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Years 1399-1485 page 9

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An excellent historian of the last generation has said, "When a country continues to be inhabited by the same people, living under the same Government, professing the same religion, and speaking the same language, as the people of Britain did at this period, the changes in their manners, customs, virtues, vices, language, dress, diet, and diversions, are slow and almost imperceptible. These changes are, however, like the motion of the shadow on the sun-dial, real, and in process of time become conspicuous. If the heroic Henry V. were now to rise from the dead, and appear in the streets of London mounted on his war horse, and clothed in complete armour, what astonishment would he excite in the admiring multitude! How much would he be surprised at every object around him! If he were conducted to St. Paul's, he would neither know the church nor understand the service. In a word, he would believe himself to be in a city and amongst a people that he had never seen."

Betwixt the people of the fourteenth and fifteenth century, we should not therefore suppose there could be a very marked difference. Yet change, and the seeds of immense change, were actively at work. The revival of Greek literature, the invention of printing, and the progress of new ideas in church government and religious doctrines, were preparing the most complete revolution of mind, of state maxims, and of manners, which the world had never seen. The combined influence of the high-toned republican spirit of Greece, and of the cosmopolitan principles of the Gospel, the nobler tastes and more graceful imaginations infused by the Hellenic poets and philosophers, the profoundly just, generous, and popular sentiments of the Bible, were destined inevitably to produce a more enlarged and exalted standard of feeling and opinion, and to revolutionise all the ideas and practices of the country.

On morals and on manners these causes were yet too recent to have produced much effect. On the contrary, the wars, the strifes, the vile passions generated in the courts of both this country and France, and spreading with the desolating rapidity of the plague, had sunk the nation lower than ever. All principle and virtue appeared extinct. The change began in the outward husk of society. Already it was seen that the old feudal system was tumbling piecemeal. The barons had broken loose from their engagements, and civil war had decimated them. Even in the social pomp and circumstance of the system, vicissitude was making itself visible. Caxton cried out even more vehemently than Burke in our times: "The days of chivalry are gone." "Oh, ye knyghtes of Englande!" he exclaimed, "where is the custome and usage of noble chyvalry that was used in those days? What do ye now but go to the baynes and play at dyse? How many knyghtes ben ther now in England, that have thuse and thexercise of a knyghte? That is to wite, that he knoweth his horse and his horse him."

And honest William Caxton hoped to re-inspire them with the dying fires of chivalry by reading the romances which he printed. "Leve this, leve it, and rede the noble volumes of St. Graal, of Lancelot, of Galaad, of Trystram, of Perse Porest, of Percyval, of Grawayn, and many mor: ther shall ye see manhode, curtosye, and gentylness."

But though the spirit of chivalry was gone, the forms of it still lived, and tournaments were still celebrated when actual war did not present more serious exercise of arms. Henry V. of England and James I. of Scotland were renowned for their skill in tilting, and in all knightly arts. The great Earl of Warwick was not less so. The kings still granted royal protections to foreign princes and nobles to come hither and joust with our knights. Thus, the Bastard of Burgundy came over and tilted with Anthony Wydville, Earl Rivers, in Smithfield, before the court and public. Sometimes there was a general tournament, in which as many as thirty or forty knights of a side attacked each other with spears and battleaxes, and it became a real battle.

Our great barons still kept up their huge retinues and huge houses, as we have stated. There they kept up a rude state, like kings. They had their privy councillors, marshals, treasurers, stewards, secretaries, heralds, seneschals; their pursuivants, pages, guards, trumpeters; their bands of minstrels, their jesters, buffoons, tumblers, and all sorts of ministers to their amusement. In their style of living there was a rude abundance, a prodigality far from refined. They had four meals in the day: breakfast at seven, dinner at ten, supper at four in the afternoon, and a meal called the "livery," which was taken just before going to bed. The common people were much later in their hours of eating. They breakfasted at eight, dined at twelve, and supped at six. The fashionable hours of the present day are almost precisely those of the common people then, if we call the twelve o'clock dinner a luncheon, and the supper at six dinner. So does one age reverse the habits of another.

The account which we have of supplies of the table of the nobility of this century as presented in the Household Book of the Percys, is something startling. The breakfast of the Earl and Countess of Northumberland was "first a loaf of bread in trenchers, two manchetts, a quart of beer, a quart of wine, half a chyne of mutton, or a chyne of beef boiled." The livery, or evening collation for the lord and lady, was equally abundant, having dined and supped, be it remembered, "first two manchetts, a loaf of household bread, a gallon of beer, and a quart of wine," which was warmed and spiced. Though we cannot suppose them to have got through half this provision, the whole account of the age shows that it was addicted to profusely good living. The tables at dinner were loaded with huge pewter dishes filled with salted beef, mutton, and butcher's meat of all kinds; venison, poultry, sea-fowls, wild boar, wild fowls, game, fish, &c., and they were luxurious in pies and baked meats of many sorts. The side-boards were plentifully furnished with ale, beer, and wines of Spain and France, which were handed to the guests as called for, in silver, pewter, or wooden cups, by the marshals, grooms, yeomen, and waiters of the chamber, ranged in regular order. Yet amid all this state the guests used their fingers instead of forks, which were not yet invented. Though they sat down to dinner at ten in the forenoon, they did not rise till one, thus spending three of the best hours of the day in gormandising. Meantime they were entertained by the songs and harps of the minstrels, the jests of the fool, the tricks of jugglers, and the tumbling and capering of dancers. After each course came in what they called suttleties - figures in pastry of men, women, beasts, birds, &c., set on the table to be admired, but not touched, and each had a label attached, containing some witty or wise saying; whence their name. The monks and secular clergy are reported to have been especial lovers of the table. The monks in rich monasteries lived even more fully and richly than any order of men in the kingdom. The cook was one of the brethren who was

elevated to that office for his genius in that department, and was held in high honour. The historian of Croyland speaks in raptures of brother Lawrence Chateres, the cook of that monastery, who, "prompted by the love of God, and zeal for religion, had given 40 (400 of our money) for the recreation of the convent with the milk of almonds on fish days." Almonds, milk of almonds, sugar, honey, and spices, appear to have been plentiful in all the monasteries, and these dainties were much adorned with gold-leaf, powder of gold, and brilliant pigments.

The secular clergy celebrated in the churches five times in the year what they plainly called glutton-masses. Early in the morning the people flocked in, bringing all sorts of roast and boiled meats and substantial viands, and strong drinks; and, as soon as the mass was ended, they all fell to in right earnest, and finished the day in unbounded riot and intemperance. The clergy and people of different parishes vied in the endeavour to have the greatest glutton-mass, and to devour the greatest quantity of meat and drink in honour of the Holy Virgin!

The sports and pastimes of this age were very much the same as those of the preceding one. Besides jousts and tournaments, they were keen pursuers of the sports of the field. They were accustomed to sit hours, and even successive days, over what appear to us very dull plays, both sacred and profane, called mysteries, moralities, and miracle-plays. They had also all sorts of public pageants, attended by every species of minstrels, jugglers, mummers, rope-dancers, and mountebanks. Their more simple and healthy sports were foot-ball, trap-ball, and hand-ball, at which the aristocracy played on horseback, as well as on foot, for large sums. They had a large kind of leather ball, probably filled with air, which they propelled sometimes by bats and sometimes merely with the hand. In Scotland, when James I. was anxious to introduce archery, he forbade foot-ball, quoits, and similar popular games, as well as a game which was called "cloish, kayles, half-bowl, handin-handout, and quickeaborde." Card-playing was still checked by the high price of a pack of cards, which was 18s. 8d. at Paris, or upwards of 9 of our present money. In 1463 the English card-makers obtained an Act of Parliament to exclude foreign cards. The cause of their high price lay in their richly-gilded and painted figures.


The age was extravagant in dress. The long-toed shoes gave way a good deal from the reigns of Henry IV. to Henry VI. In 1463, two years after the accession of Edward IV., an Act was passed prohibiting any one making or wearing shoes or boots with pikes exceeding two inches. But in that reign, as if in disdain of the law, they burst forth more ridiculously than ever, and the power of the Church was called in to excommunicate the wearers, with as little effect. Towards the end of Edward IV.'s reign, shoes and boots began to spread as wide as they before had been elongated, and another Act was passed, forbidding them being more than six inches broad at the toe. The long-toes, however, did not go quite out till the reign of Henry VII.

The lower garment of gentlemen during this period was all of one piece from the foot to the waist. There were no separate stockings and pantaloons. This dress fitted as tight to their limbs as possible. Their upper garments were of various kinds and shapes. In Henry IV.'s reign the caps were generally turned up at the sides, some larger, some less, a good deal resembling turbans. The elder gentlemen much affected a close-fitting gown, or coat, with skirts reaching to the feet. It was buttoned down the front, and had a row of similar buttons under each sleeve from the elbow. His broad hat was turned up behind, and under it he wore a hood which clothed both head, neck, and shoulders, like a cape. The younger wore tunics, fitting the body, belted at the waist, and with skirts terminating at the knee. The sleeves were wide, but not so long as in the preceding or succeeding reign.

The dress of the ladies of Henry IV.'s time was remarkable for the very singular gown, open at the sides, and showing the dress beneath, called the sideless gown. This dress is conspicuous in the effigies of the Countess of Female Costume. Royal MS. 16 G. 5.

Arundel, Lady de Thorpe, the Countess of Westmoreland, and others in Stothard's Effigies. They are striking from the width with which their hair is extended under a caul of jewelled network, over which frequently falls a veil, as if borne on a frame. Of this kind is the Countess of Arundel's, in Arundel Church. To such a preposterous extent was this head-dress carried in France, that it is said - we suppose in jest - that the doors of the palace of Vincennes were obliged to be both heightened and widened to admit Isabella of Bavaria, queen of Charles VI., and the ladies of her suite. The ladies also wore exceedingly rich and beautiful girdles, which depended to a great length in front, as may be seen in all those effigies. That of Lady Margaret Pennebrygg, in Shottesbrooke Church, Berkshire, has the hair dressed in more elaborate dimensions. The collar of SS, or Esses, made its appearance in this reign as a badge of honour; but, like the order of the Garter, and the feathers of the Prince of Wales, the origin is uncertain. Amongst the various conjectures of heralds and antiquaries, that of Sir Samuel Meyrick that it was the motto of Henry IV., while Earl of Derby. "Souveraine," is, perhaps, the most probable one, In the reign of Henry V. the tunic became shorter and the sleeves immensely longer: they actually swept the ground. Occleve ridiculed these sleeves: -

"Now hath this land little nede of broomes,
To sweep away the filth out of the streetes,
Sin side sleeves of penniless groomes
Will it uplicke, be it dry or weete."

Sometimes these sleeves were fancifully indented on the edges, or cut in the form of leaves. In all this century beards were close shaven, except by men of mature age.

The ladies of this reign continued and even exaggerated the stupendous head-dresses, like that of the Countess of Arundel. They actually wore horns, on which they hung their veils and ribbons. From the horn on the right side a streamer of silk or other light fabric was hung, which was sometimes allowed to fly loose, and sometimes brought over the bosom and wrapped over the left arm. The head-dress of some ladies was more graceful, presenting the appearance of a square flat hat of embroidered silk, resembling that of the gown. This gown, or robe, with a long train and hanging sleeves, and the coat-hardie, appear as in the last reign. "Where the rich girdles remain the waist is shorter. We have as yet no trace of gloves.

The reign of Henry VI. presented dresses bearing a considerable likeness to those gone before, but now much trimmed with fur, long tippets frequently depending from the hat to the ground. The hair cut short, the caps or hats of fantastic shapes, worn sometimes with a single feather. The long-toed shoes re-appeared. State dresses were also much trimmed with fur. The ladies indulged in fanciful variations of the previous fashions. Their head-dresses had decreased in width, but had many of them risen in height. They were horned, or heart-shaped, and there were turbans of the genuine Turkish fashion. Tippets, or veils, were attached to the horned head-dresses. Their gowns had enormous trains; waists extremely short, and tightly girded. Their collars were often furred, and of the turn-over sort, coming to a point in front, and disclosing a vest, or stomacher, of a different colour to the robe. Women of the lowest estate, serving women, says one writer, put fur not only on their collars, but on the bottom of their dress, which fell about their heels, and was dragged in the mire.

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Pictures for Years 1399-1485 page 9

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