Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Acquisition, trade and wine - a plentiful supply for Medieval England

Recently MedievalMorsels visited Baron Rothschild’s stately pile in Buckinghamshire. Waddesdon Manor is jointly opened to the public by the National Trust and the Rothschild Foundation. It is  a spectacular chateau style house with a striking parterre, sculpted grounds with views to die for! First up, after enjoying our picnic, a visit to the relatively new suite of wine cellars!


More than 10,000 bottles of wine are stored in the vaults, documenting over 150 years of the Rothschild family’s ownership of two of the most famous Bordeaux vineyards in France: Château Lafite Rothschild and Château Mouton Rothschild. Even I had heard of these noble wines!

But it was not thoughts of grape and wine, political marriage alliances and traded goods in Medieval England (of which more below) that most inspired me during visit to Waddesdon Manor, the wine cellars and the wine shop. (Yes! One must exit through the gift and wine shops!)

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Waddesdon's Gardener's Ale made with local quince!
Quince at 12th scale for a Medieval, Tudor dollhouse by MedievalMorsels

It was instead the sight of bottled Gardener’s Ale made from quinces - now there’s a Medieval brew if ever I have supped one! Do we have the industrious Cistercian monks to thank for this invention? Or your common or garden (excuse the pun) peasant who might have gathered quinces from a hedgerow and attempted a little home brewing?


Of course our earlier visit to the wine cellars had me thinking about consumption of wine in England in the Middle Ages. But even before these times, the Romans had imported wine to England and probably introduced viticulture. The Saxons had imported wine from noblemen’s estates in Northern France.


According to  Catherine Pitt’s Ph.D thesis on the wine trade of Bristol in the 15th and 16th centuries the Norman Conquest in 1066 reinforced English ties to French provinces in the North and guaranteed a supply of wine from these estates. Though it is claimed in the Domesday Book (1086) that there were 42 vineyards in England, England was not proficiently self-sufficient to meet its wine demands. In the thirteenth, fourteenth and most of the fifteenth centuries wine imported to England via Bristol and London mostly came from English held provinces in France.


Catherine goes on to point out that the marriage of Henry II of England to Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152, led to England acquiring a large area of southern French vineyards. Bordeaux being the capital city of Aquitaine.
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Food by MedievalMorsels for Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine by professional doll artiste Louise Goldborough-Bird
The English loss of Burgundian provinces in 1224 meant the provenance of wine imported to England shifted from the North to the South of France. This was further secured by the marriage of Edward I to Eleanor of Castile in 1254, which included the wine producing lands of Gascony.  The wine trade with Gascony fell by half during the war with France, and the eventual loss of the province in 1453 brought an end to the English domination of the wine shipping business.

Diplomatic relations with Spain and consequently Iberian wine imports go back centuries too. Henry II married his daughter to Alfonso VIII in the twelfth century and the Anglo-Spanish trade boom of the late thirteenth century has been attributed to Edward I’s Spanish marriage in 1254. However, probably this wine trade was only minor compared to the Gascon trade.