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What do you eat off

Posted: Tue Mar 24, 2009 11:56 pm
by Jim Smith
...if you're members of a late fifteenth century retinue?

Since we're now including a sit down meal as part of our LH display, we've started to give some thought to what we're eating off. We were considering replacing our somewhat mismatched collection of wooden bowels with trenchers - the sort with a slightly hollowed out scoop in the middle. (I don't mean the ones with the hole for the salt - we know they're post C16).
We've since found indications that the whole trencher thing could be one big re-enactorism - the sort circulated by word of mouth and observed example until regarded as an unvarnished truth. Indeed, a quick trawl through the visual sources turns up some of the small thin rectangular trenchers (the kind we've been told were used only for desserts), and people using plates.

So, my question is this - what tableware was in use in the late C15 and under what circumstances?[/b]

Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2009 6:31 am
by Merlon.
Not my period at all.
But if the Retinue represents anyone of status surely they won't be eating off wooden trenchers.
My naive thought would be plates
your nearest pottery reference section per is:-

Archaeology Section,
The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Bethesda St, Hanley, Stoke on Trent
ST1 3DE.

Might be worth talking to them

Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2009 9:49 am
by Dave B
Have a look at the Museum of London book 'The medieval Household'

It has quite a bit on this sort of thing. OK it's based around what people had in thier household, not on a military campeign, but may be relevant.

I'll have a look next time I'm home but I think it suggests shallow wooden bowls, possibly with inlays / embelishments if high status. I dont recall there being much in the way of pottery plates for this period, pottery being more for cooking, serving and storing than for eating.

I'm happy to be corrected though, and will go away and check my assumtions at the weekend.

Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2009 10:23 am
by X
The pictures I have of people eating (high and low status) appear to show either the little rectangular trenchers or, more usually, plates. They seem to have quite a wide, flat lip to them, like traditional dinner plates.

Retinue and status is kind of a sliding scale. At the top end, you have Lord So-and-So (high status) and at the bottom end you have the stable boys and kitchen boys (low status). Just being part of a retinue doesn't mean you've got any right to use posh flatware...

Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2009 10:44 am
by robin wood
My research is mostly based on archaeological finds and there is no question that the most common form surviving archaeologically from the 15th is a bowl not a dish, trencher or plate. We do see the thin rectangular trencher type thing in some illustrations and a few thin round turned ones but bear in mind nearly all the contemporary illustrations from this period are high status. There are a few platers surviving, two from St Mary Spital in London come to mind but they are few compared to the many hundreds of bowls that survive.

The whole idea of the sit down meal at a table I would question. My gut feeling is that tables were pretty uncommon things outside the manorial hall at this period, maybe set up occasionally for special occasions see the later Breugal paintings like the Wedding Feast. This is a view shared by Victor Chinnery author of "Oak Furniture the British tradition" and born out by contemporary inventories. If you are not sat at a table then a dish or bowl that is easy to hold in the hand makes sense.

Tables become common in normal homes in the 17th C and not surprisingly that is also the period when flat open forms (plates and dishes) also become common in both pot and wood.

Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2009 11:20 am
by Dave B
I may look at it differently, as we've always tried to stay further down the status ladder, but also I would have thought a shallowish bowl generaly practicable in the way a mess tin is to a later period soldier.

You can eat soup or stew, drink water, or eat meat and bread with it. you can tuck it in your bag when walking rather than going back to the cart to unpack a plate, and it isn't so likely to break.

I suppose it also depends what you think people mostly ate. the recepies I've seen seem to suggest a lot of potages and similar. I sort of envisage most people on campeign eating breads of one sort or another and pottage when they could set up for a hot meal?

Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2009 2:20 pm
by Marcus Woodhouse
There is a chapter on this subject in Food and Feast in Medieval England as well.

I have a copy if you wish to borrow it Jim.

Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2009 6:49 pm
by Jim Smith
Thanks guys - that gives us a lot to think about.

We appreciate that a sit-down meal would not generally occur in the context of a military camp. However, our group set-up is not strictly military. In order to make it look military, we'd have to ditch... well, pretty much most of the group really. Scrivener/secretary, carpenter, blacksmith, weaver, one of the cooks, all the kids. We look far more like a civilian household - just without the house. This is unfortunately the price of being a craft-heavy group. (Discussions regarding the acquisition of a suitable house, and how this might be transported, have been shelved for the present, along with the one about how what we really need is a trebuchet. As well as a house.)

Another reason is that when the cooks produce two kinds of pie, fresh bread, salad, cold meat, cheese, and at least one hot dish, all this needs to be put somewhere, and a table is the best place for it - so it's either going to be a sit-down meal or a buffet, whichever way you look at it.

The final reason we decided on a sit-down meal rather than a buffet is that it brings the group together. We are a small group and widely scattered geographically, so we can't meet up much other than at events. Also, with kids in the group, whole-group beer-tent opportunities are less now than they have been in the past. With most members operating their own displays during public hours, a get-together in the middle of the day can be very valuable for continued group cohesion - as well as a sanity break.

It's one of the difficult authenticity decisions: how much weight do we give context in the consideration of whether or not something is authentic? If we say that since most events portray a military environment, anything that should not be present in a military environment has to be dropped, that would change the face of re-enactment utterly - and probably not in a good way (military camps being actually pretty dull). At the other extreme, there's the "Well, they had them in Timbuctoo in the fifteenth century, so I'm having one" argument.

Everyone would probably acknowledge that banning women and children from most events because they wouldn't have been present in a military encampment is wrong (Edward IV had Views). Equally, most people would agree that using a samurai sword during a re-enactment of the battle of Bosworth would be wrong. But in between there's the grey area which includes a multiple-dish meal sat at a sixteen-foot table in the middle of a field.

We believe that although context is a bit of a problem, the benefits (the cookery display that precedes it and the opportunity to show a mediaeval meal) outweigh the disadvantages, especially if we explain that this is not how soldiers ate in the field and is more suitable to a large household - as indeed we already do for other bits of the show.

Mostly shallow bowls, then...

Re: What do you eat off

Posted: Thu Mar 26, 2009 3:08 am
by Karen Larsdatter
I think it depends on what sort of portrayal the individual members of the retinue are meant to represent, doesn't it? The officers and/or noblemen would have a different sort of eating/serving ware than the men-at-arms (with the additional expectation that the officers/noblemen would actually be served at mealtime).

We generally do 14th or 15th century when we go to SCA events here, but I try to pack our dishes around the sort of portrayal that parallels the clothes we're wearing for the day. (And the clothes we pick for a day event are generally a reflection of the sort of work we suspect we'll be doing at the event, too -- we're more likely to wear scruffy working-people clothing if we're going to be doing a lot of work, or if the site is largely outdoors; but if the site is mostly indoors, and we're not expecting to have a lot of work to do ourselves, like feast-cooking and whatnot, then we're more likely to wear the fancier stuff.)

So, when we're dressing up, I might plan to use our trenchers & spoons from Billy & Charlie, our "nice" fork-and-knife carving set, silver beakers to drink from, a good white linen tablecloth, and perhaps some maiolica (which was imported from Italy into England by this point) and/or glassware if I'm feeling comfortable about the possibility of not breaking the lot of it.

But if we're dressing down, the metalware gets replaced by woodware and plainer ceramics, usually stoneware. We have horn spoons and beakers, but we haven't brought them to events in a while.

As to the whole "would they have eaten on tables" thing -- I think this, too, depends on which part of the retinue we're talking about, but the example that's leaping into my brain at the moment is the mealtime scene in the Encampment of Charles V, which is probably a good fifty years after what you're looking for. There's certainly plenty of examples of 15th century people eating meals either outdoors and/or in tents, but they're less in a "retinue on campaign" situation.

Posted: Thu Mar 26, 2009 2:03 pm
by Colin Middleton

What little I've drawn from my 'research' so far leads me to beleive that there is no military household. When the household travels, it's members take up arms to defend themselves and their lord (Richard of Gloucter came South with armed men, but many don't consider this odd), so what wll be the difference between teh military and civilian encampment. It's only when the individual households join togeather with the city levies and such to form the army, that things start to change. The none combatants are (for the most part) left somewhere safe (in the case of the Tewkesbury campaign, they were left there after Barnet, as the army force marched), while those going to fight went to find death or glory. I can't find anything to support this idea of a bunch of soldiers rolling round the countryside (armed and armoured carpenters and scibes, yes, 'soldiers', not in the 15th C).

As for what to eat off of, I'd go for bread and bowls. The gentry can sit at table with their tencher bases and trencher breads, the grooms and yeomen, pirch on stools and benches (and ground if it's dry enough) and eat from hand held bowls.

Posted: Thu Mar 26, 2009 3:05 pm
by X
The problem lies in the difference between real history and re-enactment.

If you have a bunch of re-enactors who portray civilian/crafty type stuff, then they look a lot more like a 'real retinue'. Joe Lord Soap goes from Manor A to Manor B, and takes along either his whole staff, or just his cut-down riding retinue. Either way, everybody's got a civvy job (unless Lord Soap is rich enough to employ men just to stand around being soldierly) and most of the men will have a military role as well. If Lady Soap is along too, then there'll be her maids and ladies-in-waiting too.

On a military campaign, you'd have the male section of the retinue along (but not Lady Soap and her crowd) for most of the time, and leave the non-combatants behind for the rough stuff.

Immediately-pre-battle, therefore, you'd just have the 'soldiers' left - OK, not professional soldiers, as in that's all they did with their time, but they are soldiers in that they're tooled up to the eyebrows and intending to cause a breach of the peace (i.e., war). The TA, basically - secretaries and cooks right up until Lord Soap invokes the military part of their indentures.

However, what we have in re-enactment terms is often a different situation. The women and children are along, so it looks like just a trip from Manor A to Manor B - otherwise wives and kids get left at home to mind the shop/manor. On the other hand, there's an awful lot of weapon-ness and armourality kicking around. Besides, there's a whole bunch of different retinues all together, so it's clearly a military camp not just a road trip to the summer place.

Let's face it - for multi-group battle events, we are not faithfully portraying any type of camp. Too many women and other civilian appurtenances for military - too many retinues for civilian. And there's not a great deal we can do about it if we are to continue to have re-enactment as a hobby that everyone can enjoy all the time, not just people with a Y chromosome, with the wife and kids invited along to a couple of events to provide local colour when required.

At a single-group event, it's much easier to set the scene how you want; and, indeed, Lord and Lady Soap travelling with their retinue would in many green-field sites be the most logical situation to portray as it allows a place for everyone without bringing along a house (the mind boggles, it really does, really discussing how to move a house?).

So, in fact, there is a civilian and a military retinue: it's just that the military retinue is the civilian one with all the people who are non-essential to a military situation (like Lady Soap) removed.

Alternatively, one could say that the civilian retinue includes a military component, but the military retinue does not contain a purely cilivian component (Lord Soap's secretary counts as military because he will still need to do the accounts: he's the equivalent of the Adjutant General's Corps).

So still bowls...

I can't find any mediaeval evidence for those square wooden trencher thingies with the depression in the middle. Which is a pity, because I bet they stack really well in a chest, unlike bowls.

Trencher bread is another interesting thing; I've got a few pictures of even ordinary people eating off/out of what looks like either plates or bowls. And from what I've read, used trencher bread was fed to the domestic animals or given to the poor. It was certainly considered more than a little infra dig to eat your trencher yourself.

So, if we don't have any evidence for wooden trenchers in the 15th century (and if anyone has some, please provide it, as they are so easy to store) who would have used the bread ones? Everyone - or just those rich enough to be able to buy bread in order to throw it away?

In a travelling situation, too, I would have thought that bowls/plates would probably have been more practical. Washing up might not be enjoyable, but it's probably more convenient than carrying enough trencher bread for everyone to have a slice for every meal. On the other hand, we all know what thought did...

Posted: Thu Mar 26, 2009 3:30 pm
by Marcus Woodhouse
The Medieval Cookbook has a 14th century scene of men picnicing with their Lord whilst out hunting. I think it's supposed to be of Henry III or WillIam II but you know how the artists always then dress the painting in a contemprary manner. The same book goes into more detail about trenchers (both the ones you could eat and the ones you ate off), but no where as deatiled as Food and Feast does. You are meant to give away the bread part of a kebab as well rather than eat it. Which is a shame as it's likely to be the only digestable part of it.

Posted: Thu Mar 26, 2009 6:48 pm
by archerofthelevy
There are so many descriptions/pictures on this subject that it is really hard to know what is correct!

Belshazzar's feast shows the "lord" eating from bowls whilst his guests eat off what look like trenchers!

Various reports state that when on a hunt, his servants would load a cart with tables, tressles, food and drink and set up at a pre-arranged site ready for the lord and his quests to eat their mid day meal.

Countless "pictures" from manuscripts show various eating utensils including plates, bowls, trenchers etc.

We stick to what is "authentic" in terms of utensils and like you its a good time to talk with the group.

Posted: Thu Mar 26, 2009 8:50 pm
by Hraefn
10secs on google one 14thC one 15thC both from period documents

Cut your bread with your knife and break it not.
Lay a clean trencher before you, and when your
pottage is brought, take your spoon and eat quietly ;
and do not leave your spoon in the dish, I pray

Babbees book

FURST a Loif of Brede in Trenchers ij Manchetts a Quart
of Bere a Quart of Wyne ij Pecys of Saltfisch vj Baconn'd
Herryng iiij White Herryng or a Dysche of Sproits j


Posted: Thu Mar 26, 2009 9:02 pm
by gregory23b
You see trenchers in table settings, they are not reenactorisms as they are represented at least in image form and in text. But, the rectangular ones are as likely to be pewter as anything else.

To what extent they were used is up for debate. There is a school of thought that the bread trenchers had a much briefer life than we give credit for.

What will a bunch of men eat out of whilst on campaign?

Maybe, some have clubbed together to cook vittals and share out the pottage.

Maybe some have bought food ready cooked from sellers, we know they did this. So one option is to have the odd pie, cooked chicken merely being eaten/shared out without any table setting. So you could easily have a case where no cooking is actually needed, on the assumption that not all men are able to or want to carry their own cooking stuff, pots are expensive and weigh a lot.

For the wealthy a certain amount of decorum and place is needed, and the eating ritual is an important one, so why not have some table settings that are more formalised, more detailed.

anyway, some written references to trencher bread and trencher boards (wood)

(b) (?c1300) Sub.R.Lynn in Nrf.Archaeol.1 353: In ij trenchurs, j alvaz, ij s. ?a1325 Whose þenchiþ vp (Hrl 913) p.138: What wol men for þe sowle del? Corne no mel..Bot wel seld at þe mele A row3 bare trenchur oþer a crust. (1354) Doc.Finchale in Sur.Soc.6 p.xxxvii: Item, ij cultelli pro trenchores faciendis. (1392) Camd.n.s.52 218/30: Clerico pane pro trenchors, v duc. di. ?c1425 Arun.Cook.Recipes (Arun 334) 471: Take qwyte bred, and make therof trenchours, and tost hom, and lay hom on syde. a1450 Hrl.Cook.Bk.(1) (Hrl 279) 41: Take whyte Brede, & kytte to trenchours, & toste ham; take þin paste whyle it is hot, & sprede it vppe-on þin trenchourys with a spone. a1475 Bk.Courtesy (Sln 1986) 678,681: Moo loues of trenchirres at a brayde He settes..Two loues of trenchors and salt þo, He settes be-fore his son also. a1475 Russell Bk.Nurt.(Hrl 4011) 203: On þe lifft side of your trenchoure lay youre knyffe synguler & playn. a1475 Russell Bk.Nurt.(Hrl 4011) 323: Kervynge, of bred leiynge, voydynge of cromes, & trenchewre: with ij fyngurs and a thombe loke ye haue þe Cure. a1500 Weights in RHS ser.3.41 (Vsp E.9) 17: There ys a numbyr that ys called a stoke..thereby be sold Pruse trenchers, dysshes, and platters. (a1500) RHS ser.3.6 264: Item, in ye buttre, ii tabille clothis & a towelle, a bassene & an Ewere of pewder..iii dosen tryschurs [read: trynschurs].

(c) (1388) Inquis.Miscel.(PRO) 5.37: [A pair of table knives and a] trenchourknyf [worth 3 s. 4 d.]. (1392) in Löfvenberg Contrib.Lex. 53: Trenchour burde. (1425) Doc.Brewer in Bk.Lond.E. 187/1460: For white brede and trencheour brede, and iij pekkes of Flour fyn..vij s. x d. (c1451) Welch Hist.Pewterers Lond. 15: Item, j qware bolle molde iiij part ys, vij li.; Item, j Trechor [read: Trenchor] molde iiij part ys, v li. d. qa. (?1474) Stonor 1.147: Item, a coberde cloþe wyth iij towellys, and j trencher knyfe. a1475 Russell Bk.Nurt.(Hrl 4011) 197: Lay on þat arme viij louys bred with iij or iiij trenchere lovis. a1500 Gloss.Garland (Hrl 1002) 123: Mensaculos: trencher-knyvys.

a1475 Russell Bk.Nurt.(Hrl 4011) 52: Þow must haue iij knyffes..the iij sharpe & kene to smothe þe trenchurs and square

(1468-9) Stonor 1.101: For a servys of Trenchers, iiij d.; for ij salte, xiiij d., [etc.]

(1465) Feast Neville(2) 104: In the meane tyme the Sewer geveth a voyder to the Carver, and he doth voyde into it the Trenchers that lyeth under the Knyves poynt ... and so cleanseth the table cleane.

a1500 Rule Serve Ld.(Add 37969) 13/3: The marshall shall commonde ... som men to be þer redy with voyders for to take vp trenchoures and broken breed

Posted: Thu Mar 26, 2009 10:32 pm
by Hraefn
Now see what you done you've set G23b off on one.... calm down McManuel.
Pictures, now there's a thing. Paintings aren't photos and so can be a wee bit misleading at times, things are left out for the sake of confusion or artistic principles or even the fact of 'can't draw those so I won't'.
As an example I give you the Luttrell Psalter, the plough doesn't work, it looks like a plough but build it as it's shown and it just don't work right. The archers are shooting birding blunts into a butt (heehee I said butt) and the archers are shooting off their thumbs, the arrows have oversized knocks yaddayaddayadda

You can't rely soley on paintings, a broad spectrum using paintings documents and finds is the best way or just go for 'extrapilated from contemporary sources' =o)

Posted: Fri Mar 27, 2009 3:09 am
by Karen Larsdatter
Marcus Woodhouse wrote:The Medieval Cookbook has a 14th century scene of men picnicing with their Lord whilst out hunting. I think it's supposed to be of Henry III or WillIam II but you know how the artists always then dress the painting in a contemprary manner.
I suspect from your description that you're talking about this image from a 15th century version of the Book of the Hunt of Gaston Phoebus -- though there's other versions of the manuscript out there, too. :)

Posted: Fri Mar 27, 2009 5:45 pm
by gregory23b
"Now see what you done you've set G23b off on one.... calm down McManuel. "

Shut up you Eeenglish/Scoteesh peeg.

Posted: Fri Mar 27, 2009 11:05 pm
by Hraefn
:roll: *sigh* Typically overexcitable eastern Spaniard/jocko blend.....what was the word again.........porrigew.....


Posted: Mon Mar 30, 2009 10:39 pm
by jelayemprins
Jim said "We appreciate that a sit-down meal would not generally occur in the context of a military camp"

Totally disagree.

We don't have much imagery of medieval camp/soldier eating esp. from these islands, BUT if ye have a look in the Schilling chronicles from the 1470's, then there are loads of pics of the army sitting and dining together, on long forms, at trestle tables, with matching tableware. [ Am guessing wooden] And as if to reinforce that notion, there are images of the same people sitting in Hall eating communally.

Get away from the modern idea of one person having their own mug/platter/bowl and get a load of matching wooden items turned up, and some plain wooden trenchers made approx 10 x 5" and Uncle Robert has come to stay... [bobs yer uncle]

It aint new thinking - Wolfbane and my household at Gainsborough did it in the 90's- it works, looks right, 'feels' right and I'm sure it is right. Remember this is descibed as eating in a 'mess' in all period docs.

From the Black Book of the Household of Ed IV
"Office of Picherhouse & Cuphouse" The chef yoman of this office hath in charge under the sergent of seller the kepying of all the POTS & CUPS OF SILVER, POTS OF LEATHER, TANKARDS OF EARTH, ASH CUPS, cofers, gardevaindes, hangers and all other stuff that is from this office' [my capitals & spelling improved'

This is kept in


Posted: Tue Mar 31, 2009 12:53 pm
by Colin Middleton
jelayemprins wrote:ASH CUPS

That's something that I've never heard of before. Or might this be another name for the drinking bowls?

Posted: Tue Mar 31, 2009 1:35 pm
by Marcus Woodhouse
Oh come on Colin didn't you know that everyone ate ash in the 15th century.

I mean get with it will youse... :roll:

Posted: Tue Mar 31, 2009 5:19 pm
by gregory23b
"our somewhat mismatched collection of wooden bowels "


How are you stools then? also wooden?

Posted: Tue Mar 31, 2009 5:27 pm
by lidimy
Marcus Woodhouse wrote:Oh come on Colin didn't you know that everyone ate ash in the 15th century.

I mean get with it will youse... :roll:
Oh right... so mud was only for posh people then???

Posted: Tue Mar 31, 2009 11:00 pm
by Hraefn
Big communal bowl of stooooooooo and a spoon each for the plebs, like in one of the pewter badges that they found in Southwark.