Well, then… I don’t wanna be king.

What’s the main thing you do at a medieval feast? Or a Viking feast, for that matter?

You hoist a joint of meat up to your mouth with one hand and chomp down on it with great relish. That’s the main point of the feast. Oh, there are other activities, such as drinking ale or mead from a horn so that you have to drink it all before you put it down, or pulling serving wenches down upon your lap and laughing “haw, haw, haw!”

All of which, of course, is often frowned upon today, often with good reason. But I’m here to stick up for the savage-eating-of meat-thing, which more and more people try to discourage us from doing.

And now meddling scientists have gotten in on the act:

(CNN)Meat-heavy banquets have long been thought to be a common feature of early medieval life for England’s kings and nobles, who are often depicted feasting on legs of animal flesh and knocking back goblets of ale in the great halls of their realm.

However, a new study that examined the dietary signatures contained in bones of more than 2,000 skeletons has cast doubt on this assumption, finding that most Anglo-Saxons ate a diet rich in cereals and vegetables and low in animal protein — no matter what their social status.

Archaeologists were able to glean this information by analyzing the presence of different isotopes, or variants, of the elements carbon and nitrogen in bone collagen. Bones preserve an isotopic record of the different types of food an individual consumed over time. The study mainly looked at ribs, which represent a period of 10 years before a person’s death….

This is discouraging. I mean, what’s the point of being a king if you can’t display appalling table manners while enjoying a joint?

If this is true, then when I get a time machine, I may go to some other period instead. There’s always ancient Rome, but I don’t want to have to eat while lying down…

13 thoughts on “Well, then… I don’t wanna be king.

  1. James Edward Cross

    Read the article which I found quite interesting. It should be noted that the article was talking about Anglo-Saxon England, which covers the period from about 410-1066. Nothing in the piece says that this had not changed in the later medieval or Renaissance periods. (IIRC, there is certainly historical evidence that it *had*) And of course their findings were about the Anglo-Saxons and not the Vikings. After all, the popular poster boy for gluttony is Henry VIII, and he lived from 1491-1547, over 400 years later.

    So be of good cheer! You can still hoist that joint of mutton.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    It’s odd the images you think will be easy to find, because you think you’ve seen them so many times, in movies, and such, but then when you go to look, you don’t find them. Or the ones you find aren’t quite what you wanted.

    My search for “medieval king eating meat” did as well as any, better than I got referring to a “drumstick” or a “joint,” to use a term in vogue closer to that time than to this.

    Using “viking” instead of “medieval king” wasn’t that great, either. Even though you know you’ve seen Vikings eating a leg of mutton the way we would a turkey leg, right?

    So I went with Charles Laughton as Henry VIII eating a chicken. Not quite what I wanted, but it sort of works…

    1. James Edward Cross

      Except Henry VIII is not considered a medieval king. The period starting from 1485 is post-medieval, usually called the Tudor period after the royal dynasty and encompassing the English Renaissance which reached its height under Elizabeth I.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I know, I know. I just didn’t like any of those other pictures…

        He lived in a time when kings tried to invoke chivalry — he pursued jousting as a sport (and shouldn’t have) — but those days were past.

        And in his case, he should have stuck to tennis…

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        To follow up on my cousin Henry…

        I knew about the jousting accident. But I didn’t really realize, until I ran into a couple of articles after I found that picture, how much that may have affected all his craziness in his later years — such as the six wives, etc.

        I had accepted that yeah, he was this energetic athlete in his youth, and later was a fat old slob, but hey, that happens to us all.

        But it could have been that one jousting accident in 1536 not only ruined his health for the rest of his life, but screwed him up mentally.

        We don’t know, but it’s intriguing, and completely possible…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I just checked the dates. That accident happened when he was 44. He shouldn’t have been jousting at 44. Of course, who was going to tell him not to?

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          Oh, as for the “cousin” reference. Henry was my second cousin 14 times removed. His great-grandfather, Owen Tudor, was my 15th-great grandfather.

          At least, he was my 15th-great grandfather IF his son Jasper had two illegitimate daughters with a Welshwoman named Myvanwy verch Dafydd. Historians differ as to whether that happened. In fact, Wikipedia gets snotty about it: “No reliable sources appear to support these assertions.”

          In any case, I’m descended from one of those girls, name of Helen. If she wasn’t Jasper’s daughter, I have no idea who she was.

          But I wanted to tell the story because it gave me the excuse to mention Myvanwy verch Dafydd. Cool name, huh?

          Of course, as mentioned before, AFTER his jousting accident, Henry went off the rails and had his second wife beheaded, and then married four more, having one of THEM executed as well.

          I’ve learned from my genealogical research that two of his six wives were also my cousins. And here’s the thing about that — it’s the two Henry had killed. Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. (They were closely related to each other as well — first cousins. Anne’s mother was a Howard.)

          Again, this is not Brad bragging about “look at me; I’m related to royalty!” We’re all related to royalty. All people of European descent are, for instance, directly descended from Charlemagne.

          But this IS Brad bragging, “Hey, I found some of those connections!” Maybe I did, anyway. Hey, I put in the time building that tree with more than 8,000 people on it; I’m gonna talk about it…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Of course, I’m also related to Henry’s other four wives. As are you, as are we all.

            I just haven’t figured out how.

            Sorry. I’ll keep trying. I know y’all are waiting with bated breath…

  3. Howard S. Prague

    Wouldn’t matter, you were likely to be dead by the time you reached 40. Women were less lucky having died during childbirth. Hygiene was non-existent, people shared dirty dishes and utensils, the Vikings scene where they’d drink out of a common bowl and then blow their nose into it and pass it along was factual.

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