Arts and Sciences

Articles in this section discuss the various artistic and practical endeavors that enriched the lives of people in the Middle Ages.

Surely You Jest!, by Gilder the Jester

I being the only member of Alderford that dresses as a fool, was asked to write an article. I say dressed because I am not the only fool, just the one that displays it with his/her clothes. We all know what fools are and do, because in some point in the day each of us is one. The common expressions we use show this. Some "play the fool", and some "get played as a fool". Others just "fool" around, and act "foolishly".

I am fool for one main reason. I live to make people happy, to make them laugh. I also love the attention. I learned at an early age, those lovely elementary and junior high days, to use laughter as a defense. I take jesting very seriously. It is an art form, a spontaneous comedy.

I won't go into the history of fools for I can not do it justice. A good book I found on this is Reality in a looking-glass : rationality through an analysis of traditional folly by Anton Zijderveld. Another good article, by a Scadian, is The Complete Fool Primer by Malinda Terry. It is just that: a primer, although I will have to disagree with her on the topic of natural and unnatural fools. The water gets a little cloudy here.

During the Middle Ages, and well before, there were natural fools and unnatural fools. Natural fools, were dwarfs, deformed people, mad, or any other social outcast. They became fools to defend themselves, so that they would have a place in society. These fools where often seen as pets (Don't get any ideas) by their masters, like one would take in a stray dog or cats. It was a charitable thing to have a natural fool. Thus they were treated somewhat well. Some got the red carpet and others got laughed at and kicked more than normal, but got food. Dwarf throwing contests where not unheard of.

Unnatural fools, were normal people. Some were just normal people making a living as entertainers. To further their careers some made themselves out to be natural fools. They pretended to be insane, or made up some deformity. Many great fools were very intelligent people. I won't say anyone can be a fool, that would make me look foolish for being one. But we all can do it sometimes, I just choose to do it most of the time. Well, I'll wrap this up with some good quotes and maxims, I love them.

The way of the fool is right in his own eyes.
Let a fool hold his tongue and he will pass for a sage.
&emdash; Publilius Syrus (Have to work on that)

There is no great genius without some touch of madness.
&emdash; Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Never stick peas in your nose.
&emdash; Goofy

All the worlds indeed a stage, and we are merely players.
Performers and portrayers,
Each another's audience...
&emdash; Neil Peart, RUSH

The Fine Art of Documentation, by Ailith Mackintosh

I wasn't sure how to do documentation for my garb, so I asked Mistress Rondinella to send some examples of documentation and how to go about doing it. I believe the basic style of documentation for any period art or science would be very similar to the format that she recommends.

Documentation is just like a short newspaper article. You need to get across certain facts as simply and quickly as possible. It is easy if you follow the reporter's way of writing using "What, When and How."

Begin by saying "this is a _____ from _____," and the year (When). Then show What you are basing this on. Try to have a photo of the actual article (post cards are great, a plate in a book, or a photocopy of the original piece.) Next is How. This is, of course, the big one, but you will do fine if you break it down. When doing garb, show: color choice, design (seams and special touches), and fabric choice.

If I were to document the dress from the Stadl, I would first show a picture of the gown, say that this dress is Italian, based on the portrait, then I would explain why I chose the fabric and color and show how they are period or why they were used as a substitution. The gown has couching on it. I would talk about it and cite another source as well to show that this technique is one that was widely used.

Next I would discuss the cut of the gown, why the seams are where they are, why I lined it, and why the grommets are covered. I would cover other specific techniques, like cartridge pleating. Be sure to footnote so that the judge knows where you got your information. A bibliography is essential. It will show the judge what your sources are and help her/him to determine if you are making a valid assumption based on a good source, or an incorrect assumption based on a bad source.

There are several types of sources. A primary source is the actual garment or sword or whatever. A secondary souce is a period painting/fresco/drawing/description of the item. Either of these is acceptable. Tertiary sources are non-period paintings, artists' sketches of what an author "thinks" an article should look like. Never use a tertiary source. Try to keep your text to one page. Your bibliography can be a second page.Be honorable. NEVER use anyone else's documentation! The research is part of the fun (and it REALLY is FUN!) You learn so much more if you've done the documentation yourself! If you have any questions, I will do my best to answer them, or else find someone who can!

The following is an example of documentation for a gown that Mistress Rondinella made for the 25 Year Celebration of the Society. I think it will give you a good idea of how to do your own documentation.

This gown is based on the painting "Portrait of a Lady" by Lorenzo Lotto (postcard displayed). It hangs in the National Gallery, London, England, and is dated 1530.

I have chosen cotton for my fabric as I wanted something cool and easy to care for. Cotton was readily available in Europe from the beginning of the 13th century1 and it takes a dye easily. Both green and gold were possible to obtain at the time. The gold hue could have been obtained through the use of onion skins or the berries and leaves of the mulberry bush; the green by using mulberry leaves or woad2.

The gown laces down the front to the waist and is open another four inches beyond. We can see this from the fur lining which peeks out below the waist in the front. The entire bodice was lined as existing garments from the century show.3 All lacing holes were made with grommets and then the grommets were carefully covered for strength and a finished look. Garments of this century did have their grommets covered as can be seen in the Eleanora of Toledo dress as featured in Patterns of Fashion by Janet Arnold.

The skirt is cartridge pleated, as can be seen by the rounded pleats, the same as the original. Cartridge pleating is achieved by gathering the fabric at equal intervals and sewing it to the bodice. Cartridge pleats must be sewn finished edge to finished edge. To achieve the finished edge on the skirt, I folded the material back. In the portrait, another piece of fabric was sewn to the top of the skirt and left to hang like a modern peplum. I omitted this since I was concerned about the gown being too warm; I also omitted the fur lining for the same reason. Snaps were also added to secure the front since the gown tended to gape open below the waist. I believe that the original garment had heavier fabric which would have made this problem minimal or may perhaps, have been secured with hooks and eyes.

The entire garment is pieces. Using the subject's hands as a guide, I determined that the thin stripes were one inch wide. Size was adjusted in the wider panels. There is a pattern to the stripes; this pattern is repeated throughout the bodice, skirt, and sleeves of the gown. The pattern also helped me to determine the proper widths of certain sections of the gown and the shape of the shoulder. In the portrait, one can see the top of the shoulder has four stripes, while the body has only three. This fourth stripe produces a dropped shoulder effect.

The chemise word with this gown is of cotton and gathered as if for cartridge pleating to achieve the ruffled effect. There is also a corset and petticoat under the gown to achieve the overall look.


1Black and Garland. A History of Fashion. (New York, William Morrow & Company, Inc., 1975) p. 103 & 129.

2Berenice Gillette Connor, Dyes from your Garden. (Miami, Florida, E.A. Seemann Publishing, Inc., 1975) p. 88 & 91.

3Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion 1560-1620. (New York, Drama Books, 1985) p. 20 & 26.


Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion 1560-1620. New York, Drama Books, 1985.

Black and Garland. A History of Fashion. New York. William Morrow & Company, Inc. 1975

Boucher, Francois. A History of Costume in the West. London. Thames and Hudson Ltd. 1988.

Connor, Berenice Gillett. Dyes from your Garden. Miami, Florida. Seemann Publishing Inc., 1975.

Wilson, Michael. The National Gallery of London. London. MacDonald and Company Ltd. 1988.

The Herbalist's Kitchen, by Francesca de Onorati

As we do research into areas that fascinate us, we discover any number of related areas that also become interesting. As I do research for recipes in my time period I have become fascinated by herbs and spices, and their usage in curing various illnesses (real and imagined!). I've put together a list of some of the more common plants that you might have found in a medieval garden, and some interesting facts about them.* Hopefully someday I will be able to take you on a walk through a garden of Francesca's time.

Herbs were grown to add taste to various foods (or cover the taste up in some instances!), and some of them provided a pleasure to look at as well.

Borage which is used in salads has bright blue flowers that may be candied and bloom all summer.

Basil has small white flowers in tall white spikes that smell wonderful. It 's leaves are used in salads, vinegars, soups and stews. It also has mild antiseptic powers, and if made into a tea and sipped it is suppose to relieve nausea.

Bay is a beautiful evergreen shrub that does well in warm climates, and has to be grown as a tub plant in this latitude. It's a wonderful addition to stews, and rice, but it can very nauseating if too much is used.

Chamomile used to grow wild until someone tried making it's dried flowers into a delicious tea. The tea is used to help insomnia, and teething babies (in very small amounts), and is suppose to be an aid to digestion. Externally it can be used as a complexion brightener or for "giving life" to tired blonde hair.

Coriander may have been one of the first herbs ever used in cooking by the Chinese more than 5000 years ago. It has fragile pink flowers, and while the fresh seed smell like old cloth, the dried seeds are delicious in meats, cheeses, soups, and salads. This is one of the ingredients used in making curry powder, and it is suppose to help with arthritis, and also work as an antacid.

Dill is probably one of the herbs that were introduced into Britain and Northern Europe by the Romans. Dill tea was used for centuries for fretful infants. The young leaves improve the flavor of fish and soups delightfully, and the seeds are used in pickles, sauces and sauerkraut.

Fennel comes in two varieties. Sweet fennel is a beloved seasoning of the Italians, and they use the leaves with fish, the seeds with cheese, eggs, fish, in cakes and on vegetables. The other type of fennel is a root vegetable and is used much the same as the sweet fennel.

Garlic has had many names, but there are very few that don't find it's pungent flavor appealing in stews, salads, and sauces. Garlic has been called a panacea for all ills by some and it has been found to have great antiseptic properties. It is said to keep fleas off of dogs and cats, and possibly even humans!

Horehound has been known since ancient times as a medicinal plant, but has only recently (19th century) been used for flavorings for candy. It was used as a syrup for head colds to clear the phlegm out of ones head and throat.

Marigold produces bright orange and yellow flowers and may be used sparingly to replace saffron in dishes. It was also thought to be a good combatant against the plague. A tincture of it's flowers can be used to take the sting out of insect bites, the pain out of burns and scalds, and as a styptic to stop bleeding from deep knife wounds.

Parsley can make an interesting border, and it's uses are many and varied. It was a cheap means of coloring foods, and is known to be helpful for those who suffer from urinary tract problems.

Rosemary or Mary's Mantle is a beautiful fragrant shrub, with small blue blossoms that resembles an evergreen. It can be used in stews and sauces, and made into lotions for the skin and hair. It was even thought to help "grow hair on bald pates."

Roses, the name alone manages to conjure the smell in your memory, and infusions of various parts of the plant have been around for centuries. Rose hip tea was good for calming, and an excellent source of Vitamin C. Rose syrup, or syrup of roses was thought to be good for melancholy. Rose petals can be candied or made into a conserve. Rose water was used in many medieval recipes as a flavoring.

This has been just a small glimpse into the medieval garden, and these are just a few of the more common plants that were available to almost everyone no matter what position they held in society. Great care was taken harvesting these plants, some were picked with the dew still on them, others had to be taken on the night of a full moon, or using the left hand. The rituals that surrounded that gathering of some of these plants is as interesting as the lore that is ascribed to them.

*NOTE: Some of the cures mentioned wherein should be discussed with a competent herbalist. This article is not intended as medical advice, nor as a substitute for medical care provided by a physician.

Copyright © 1996 by Norma Jean Storms. All Rights Reserved. Republished by permission of the author.

The Meading Corner: Part One, by Fernando Calderon de la Cruz

Welcome to the first installment of what I hope will be a continuing column. It is my wish for this to be a forum where we can all trade information on mead, wine, and all forms of brewing and vinting, so to start it all off, I'll begin with the various styles of mead and a brief list of ingredients for those styles. I'll finish with a recipe.

Mead - honey, optionally with flavoring ingredients
Sack mead - same as mead but with more honey
Show mead - honey
Melomel, mulsum - honey & fruit
Metheglin - honey & spices
Morat - honey & mulberries
Pyment, pyment-claree - honey & grapes
Hippocras - honey, grapes and spices
Cyser - honey & apples
Braggot - honey & malt
Hydromel - honey & water, sometimes flavored
Oxymel - mead mixed with wine vineger
Rhodomel - honey with attar, a rose petal distillate
Omphacomel - mead & verjuice, the juice of unripened grapes
Capsicumel - honey with chile pepper

And last but not least, a style I like to call weirdomel - honey
with unusual flavorings. Laugh if you will, but if you really think
of it, all mead was weirdomel at one time or another. It takes a
brave soul to experiment with something, and somebody somewhere
had to take the chance and add flavorings and spices for the first
RECIPE: (Ingredients for 1 gallon)
- 2« pounds clover honey
- 2 teaspoons yeast nutrient
- « pack red star champagne yeast
- apple cider to fill to 1 gallon

HOW-TO / WHAT-TO: Heat [not boil] « gal. cider, yeast nutrient, and honey to about 170 degrees. Hold at 170 degrees for 30 minutes. Skim off any foam that develops. Transfer to 1 gallon jug and fill to within 1" of top with cool apple cider. Wait for temperature to drop below 80 degrees and then pitch the yeast. (I will explain this terminology in a later article.)

Well, that's it for this first meeting of the Meading Corner. Please feel free to ask me questions. I will warn you, though, that I don''t have all the answers, as I am a beginner myself. However, I will find the answer if there is one to be found. Remember this is for the exchange of information, so please send in whatever recipes and information that you may have to share and it will be greatly appreciated. You can E-mail me at

What's In A Name?, by Francesca de Onorati

How to decide who you want to be is not always an easy task! There are a number of people who have been in the Society that have gone through several name changes over a period of years. One individual that comes to mind is a friend of ours that lives in Atenveldt. He had been known for years as Lyrec the Black, but because he could not document the usage of his first name, he could not get his name passed. Since he and his Lady are trying to become Baron and Baroness, he needs a name that he can document. He has decided to pick something quite common that will correspond with his Lady's name and time period that will be easy to register.

It seems to me that trying to find a name that you can live with is the first criteria in choosing a name. In the earlier years of the Society names of "Elvish" or "Tolkien" origin were registered, but the practice has become frowned upon in recent years. My suggestions to those of you trying to find a name is to decide upon a period of time and a country of origin, and go from there. While it is possible to use your ancestors surname it is not always easy to document, and what may have been a common spelling in the 18th century, may not have even been in existence in the 9th century. Or if it did exist, are you willing to live with the correct spelling of the name for whatever time period you choose? These are just some of the minor considerations. The more major considerations are do you like the name that you have chosen? And are you willing to live with it for as long as you will be in this area, and associating with the people who you will see on a regular basis? While Katherine is appropriate for a good portion of our time frame, how many other Katherine's will you be dealing with because it is a popular name? I personally like the name Katherine and it's various diminutives, but it can get confusing. For example, Lady Katarina from Gwyntarian, called Katherine of Broken Waters to ask about the health of Baroness Catherine of the Misty Forest, can be more than a little confusing to someone who's not familiar with the people concerned!

A good place to start would be with experimenting with just a first name that you like. Some of us already have names that are considered "period." Hugh is one such example, and my own first name is also correct for my chosen time period. A lot of people use their own first names or a varied spelling of it, just so that there is less confusion for themselves and others. Then they go on to add a different surname or variation of their current name. Whether this is something that you would like to do is up to you.

If you choose to pick an entirely different name from your own a little more time and research will probably be required. A good place to start for a first name would be the book The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, by Elizabeth Gidley Withycombe. This is available at the Stark County District Library, and at the Coshocton Public Library. Other titles available from Stark County for British surnames are: Bain, Robert. The Clans and Tartans of Scotland.

Barber, Henry. British Family Names: Their Origin and Meaning, with Lists of Scandanavian, Frisian, Anglo-Saxon and Norman Names.

Bardsley, Charles Wareing Endell. English Surnames Their Sources and Significations.

Begley, Donal F. The ancestor Trail in Ireland: a Companion Guide

Black, George Fraser. The Surnames ofScotland: their Origin, Meaning, and History

Ewen, Cecil L'Estrange. A History of Surnames of the British Isles: a Concise Account of Their Origin, Evolution, Etymology, and Legal Status.

Farmer, David Hugh. The Oxford Dictionary of Saints

Kaganoff, Benzion C. A Dictionary of Jewish Names and their History.

Lower, Mark Antony. English Surnames: an Essay of Family Nomenclature, Historical, Etymological and Humorous; with Several Illustrative Appendices.

Lower, Mark Antony. Patronymica Britannica: a Dictionary of the Family Names of the United Kingdom.

MacLysaght, Edward. Irish Families: their Names, Arms and Origins.

MacLysaght, Edward. Supplement to Irish Families.

The one thing that I would strongly caution you on is the use of "Baby Names" books. While some of the names might be "period," a good portion of them will not be!!

If you have another country that you are interested in being from, you could ask someone whose persona is from that area, do you own research, or ask either Undewyn or myself to point you in the proper direction. Both of us have a listing of titles that would be helpful and that are available locally.