Kings and Candlesticks in Anglo-Saxon England

Dutch Anglo-Saxonist

Among all of his responsibilities, Alfred the Great found the time to invent the candle clock. As this blog post will demonstrate, Alfred, by no means, was the only Anglo-Saxon king to have a thing for candles.

Alfred the Great: Inventor of time management and the candle clock

Candleblog2 Eight Hour Day Banner, Melbourne, 1856

The slogan “Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest” is supposed to have been coined by the social reformer Robert Owen (d. 1858); but the Anglo-Saxon King Alfred the Great (d. 899) seems to have divided his time in a similar way. According to the twelfth-century chronicler William of Malmesbury:

he [Alfred] so divided the twenty-four hours of the day and night as to employ eight of them in writing, in reading, and in prayer, eight in the refreshment of his body, and eight in dispatching the business of the realm. There was in his…

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The Bread That Comes Down From Heaven

The Early English Bread Project

As we’ve established, in early medieval England, everyday bread took two forms. For most people it was an unleavened round of bread, probably about the size of a hand, cooked on the hearth. For people wealthy enough to build an oven, it was a leavened round of bread, about the same size, like a dense modern bun. This was their everyday food, enjoyed with butter, cheese, or other toppings. (More on toppings in another post.)

And they ate a lot of it, as was true throughout history. As late as eighteenth-century America, the typical person ate a pound and a half of bread per day. The Bible says that “Man cannot live on bread alone,” but note that it means that people should also live on spiritual fare, not that meat and vegetables were required. For all intents and purposes, many families effectively did live on bread alone.img_1349

As bread…

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How to Make Everyday Anglo-Saxon Bread: Version 2 (Hearthcakes or “Kichells”)

The Early English Bread Project

Screen Shot 2017-05-13 at 10.00.45 Those round things in the lower left are the hearthcakes.  This supposed peasant woman is admonishing King Alfred for burning them, though they don’t look burnt to me.  And why is she making peasant hearthcakes if she’s rich enough to own that fancy carved wooden thing behind her?

In the last post on everyday Anglo-Saxon bread, I talked about making bread on a bakestone or griddle on the fire. It is worth emphasizing again: for as much as eight hundred years, from the fifth century up to the thirteenth or fourteenth (and for centuries more in some areas of Britain), this would have been the familiar, everyday bread known to everyone in the kingdom. More affluent people ate leavened bread instead — or in addition. But everyone would have regarded this basic flat bread as familiar, completely normal bread. You did not need an oven to make it, and you…

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How to Make Anglo-Saxon Bread: Version 1

“Its perhaps the best-loved story in English history, but there’s a point to Alfred and the cakes. The key is to recognise that its not Alfred’s baking skills that were being put to the test – it was his sense of duty. And what was at stake in the original version was not cake – it was bread.
The story first appears in the late 10th century, with Alfred on the run from the Vikings and holed up on Athelney with a swineherd and his wife.
The woman told the stranger to keep an eye on the bread cooking over the fire while she got on with her chores.
The version we know today has Alfred forgetting to turn the loaves and prompting an angry outburst from the hostess.
But in the original version, the king – even at this nadir in his fortunes – did his duty and kept an eye on the loaves so they cooked to perfection. By looking after the bread of one of the humblest of his subjects, he acted like the good lord he was – and to get the moral of the tale, you have to understand that the word for ‘lord’ (‘hlaford’ in Old English) means ‘guardian of loaves’.
Cue for Alfred to save the bread, win back Wessex, and promote himself as lord, keeper and guardian of all the English peoples (and their bread)!

For the original version of the story see: ‘Alfred the Great’ in the Penguin Classics series (1983, edited by Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge). Appendix 1 is on Alfred and the Cakes, pp197-202.” Shared by Marie Hilder in Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, Founder Of England Facebook Group.

The Early English Bread Project

The housewife scolds King Alfred for burning the cakes. How many things are wrong with this picture? Let me count the ways. The chimney, for one. And the cakes. The housewife scolds King Alfred for burning the cakes. How many things are wrong with this picture? Let me count the ways. The chimney, for one. And the cakes.

… nimium gaudes hos manducare calentes!
‘You’re delighted to eat them when they’re hot!’
—scolding woman to King Alfred
(Life of St. Neot version)

What is ‘original’ English bread?  What kind of bread did an average Anglo-Saxon eat?

The first thing to know is that the bread of the early English varied hugely. They used a variety of grains, three different methods of leavening (yeast, sourdough, and steam), and four or five different kinds of cooking or baking.

Which kind of bread you ate depended most on how wealthy you were. The bread that would be most familiar to us moderns was the bread of the rich: the food of kings, nobles, and abbots of wealthy monasteries. The average…

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The Four Branches Course 2018

Course Introduction

The Four Branches of the Mabinogi is an old Welsh classic that was first written down about 900 years ago. It appears to be a collection of traditional tales that probably originated in the oral storytelling tradition of the early Welsh. The only real certainty is that they were written down by some talented, but unknown, author.

The Four Branches are set in a past where the Welsh aristocracy still claim the Crown of London, and consider the whole of the island to be their sovereign territory. Historically speaking, this would have been sometime between 350 and 500AD. The Four Branches could preserve one of the oldest versions of Britain to have survived.

As a result, the tales can tell us much about what Britain was, is and could still be. They explore in great detail the possibilities and problems that arise for those who seek to claim…

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