlemen like himself. But such cases were exceptions, and the general rule requested that the judges be chosen from the ladies of the district, with one of them appointed the president.


A court of love took its name presumably, from the leading lady or lord who was the highest authority such as the Court of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Court of the Countess of Champagne, and so on.


To obtain the judgment, the complete assent of all the ladies or lords present was necessary. The leading lady of the district had to summon a sufficient number of ladies who were specially chosen for the function and were the recognized members of the court. Once the court of love was appointed, the ladies met to hear the complaint made and the cause pleaded in due form before them.


In the end, the court of love tried to legislate upon all questions concerned with what was at the time a subject of culture, art, and elegance: love.

It should be noted however that even with literary sources giving us fictional proof of courts of love, there are no documental sources to show that these courts existed in reality. No letters, or court documents which can give us a shred of proof. We are left with our imaginations and Medieval Romance Novels to give us a picture of what they aspired to, and dream of having such wonder and beauty in our lives.


There are rules for everything in this fictional world of the courts of love, have you noticed the theme yet? The rules can be followed, but on breaking them your honor is forfeit. Does anyone want to go on pilgrimage, it’s safer to navigate the pilgrim’s roads than the rules of the court of love.


According to William Allan Neilson-

There are 12 statutes of the court of love;  commending the virtues of Generosity, constancy to one only, truthfulness, secrecy, obedience, modesty, courtesy, moderation, the forbidding of slander, babbling, the seducing of another man’s mistress and holding intrigues with a woman whom one would be ashamed to marry. The longer set of thirty-one rules is not so high in moral tone, professing to have a higher authority.

These are the rules, I leave them here, where they belong; at the end because in the end we are left with rules to lead us along a pathway to the gentler, though stranger world of chivalry, honor and courtly conduct between the men and women of the middle ages.



  1. Marriage should not be a deterrent to love.


  1. Love cannot exist in the individual who cannot be jealous.


  1. A double love cannot obligate an individual.


  1. Love constantly waxes and wanes.


  1. That which is not given freely by the object of one’s love loses its savor.


  1. It is necessary for a male to reach the age of maturity in order to love.


  1. A lover must observe a two-year widowhood after his beloved’s death.


  1. Only the most urgent circumstances should deprive one of love.


  1. Only the insistence of love can motivate one to love.


  1. Love cannot coexist with avarice.


  1. A lover should not love anyone who would be an embarrassing marriage choice.


  1. True love excludes all from its embrace but the beloved.


  1. Public revelation of love is deadly to love in most instances.


  1. The value of love is commensurate with its difficulty of attainment.


  1. The presence of one’s beloved causes palpitation of the heart.


  1. The sight of one’s beloved causes palpitations of the heart.


  1. A new love brings an old one to a finish.


  1. Good character is the one real requirement for the worthiness of love.


  1. When love grows faint its demise is usually certain.


  1. Apprehension is the constant companion of true love.


  1. Love is reinforced by jealousy.


  1. Suspicion of the beloved generates jealousy and therefore intensifies love.


  1. Eating and sleeping diminish greatly when one is aggravated by love.


  1. The lover’s every deed is performed with the thought of his beloved in mind.


  1. Unless it pleases his beloved, no act or thought is worthy of the lover.


  1. Love is powerless to hold anything from love.


  1. There is no such thing as too much of the pleasure of one’s beloved.


  1. The presumption on the part of the beloved causes suspicion in the lover.


  1. Aggravation of excessive passion does not usually afflict the true lover.


  1. The thought of the beloved never leaves the true lover.


  1. Two men may love one woman or two women one man.











The Studies and Notes in Philology and Literature: Vol. VI The sources and origins of the Court of Love by William Allan Neilson

The Art of Courtly Love by Andreas Capellanus; translated by John Jay Parry

Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings by Amy Ruth Kelly

The Civilization of the Middle Ages by Norman F. Cantor

The Medieval Art of Love: Objects and Subjects of Desire by Michael Camille

The Five Labors of Finn and the sparkly thing I made

This year for our Tir Y Don Baronial Birthday and Baronial Investiture there was a little competition known as the “Five Labors of Finn”. Finn, our Baronial Mascot is a Red Dolphin. The competition ran with the premise that our mascot met a mermaid while swimming in the ocean and fell in love instantly. In order to woo her, he gathered up things he thought a mermaid would like and brought them to us to make something as he doesn’t have hands. Those things were divided up and sold in $5.00 baggies so that we could raise funds and have a fun competition.

It took me the better part of 2 months to work on this in little bits. All of it is hand sewn onto scrap upholstery fabric given to me by a friend who was cleaning out her garage.

I only needed to use 5 of the items provided, and create a document detailing which items were used and how, and the important part the historical inspiration for the item I created. This competition isn’t based in our usual Arts & Sciences category of needing historically accurate documentation, it is after all a dolphin falling in love with a mermaid. From start to finish I knew I wanted to make something that would have a practical use, but was as sparkly as a mermaids tail. So…A bag it was. Inside the baggie was different wool yards in bright colors, wood beads, Atlantian coins, and a few gold chains. I used it all, and added more of my own flotsam and jetsam. To read the full documentation of my journey to a lovely Bag you can download the PDF here. Raised Figure Embroidery for the Five Labors of Finn

setting the scenes with seaweed borders


Where to learn the Techniques

Raised Figures

Mastering the Art of Embroidery by Sophie Long

Sophie’s book contains a dozen techniques for the embellishment of textiles ranging from Crewel to Smocking. Each technique has samples in full-color glossy photographs and well-done drawings in step by step sequence to give you a good start.  The relevant section of the book for this documentation is the chapter on Stump-work. I found the usual needle lace, detached and raised surface stitches, but the really important part is the Figures primer. In the Figures primer, you find step by step instructions on how to do the raised figures that are the underpinnings of raised figure embroideries. She covers the body, face, hair, and hands.

Raised Embroidery: A practical guide to decorative stumpwork by Barbara and Roy Hirst

In this book, Barbara and Roy Hirst guide you along the path of stumpwork embroidery with some history of the craft, pictorial examples and step by step instructions on the various techniques that make stumpwork such an art-form.

The Complete Book of Stumpwork Embroidery by Jane Nicholas

Jane Nicholas is touted to be the best in her work and you can clearly see it in the examples she created to teach this technique. The title of her book is rather misleading, however as her book only covers the plants, animals, and insects but not the human figures that are often the central technique that people have come to know as stumpwork. The beautiful Elizabethan Figures that are central to her original piece are not covered in this book. It will, however, teach you the varied techniques needed to create the natural world in the background of your figures. She also helps you use those techniques in a variety of craft projects to beautify your home and needlework basket.

Stumpwork Seasons by Kay &Michael Dennis

Kay and Michael Dennis give you a really good start to finish guide to stumpwork through the seasons. They start you off with all tools, materials, and threads needed to do the lovely projects pictured in the pages. Besides the stitches and techniques for the surface embroidery, they guide you to staining or painting the backgrounds to give a more natural and realistic looks to your work. A good book for those that need color pictures to guide step by step.

Close up of the Mermaid Raised Figure. No Hair yet.

The Mermaid tacked down. Still no hair yet.

Tube Coral beginning the surround of the pearl beds.

Finn and his mermaid. Still no hair yet.

The Mermaid sitting pretty on her sandy mound..Yay! She has a full head of hair!

Pearl bed filled in with pearls, shells and lacy corals.

A closer look at the Mermaid.

The Finished Bag, Hoard Side View.

The Finished Bag Mermaid side View.

The Finished Bag Pearl Bed View.

Persona Pentathlon Atlantia A&S Festival 2018

When you’re creative, but uber lazy like I am, it takes a real hard push to finish research, writing, and making things for a competition. I have jumped off the deck with the crazy, and entered myself into my Kingdom’s Arts & Sciences competition. Mainly the Persona Pentathlon.
First Item on my list of to do’s was my Bruise Juice Project. A research paper on Medieval Herbcraft, mainly about the herbs I use in a concoction called bruise cream, tools and herbs used to make it, and whether or not a medieval woman would have been able to learn about the simple herbs, and how to use them. It is finished and emailed off to the judges.
Second is making a few jars of the bruise cream using the juice, and other ingredients and how we can still make creams and salves today the same way they were made in the middle ages. I have gotten the Documentation typed up and Printed and two little jars of the cream made from the oil.
Third up on the list is a 14th century alms purse Pattern and how I couldn’t find a commercial pattern for the trapezoidal dome topped alms purse, so with the tidbits of measurements from museums I drafted one, and then had to change it to look more in keeping with the extant items it was being drafted from. All of the Documentation is written up and Printed and the Photography is done, and the little pouches made.
Fourth on the list is a 14th century studded girdle belt Blank. The little belt is made, documentation is written and printed and all photography finished and printed as well.  Fifth and finally are the loose leaves (pages) of a cordiform bestiary. March third is coming up, and I have just a few pages of the bestiary pages left to paint and the documentation all written up and printed.  When I am done with the competition I will be posting all of the documentation and patterns here in pdf format for easy downloading.

Wish me luck? I truly think I’m gonna need it.