Literature

Chronicles
Matthew Paris
Matthew Paris

The most famous chronicler of the age was Matthew Paris, a monk from St. Albans whose lively narrative and illustrations offer a vivid if sometimes inaccurate view of the events. Henry was anxious that he get his history right and spent one week ‘guiding his pen.’ That didn’t stop Matthew at other times from castigating the king for allowing the pope to treat England as a personal fief and for stocking his court, castles and churches with foreign relatives and favorites. His support for the reforming cause was picked up after his death in 1259 by other sympathetic chroniclers.
    The Chronicle of Melrose goes so far as to compare Simon de Montfort to Simon the apostle, while the one in Lanercost claims to have information from Simon’s confessor. The Annals of Waverly are a major source for the story of Little Hugh and the unfortunate Jews of Lincoln. William of Rishinger, while an avid supporter of the reformists, does not shy away from describing the wretched state of affairs caused by the civil war. Simon was reported to have visited the priory in Dunstable, where a similar record was kept, even becoming a brother there. Robert of Gloucester attempted to acquaint simple Englishmen with the story through verse and showed he was a much better historian than poet. Thomas of Wykes is the only noted royalist among the chroniclers. Indifferent to Henry, he praises Edward throughout while blaming Montfort and his sons for most of the trouble.

Political Songs

The extent to which popular feeling ran against the royalists can be seen in the political songs composed during this period. Usually written in Latin, French or Anglo-Norman and sung by wandering minstrels and friars, the nationalist sentiment of the rebellion provided the occasion for the first such song to appear in English. Meant to be sung on the streets and in the taverns, the subject was Richard and his capture at Lewes. Although a much abler man than his brother Henry, Richard had lost the goodwill of the common folk for putting the presumptuous title of Augustus in his name and scoffing at the compensation offered to him by the reformists.


Sitteþ alle stille & herkneþ to me!
þe kyng of alemaigne, bi mi leaute,
þritti þousent pound askede he
fforte make þe pees in þe countre,
ant so he dude more.
Richard, þah þou be euer trichard
tricchen shalt þou neuermore!

Sire simond de mountfort haþ suore bi ys chyn,
heuede he nou here þe erl of waryn,
shulde he neuer more come to is yn,
ne wiþ sheld ne wiþ spere ne wiþ oþer gyn,
to help of Wyndesore.
Richard, þah þou be euer trichard,
tricchen shalt þou neuermore!

Sit all still and listen to me
the King of Alemaigne by my loyalty
30,000 pounds asked he
to make peace in the country
And so he did more
Richard, though thou art ever a traitor,
a deceiver thou shalt be nevermore

Sir Simon de Montfort hath sworn by his chin
had he now here the Earl of Warenne
He should never more come to his inn
neither with shield, spear, nor engine
to help Windsor
Richard, though thou art ever a traitor,
A deceiver thou shalt be nevermore.

The Song of Lewes

This more profound retelling of the struggle is an epic poem of nearly 1,000 lines of rhyming couplets. The biblical imagery and proximity to events suggest the author was a Franciscan friar closely connected to Simon’s household. Written in Latin for the benefit of clerics and academics, it puts forth the case of both parties with the decided intent of coming out in favor of ‘the law over royal prerogative.’ The principal antagonists are Simon and Edward, evidence that Edward had already supplanted Henry as the leader of the royalist faction. But where Simon is exalted to heaven for his courage and fidelity, Edward is condemned for his treachery and guile. Woe betides the country ruled over by such a king.

Eleanor’s Household Roll
Part of Eleanor's Roll
Part of Eleanor’s Roll

One of the more remarkable works to have come down is the record of household accounts maintained by Eleanor in the last six months before her husband’s downfall. Taken with her to France, it was discovered some five centuries later at the abbey where she resided until her death in 1275. The roll offers a glimpse into the daily life of a medieval household, in particular what foods they ate.
    As might be expected, bread made from wheat and rye was the staple of the family diet. As might also be expected, servants and dogs got corn or more inferior grains. No mention was made whether yeast was used in baking either variety.
    The wine they drank was typically from Gascony and consumed in great quantity, more often than not mixed to obtain a sweet flavor and therefore known as Bastard. Beer also found great popularity, this in an age before hops were discovered. Pepper and other spices were usually added to alleviate the flatness of the brew. The brewers tended to be women and one entry shows the family purchasing 188 gallons for a little over half a penny per gallon. Cider from Normandy seems to have been purchased solely for the benefit of paupers.
    The propensity for strong flavors at that time can be seen in the types of meat served. In addition to oxen, sheep and pork, the medieval gullet had a fondness for whale and porpoise from the sea, eel and crayfish from rivers, and any species of bird they could get their hands on, be it swan, crane or peacock. Tongues and tails were especially savored.

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