Saturday, March 29, 2014

Early Medieval French wine

This is one of several posts on drink in the Middle Ages. The others are:

In one sense, wine might be considered a casualty of the decline of the Roman Empire. If a multitude of wines are known in the Late Medieval era, for centuries after the Franks took over, it is rare to see any mention of a regional wine and the idea of vintages – known to Roman connoisseurs – disappeared until after the Middle Ages. As with so many other subjects, the history of French wine tends to skip from the Romans to just before the Crusades. Yet substantial evidence exists to show that wine production itself not only continued but probably expanded under the Franks, laying the ground for what would become a rich and flourishing wine trade.

For more about the early Middle Ages
Feasting with the Franks

The First French Medieval Food

Wine before the Franks

Wine itself came early to both the Gauls and the Germans – that is, to the two groups whose cultures would meld with the Romans' to create France. The Gauls knew it at least from the Greeks at what would become Marseilles; Etruscan amphorae found in France suggest they may already have encountered it from Italy as well. The German exposure too began with the Greeks; Greek amphorae have been found in early Iron Age graves. It is noteworthy that these graves also held various wine-drinking paraphernalia:
These vessels were all part of the accoutrements of the wine-drinking ritual in Greek and Etruscan societies.. This wine-drinking ritual played a special role in status display and social competition in those Mediterranean societies. (Wells)
With Roman rule, the Gauls – now Gallo-Romans – became producers and exporters of wine. The wine of Bordeaux, especially, is noted by authors as different as Pliny the Elder (23 - 79), who praised the wines of Biturica, and Ausonius, whose name is now that of a famous wine variety. Though Ausonius (c. 310- c. 394) was from Bordeaux, which he described as “my country made famous by Bacchus”, he also wrote a famous poem on the Moselle Valley, describing “caverns covered with vines forming a natural amphitheatre” and comparing the effect there to how “vines color my Garonne river”.

Paulin de Pella (376 - c. 459) managed his wife's vines in Aquitaine. Later he took refuge in Marseille and talked (with some exaggeration) of the vines as the only source of the city's wealth.

Sometime in this period, too, wines began to be mentioned in Burgundy. Burgundy wine had existed since at least the third century, when Eumene complained about the effect of taxes on the vines of Autun; there is some evidence tracing it back to the first century (Bazin) Both Chalons (sur-Saone) and Autun have been credited with originating it. (Lantier). Dion says that this region's wines became established between the first and third century.

Otherwise, various indications of Gallo-Roman wine production have been found in the Loir-et-Cher, the Maine-et-Loire, the Haute-Loire and the Loire. Amphora production in the valleys of the Seine, of the Oise and of the Rhine suggests wine production all through the second century. Laubenheimer cites various sources from the end of the Imperial period as mentioning wine production in the regions of Bordeaux, Poitou, Saintonge, the Lyonnais, Moselle, the Cote-d'Or, the Paris basin, the Limagne, the Narbonnais and the Gard, Aquitaine and Marseille.

Wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Loire, and even those farther north, are noted then under the Gallo-Romans. However, as the empire declined, southern wine production decreased, in the Narbonnaise, Provence and Languedoc regions; in Aquitaine, some larger domains persisted in the fourth century. This is noteworthy because, as important as Bordeaux wine, in particular, was before and after the Early Medieval period, far less evidence exists of it in the period itself.

The other big change to note in the Late Empire was the shift from amphorae to barrels. Barrels themselves may have come from Italy, but via the Gauls who lived there for a time; it has also been suggested that the Gauls themselves got the idea from the Etruscans (Marlière). Barrels are already shown on Trajan's column (113); by one account they became more common when Roman soldiers needed a way to transport volumes of wine north from Lyons to the Rhine. Whatever the case, barrels were already being used before the Franks ruled France, though for a long time they coexisted with amphorae.

Roman holdovers

Scattered evidence exists that under the Franks some Roman-style connoisseur-ship persisted at least for a time. The Museum of Cluny, for instance, holds a sixth century liturgical wine strainer, implying a Roman sense of refinement in consumption (as suited the largely Gallo-Roman Medieval church). If such implements fell away under the Franks, it may be not only because they drank wine with less ceremony, but because the spices and other ingredients added to wine became less common and so there was simply nothing to strain out. It is also true that such paraphernalia may have come to seem like a decadent indulgence in the Christian era.

The Romans knew of a wide range of wines by name, both Italian and foreign; notably Falernian and Caecuban, but also including wines from Setia and Opimius. The wines of Gaza (in Palestine) and Chio (in Greece) were also highly prized. Apollinaris (c. 430 - c 486) (who continued to live a Roman life under German rule) writes a friend not to expect wines of Gaza, Chio, Mt. Falernus or Sarepta.  Under the Franks, a number of these wines would maintain their reputation. Gregory, for instance, mentions the wine of Gaza as one of the excellent wines a host orders brought out for a guest.

Fortunatus mentions mixing “Falernian” with honey. The Romans had a separate term – mulsum – for wine mixed with honey and it seems unlikely that true Falernian would have been adulterated in this way, nor that it would have required it (since honey typically would have countered a more bitter taste). It may be that the term took on a general meaning over time similar to “Champagne” today, which has been used to refer to sparkling wines from other regions or even other countries.

Gregory too uses “Falernian” as a synonym for the very best wine. One of the miracles Gregory credits to St. Martin is turning water into Falernian wine (not just any wine, mind you). In fact, in mentioning Christ turning water into wine, he says that he turned it, specifically, into Falernian. Clearly, this would not have been the Italian regional wine (if anything, it would logically have been more like a wine of Gaza). In praising the vines near Dijon, Gregory says they “gave the inhabitants so fine a Falernian that they despise the wine of Chalon”. (The wines of Chalon – Chalon-sur-Saône – had had a reputation since Roman times; some scholars however read Gregory's text as referring to Ascalon, another city in Palestine known for its wine). From these references, it is very unlikely that Gregory still used the term in its literal sense.

Note that both Dijon and, if that is the reference, Chalon-sur-Saône, are in Burgundy. This region's wine production continued and even appears to have flourished under the Franks.

Gregory's praise of specific wines is rare in the period. For most of the later centuries under the Franks, wine is mentioned generically, without distinction of age, origin or color. References to the old Roman favorites – Falernian, Gaza, etc. – mainly disappear, though in describing Jumiéges (Upper Normandy) an eighth-century life of St. Philibert says “here vineyards abound with bunches of grapes whose shining, swelling buds gleam with Falernian.” (hinc vinearum abundant butriones, qui turgentibus gemmis, lucentibus rutilant in falernis.) The same passage shows that valued vines were then grown in Normandy.

Medieval wine

The modern consensus is that Medieval wine was weak and short-lived: “Almost all medieval wine was drunk in the year of its vintaging....We attach importance to the quality of age. Medieval man did not. He was little interested in age and he made no real effort to improve his wines by aging them.” (Mole); Wine …. could not be stored long. Six months old was probably the peak of a medieval wine's quality. It was unusual for wine to keep as long as four years; most of it was gone within a year, either soured to vinegar or consumed at table.” (Johnston); “medieval wine was not as strong as wines are today. ... people consumed wine immediately after production, directly out of wooden casks, ... resulting in a weaker concoction “(Vess); “Medieval wine kept badly and had to be consumed within the year – which did not fail to impose a seasonal rhythm on trade, without changing the prices, the buying and selling methods" (Duby).

This decline in strength and quality, and the disappearance of the idea of a “vintage”, can be attributed to various causes, not least the loss of much Roman husbandry. Certainly, the change from amphorae to barrels played a part (glass bottles were not used for wine until well after the Medieval period). It would be a long time before barrels would be sealed sufficiently to avoid evaporation. As late as the eighteenth century, Le Grand d'Aussy wrote:
It is to be hoped that some sealant will be found and kept which, without communicating any foreign taste to the liquor, nonetheless prevents its evaporation somewhat, so that one can, without loss, let it acquire in the cask that perfection and that maturity which Time alone can give it, and that it can no longer receive once it is bottled.
The fact, however, that wine did not keep did not mean it could not be transported and traded. It remained a key item of trade (which itself did not decline as drastically as some more extreme images of the “Dark Ages” would have it). Gregory of Tours writes of a merchant going to pick up wine at Orleans. “At this time, a merchant named Christophore left for Orleans, because he had heard that a great deal of wine had arrived there: he went there then, bought the wine and had it transported by boat.” Jourdan-Lombard writes: “The fairs of the early Middle Age were in part wine fairs." Devroey has carefully analyzed the transportation in the ninth century of wine by the St. Germain Abbey to various regions and ports.

It may be then that some general reputations existed for the wine of certain regions. But, for a long time, such reputations were not sufficient to be recorded in surviving documents. Towards the end of the Frankish period, several specific wines are mentioned, showing that such distinctions then existed; but most cannot be readily identified today.

Trade in turn impacted cultivation, which was often along or near waterways. Duby, reviewing Dion's classic work on French wine history, writes:
This book shows in a stunning manner the domination which water routes exercised on the history of old vineyards: these were born and grew up along banks, and in absolute dependence on the capacity of boats. .... Yves Renouard has shown that the superiority of transport by boat lay in, as much as by the greater ease (compensated no doubt by the lesser ease of avoiding tolls), the need to spare barrels the shocks which would have displaced them.
How big a part did the Church play in preserving or reviving wine production? Mole:
Another theory holds that it was the Church which brought the tradition of viticulture over from Roman times, and safeguarding it during the years of invasion and anarchy, and deploying it once again in the fullness of the Middle Ages. This theory is patently untrue. The Church had little, if anything, to do with the transmission of viticulture from the Ancient into the Christian world. Wine-growing was brought over the Dark Ages by private enterprise, and the traditions of viticulture were continued through the memories of lay vignerons rather than through the manuscripts of monastic libraries.
He adds further on:
The Christian vineyards were not solely – and not even principally – intended to provide wine for the Mass. Their main function was not religious but economic. They were donated, or created, in order to contribute to the upkeep of a foundation... [The Church's] attitude towards agricultural profit was on the whole severely practical and its view of agricultural trade was seldom distorted by sentiment.
No doubt opposing views have appeared since 1966, when this was published. But Mole's is at least worth considering as a corrective to what is still a common view.

Narrative references

Historical or anecdotal references to French wine in this period are scattered, but useful, especially early in the period of Frankish rule
In the VIth c. the sources remained abundant: the will of Saint Remy includes several donations of vineyards in Champagne, Venantius Fortunatus sings the praises of the vineyard of the Moselle, of the Bordeaux region and of the Val du Loire and Gregory of Tours mentions those of Burgundy, of the valley of the Loire, but also of the vines in Alsace whose vineyards appear for the first time in texts.
Gregory (539 - 594) tells twice how the Bretons had all the grapes of Nantes and Rennes harvested and carried off. Presumably these grapes were of some quality to be worth stealing. Though the Nantes region (in the Loire) still produces a number of wines today, neither Rennes nor Brittany in general are now known for wine; yet wine was still made in Brittany in later centuries.

In one famous story, Chilperic established a tax of one “amphora” of wine per arpent (a measure of land); the exact size of this vessel (probably a barrel) has been variously estimated, but whatever the case, the tax was considered onerous, especially by the people of Limousin, who burned the tax registers and almost killed the tax collector. (Wine is still produced in Limousin today, though the region is not known for it.)

Gregory also mentions a winemaker on the Ile-de-Ré, an island on the Atlantic coast which still makes wine today and is part of the Poitou-Charentes region.

Arguably, Gregory also is the first to mention wine in Alsace. He tells how the woman in an adulterous couple was sent to Marlenheim (in Alsace) and her lover sent “to work the vine”. The location of the vineyard is not specified (we cannot assume the man and woman were sent to the same place) but it was likely to have been in the same general region, even if it was not Marlenheim itself.

Fortunatus (c. 530 - 609) refers to the “rich vineyards” along the Moselle: “"Every way one turns, the hills are covered with vines... these vines are planted in regular, close rows, and the painted posts which indicate their divisions climb all the way to the top of the mountain." He describes wine near Trier, with a taste as sweet as honey, growing on mountainsides and gathered by men hanging off the rocks. He also makes it plain, however, that wine was not always to be found when he was traveling; wine production and distribution in France appears to have been spotty in the sixth century.

Vineyards in records

Perhaps the richest source on vineyards for the Early Medieval period tells us almost nothing of their reputation or quality, but does at least document the persistence of viticulture in various regions; this is the collection of donations, wills and founding documents which have (unevenly) survived.

This body of documentation is problematic in a number of regards. First of all, it is certainly not complete. Everything from Viking raids to Revolutionary vandalism, not to mention simple decay, has destroyed some of what once existed. Where documents do survive, the Latin place names they use cannot always be identified, either because no corresponding locale has been found or because more than one credible equivalent exists. It is also true that a number of these are forgeries. Ironically, however, this verifies more certainly that the properties they reference existed, since the very purpose of creating such “back-dated” documents was to establish a particular institution's right to the property in question. Since most of these forgeries themselves were created in the Early Medieval period, they prove that vineyards existed in the places named, if not necessarily as early as the supposed date of the document.

One question to consider too is how much the presence of vineyards implied wine production as opposed to fruit consumption. In fact, in this period in particular, it seems very likely that any place that had a vineyard was also producing wine. As Ruas points out, evidence of grape consumption from the Early Medieval period is rare:
In spite of the greater preservation chances (high frequency in the relatively numerous refuse dumps), pips of Vitis vinifera have only been found in less than half the sites. However, in sites from the Late Middle Ages, Vitis is found more frequently...The urban latrines of Montauban, Troyes, and Paris indicate that grapes were consumed as table fruit, either fresh or dry.... Archeological records of Vitis are not scarce, but the extension of viticulture towards the north is better documented by historical sources.
Finally it is important to know that in the nineteenth century most native French grape stock was wiped out by phylloxera; if many regions have persisted from these centuries, little of the original grape stock has survived today. (Could scientists clone older varieties from the various grape seeds which have been found by archaeologists? No one seems to have suggested the idea so far.)

It is also true that a full analysis of these documents would require a major project; any reference to them here is based on a cursory and incomplete review. Still, certain tendencies do appear in this exercise.

One striking aspect of these documents is the continued appearance of most of the major wine regions known under the Romans, most of which (not all) are still known today: Burgundy, the Loire, the Moselle, but also the Parisian region and northern areas like Picardy and the Nord (north) department. Alsace, whose wines appear to have been unknown under the Romans (despite the success of the neighboring Moselle region), appears more than once in these records. Equally striking is the rarity, though not complete absence, of southern regions, notably Bordeaux.

Some such references can be matched to modern wines. In 587, King Gontran of Burgundy gave vines to monks at Saint-Benigne near Dijon; wine is still produced there today. In 640 the duke of Amagaire gave vines to the abbey of Bezes, at Gevrey (today part of the Cote de Nuits along the Route des Grands Crus), Fixin, Marsannay and Vosne, where today Romanée-Conti wine is produced. Bishop Virgil's will from 680 mentions properties well-known today as “La Chainette” and the “Clos de Migraine”, both near Auxerre. The Saint-Germain Abbey later owned vines near what is today the famous Clos de Vougeot. But as well-known as some of these wines are today, none appear to have had any reputation beyond their own regions in this period.

A large number of these records reference places along the Yonne or elsewhere in Burgundy. This alone gives some idea of the region's continuing importance. The first hint of its having a reputation – continued or renewed – comes in the ninth century, with a mention of it (“de Burgundia m[odio] L”) in Ansegisus' constitution for the Abbey of Fontanelle (c. 823-833). (Ansegisus also mentions several other specific wines, but these cannot currently be identified.)

A 696 charter of Ansebert is especially interesting, because it mentions "Hauxiaco, in pago Belnense"; that is Auxey, in the Beaune region. The wine of Beaune is that most mentioned in France in later centuries, though it may (by one account) then refer to Burgundy wines in general. Still, specific mention of a Beaune wine this early stands out.

Another mention, in Wideradus' will of 721, is of Senseriacum and Ariacum, both in the Nivernois (today, roughly, the Nièvre). Ariacum is Herry. By some interpretations, Senseriacum is Sancerre. If so, this is an early mention of a wine-producing region which soon became important. But at least one author believes it to be another town in the region, Sancergues, slightly to the south of Sancerre and much closer to Herry. (Both Sancergues and Herry, though obscure today, still produce wine.)

UPDATE 3/31/2014 A charter cited in another collection, which dates it from 868 (typically given as December 27, 867) records the donation by Charles the Bald of a cella (storehouse) at Chablis, on the Serein river in the Tonnerre region, to the abbey of Saint-Martin de Tours, along with attendant properties, including vines. The wine's reputation would only come later, but of course the mention is of interest.

Numerous vineyards continue to be referenced in the Moselle region, though not all were in what is France today. Several were near Trier, now in Germany. Abbess Irmina d'Oeren mentions vineyards in Echternach (698) and Steinheim (704), both in Luxembourg, which has never stopped producing wine.

If the vineyards of Alsace appear less, their presence is nonetheless firmly established in this period. Documents from Weroald (in 700) and Pepin (in 768) mention vineyards there.

Champagne wine was also mentioned early on. Two versions exist of a will by St. Remy (V-VIth c). In the one that is generally accepted as genuine, he left several vineyards which were probably in Champagne; one (at Vendresse) was certainly there, another was at Laon (that is, in Picardy). Centuries later, around 853, Pardulfe sent medical advice to Hincmar, bishop of Rheims, and recommended several wines from the region, including those from Sparnaco (Epernay), Mount “Ebon” (probably Mount Bernon, looking over Epernay), and Calmiciaco (Rouvroy in Chaumuzy). The ninth century polyptique for St. Remy also lists a number of vineyards in areas around Reims. These may have been red wines as well as white, however, and there is no reason to believe they were sparkling. Vizetelly writes:
A conscientious writer candidly acknowledges that, despite minute and painstaking researches, he cannot tell when what is now known as sparkling Champagne first made its appearance. The most ancient references to it of a positive character that he could discover are contained in the poems of Grenan and Coffin, printed in 1711 and 1712; yet its invention certainly dates prior to that epoch, and earlier poets have also praised it. It seems most probable that the tendency to effervescence already noted became even more marked in the strong-bodied gray and'partridge-eye' wines, first made from red grapes about 1670, than in the yellowish wine previously produced, like that of Ay, from white grapes, and recommended, from its deficiency in body, to be drunk off within the year.
Still, it is clear that by the ninth century the wines of Burgundy, Alsace and Champagne were already known.

The records from St. Remy also mention vineyards near Laon, as does one from Childeric II in 671 and from the Abbot Huntbertus in the same year. Laon, utterly unknown for wine today, would remain a wine-producing region into the nineteenth century. Though its proximity to Reims may make this unsurprising, it may be more surprising to know that all of Picardy (now known for beer and cider) was once a wine-producing region.

Writing in the eighteenth century, Le Grand d'Aussy says of the wines of Picardy:
Master Le Moine, Archivist of Corbie, published, three or four years ago, a notice where he claims that Picardy once had vines. ...still now there are vines near Amiens on the territory of Cagni; there are some near Montdidier, and in some other areas of this Province. It is true that these vines yield an awful wine, which is only consumed by the common folk; but still it is wine. Among the vineyards of France Baccius (in 1596) counted those of this same territory of Amiens, and of a large part of Picardy. When, towards the middle of the VIIth century, Clothaire III founded the Abbey of Corbie, he gave the Monks, by his title, lands, woods, meadows, and the wines of this region. Finally, we have another charter from the same Prince, by which he permits the Abbey of St. Bertin, in Thérouanne, to make several exchanges; and where he speaks again of wine.
In fact, a number of documents from the Early Middle Ages reference wines in Picardy and even in what is now known as the “north" (Nord) department. For a long time, wine production in these regions was perfectly standard, as was producing wine around Paris.

A 558 donation from Childebert I mentions vineyards in Issy (Isciacus) in the Paris region. Other records mention Argenteuil and Puteaux which, like Issy, most Parisians today probably know only as stops on the RER (the suburban rail system). But the reputation of wine from the Paris region would endure long after the Middle Ages. Le Grand d'Aussy cites praise of wines from the Paris region (those of Argenteuil in particular) through the sixteenth century. It may well be that simple proximity to a city which has a disproportionate importance in France helped here. But Le Grand also sees in that one reason for the local vineyards' decline: “Could it not be that the owners, blinded by the lure of the sure and prompt sale which the proximity of the Capital offered them, had the impudence to neglect the care of their vines; to choose plants of an inferior quality but greater yield; in a word, to prefer abundance to quality!”

Two apocryphal documents from Dagobert I record vines in the Vienne, now in the Poitou-Charentes region. This area today is best known for cognac, but in 1281, Eleanor of Castile ordered wine from La Rochelle, also in the Poitou-Charentes region, to be sent to England. Wine from La Rochelle is also mentioned in the Bataille des Vins (see below).

If southern wines appear less in these records, this may reflect a difference in the monasteries (which kept many of these records) as well as the reality of cultivation. The wines of Toulon are unknown today, but in 739, Abbo, the Patrician of Provence, left a vineyard near Toulon in his will. The area's wines endured well beyond the Middle Ages; as late as the eighteenth century Samuel Johnson found them familiar enough to propose for a drinking match:
"I wish," said he, "my master would say to me, Johnson, if you will oblige me, you will call for a bottle of Toulon, and then we will set to it, glass for  glass, till it is done; and after that, I will say, Thrale, if you will oblige me, you will call for another bottle of Toulon, and then we will set to it, glass for glass, till that is done: and by the time we should have drunk the two bottles, we should be so happy, and such good friends, that we should fly into each other's arms, and both together call for the third!"
Several donations from Sigismund of Burgundy in 523 concern the Valle d'Aosta (the Aosta Valley), a region that is today part of Italy (known for Fontina cheese and dishes made with it), but was long a part of France and remains officially bilingual. One of the documents mentions vineyards in Morgex, whose Blanc de Morgex is still produced today. Fumin, another grape variety, is also from this region, which in general has the particularity of having preserved its original vine stock, being too high to be affected by phylloxera.

In 615, Bertechramnus, the Bishop of Mans, left land with vineyards at Floriac, “between two seas”, that is, Entre-Deux-Mers, an area in Bordeaux still known today for its wines. Otherwise, if Bordelaise vineyards appear rarely in these records, it nonetheless remains true that they were already again praised in the twelfth century, and so surely must have been revived at some point in this period. Whether evidence of this lies in texts or archeological digs remains to be seen.

Coming attractions...

These references show that viticulture was thriving in the Early Middle Ages, even if the infrastructure did not yet exist to create a coherent market and corresponding appreciations of different wines. But by the ninth century, Ansegisus' constitution and Pardulfe's letter both show that certain wines were beginning to have at least local reputations. Probably similar recommendations were made that have not survived in documents. Certainly within a few centuries, wines of specific French regions were not only known but exported to other countries.

The first really extensive look at French wines comes under Philip-Auguste (reigned 1180 - 1223) with d'Andeli's famous verse “the Battle of Wines” (la Bataille des vins) in which different wines dispute their title as the best wines in France. But for so many wines to have established reputations at this point, some at least must have been known in the centuries just before and one can reasonably speculate that at least part of the poem's remarks held true in earlier times. Le Grand d'Aussy resumes the information in this colorful document as follows:
Among the wines of the Provinces or of regions, the Poet praises those of the Gâtinais, of Auxois, of Anjou, and of Provence.
Regarding particular wines, known in different Provinces, one sees that,
The Angoumois, had that of Angoulême.
The Aunis, that of La Rochelle.
Auvergne, that of St. Pourçain (a).
a. Another of our XIIIth century Poets, speaking of a man who became very rich, says of him, to give us an idea of his luxury, that he no longer drank anything but the wine of St. Pourçain.
The Berry, of Sancerre*, of Châteauroux, of Issoudun, and of Buzançais.
[*Le Grand has “Santerre” here, but that is in Picardy. The manuscript too says “Sancerre”]
Champagne, of Chabli [near, and at one time part of, Champagne], Epernay, Rheims, Hauvilliers, Sezanne, Tonnerre.
Guyenne, of Bordeaux, Saint-Emilion, Trie and Moissac.
The Isle de France, of Argenteuil, Deuil, Marly, Meulan, Soissons, Montmorenci, Pierrefite and St. Yon.
The poet adds that the wines of Argenteuil are as “clear as a tear in the eye, and better than all others”.
The Languedoc, of Narbone, Béziers, Montpeller, and Carcassonne.
The Nievernais, that of Névers, Vézelay.
The Orléanais, of Orleans, Orchese, Jergeau, Samoy.
The Poitou, of Poitiers.
The Saintonge, of Saintes, Taillebourg, St. Jean D'Angéli.
The Touraine, of Montrichart.
Le Grand adds these more eloquent notes as well:
The Poet speaks with contempt of the wines of Estampes, of Tours and of Mans. He accuses these last two of tending to go sour in summer.
(Note that some of the most mentioned wines in earlier centuries are from Mans, not least because a disproportionate number of forgeries were produced in that region.)

By this period, too, the wine of Beaune – whether from that region in particular or Burgundy in general – had already established itself as the first in France, The poet, says Le Grand, “shows us the wine of Beaune with a yellow color, leaning somewhat towards that of ox horn. Such a color in a wine is rather difficult to imagine.” In fact, the verse is closer to:
A wine which is not best too yellow;
More is it green than ox horn.
seeming to say that the wine was best when more green than yellow. Which is, if anything, harder to imagine, but together with the reference to Argenteuil wine as like a tear drop shows that much of the preferred wine of this period was lighter in color.

Le Grand goes on:
Whatever the case, the vineyard in question was considered one of the first of the Realm. When the Popes, in 1308, came to carry the Pontifical Seat into France, their table, for almost the whole time they stayed in Avignon, the table of their principal Officers, and that of the Cardinals themselves, was always furnished with wine at the expense of the Monastery of Cluny. This wine was probably wine of Beaune: because Petrarch writing in 1366 to Urbain V, to get him to return to Rome; and responding to the different reasons which kept the Cardinals beyond the mountains says, I have heard them claim sometimes that there is no Beaune wine in Italy.
The wine of Beaune would retain its primacy for centuries, even as the lists (which Le Grand provides at length) for subsequent centuries would vary greatly. What would not change from this period on was the rich variety and the renown of many French wines; a renown which had been, as it were, gestating in what are still too often called “the Dark Ages”.


Wells, Peter S., The Barbarians Speak: How the Conquered Peoples Shaped Roman Europe 1999

Ausonius, V1 ed Evely-White, Hugh Gerard d. 1924

Dion, Roger, Histoire de la vigne et du vin en France: des origines au XIXE siècle, Flammarion, 1977

"La viticulture en Gaule", Gallia.V58, 2001 Volume consecrated to wine in Gaul, including:

Mole, William, Gods, men, and wine 1966

Johnston. Ruth A, All Things Medieval: An Encyclopedia of the Medieval World 2011

Vess, Deborah, "Monastic Moonshine: Alcohol in the Middle Ages", Religion & Alcohol: Sobering Thoughts,ed Charles Kevin Robertson 2004

Duby, Georges, “Une synthèse : le vignoble français [Roger Dion, Histoire de la Vigne et du Vin en France des origines au XIXe siècle]”, Annales. Économies, Sociétés, Civilisations V16 1961

Ruas, Marie-Pierre, “The archaeobotanical record of cultivated and collected plants of economic importance from medieval sites in France”, Review of Paleobotany and Polynology,  1992

Portail Telma: Chartes originales antérieures à 1121 conservées en France

Diplomata chartae, epistolae, leges aliaque instrumenta ad res Gallo- Francicasspectantia: Instrumenta ab anno 417 ad annum 627, ed Louis Georges Oudart-Feudrix de Bréquigny, François Jean Gabriel de La Porte Du Theil, Jean-Marie Pardessus V1 1843

Diplomata chartae, epistolae, leges aliaque instrumenta ad res Gallo- Francicas spectantia: Instrumenta ab anno 417 ad annum 627, ed Louis Georges Oudart-Feudrix de Bréquigny, François Jean Gabriel de La Porte Du Theil, Jean-Marie Pardessus
V2 1849

“Parduli Episcopi Laudunensis ad Hincmarum Remensem nunc primum ex Codicesancti Remigii Remensis”, ed.Sébastien Bricout, 2004, Corpus scriptorum latinorum

Irminon (Abbot), Polyptique de l'abbé Irminon, ou Dénombrement des manses,serfs et revenus de l'abbaye de Saint-Germain-des-Prés sous le règne de Charlemagne, ed Benjamin Edme Charles Guérard v2 1844

Vizetelly, Henry, A History of Champagne: With Notes on the Other Sparkling Wines of France 1882

Hermentrude, "Queen Eleanor's Purchases (from the Liberate Rolls)", Notes and Queries 1866

Fanny Burney, Baron Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay, The Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay (Frances Burney): 1778-1787'Aosta_DOC

"Fumin", Wine Monger

d'Andeli, "la Bataille des Vins", Fabliaux et contes des poètes François des XIe, XIIe, XIIIe, XIVe et XVe siècles:tirés des meilleurs auteurs. Contenant l'Ordene de Chevalerie ¬u.¬a,ed. Étienne Barbazan, Dominique Martin Méon V1 1808

"La Bataille des Vins", Recueil de fabliaux, dits,contes en vers (manuscript), Bibliothèque nationale de France,Département des manuscrits, Français 837


Le Grand d'Aussy, Pierre Jean-Baptiste, A History of Wine in France: From the Gauls to the Eighteenth Century

Saturday, March 22, 2014

French hospital food in the Middle Ages

In 542, at the request of St. Sacerdos, Childebert I founded a hospital at Lyons, the first in France, that was to not only receive pilgrims, but help cure the sick (cura aegrotantium). Unfortunately, no details have survived of its functioning, much less its food. Which is regrettable, since whatever food was served there might fairly be considered the first hospital food in France.

The early idea of a hôpital went beyond receiving the ill. It was, in simplest terms, a place to stay for those who, for whatever reason, had none: pilgrims, traveling clerics, the poor, the sick. Typically such stays were limited in time. Even as the concept evolved, the association between the sick and the poor would remain close, not least because both offered an opportunity for Christians to show their charity. Later records often talk of povres malades, which could mean “the poor sick” but more precisely meant the sick poor. And in practice, those who could afford to receive care at home probably had good reason to avoid the crowded and less than hygienic conditions of period hospitals. While evidence suggests that some people of means did end up there, in general these places were associated with the less fortunate.

In terms of food, what this means is that often it is difficult in this period to distinguish between food for the poor and the sick; in many cases, both probably received the same ration.

Perhaps the earliest glimpse at food given to the sick comes from the 822 rules for Corbie recorded by Irminon. The Picard abbey's hospital received various temporary visitors, including traveling monks, the poor and the sick. For the most part then, the rations outlined would have been provided to all. Hocquet has analyzed the figures in Irminon's document, which are largely in bulk. He estimates that someone lodged at the hospital regularly ate 5.25 pounds of maslin bread, drank 2 cups (.9 liter) of ale and shared a pensa of bacon or cheese, alternately, a muid of vegetables (typically broad beans or peas), sometimes some eel and fresh cheese on fast days, or mutton or veal. There was also an occasional ration of pork. (Hocquet notes: "It is not without interest to note that veal, mutton or horsemeat is a food of the poor, despised by the provenders, whom as we will see ate a great deal of pork...")

This was probably more than many normally ate in the period and certainly substantial, if not particularly luxurious.

Monasteries continued to house the poor and sick in some cases, but increasingly other hospitals were established (widely, though not universally) for this purpose. Typically these were called the House or Hostel of God: the Hôtel Dieu. (“House of God” here is used in the sense of a place of Divine hospitality, not in the sense of “God's residence” as applied to a church.)

Paris' Hôtel Dieu, the earliest and most important Paris hospital, still exists today and is said to descend from Saint-Christopher's hospital, already documented in 829, when a charter from bishop Inchad mentions it. The history of a hospital on that location has been the subject of various dubious conjectures, as for instance that it went back to the time of the Druids or began as a place of refuge under the Merovingians. It may also have been built near a convent then or later, a reasonable hypothesis, since nuns often served in such establishments. It probably faced St. Christopher's tomb.

When the rue Notre Dame was cut through existing buildings in 1184, leading up to what would become Notre Dame Cathedral, St. Christopher's was at least partially destroyed. For a while it is mentioned together with the Hôtel Dieu, but after a time only the Domus Dei parisensis (House of God of Paris) is mentioned. In 1097, St Christopher's was ceded to the chapter that ran the Hôtel Dieu. It had still been, says Husson, more of a hospital in the general sense of a place of hospitality. But subsequently food and/or drink for the sick, especially the pregnant, was noted in various donations to the Hôtel Dieu.

In 1037 Thiphaine la Comine's will set that, on the day of his death, a barrel of wine be given to the invalids lying in at the Hôtel Dieu, "the best there may be" (melius quod habebit). He also left ten pounds for the monks and nuns as well as the sick to have a pittance [that is, a basic meal]. In 1199, Adam, a canon of Noyon, left a donation giving the sick all the foods they wanted and that could be procured on his birthday and, if anything remained, on the following days. In 1244 Etienne Berout set aside 30 pounds for the Hôtel Dieu for a pittance for women lying in. King Jean II (reigned 1350 - 1364) and his son Charles V (reigned 1364 - 1380) granted all confiscated bread and rotisserie products to the hospital. In the early fifteenth century, grocers gave an annual gift of “fine powder”, a mix of different spices. The drapers, on the days of their meetings, sent a loaf of bread, wine and meat to each of the sick, as well as "an entire dish" to the pregnant (though Coyecque notes cautiously "we have... nowhere found that this custom was actually followed"). On Easter, in the fourteenth century, the silversmiths organized a meal with two loaves of bread for each resident, a pottage, two eggs, roast veal and wine (as well as money).

(Note that “pottage” in French is potage, which today is synonymous with soupe, but could be a more substantial dish in earlier eras.)

Meanwhile other hospitals were established around France.

In 1293 Marguerite of Burgundy, Saint Louis' sister-in-law. established a hospital at Tonnere (in Burgundy). The act founding it said that the poor would be lodged in it "and the convalescents fed for seven days and sent off with a shirt, coat and shoes; ... that the [twenty] brothers and sisters... would be charged with giving food and drink to those who were hungry or thirsty... to visit the sick... and must not take their meals until after the sick have been served."

This last stipulation often appears elsewhere as well. A rule for the Hôtel Dieu of Pontoise from the thirteenth century says that meals of the invalids must always precede those of the religious community and the poor are to receive the foods they desire that correspond to the nature of their illness and the community's resources. The same rule says that “the poor must never drink but seated and holding their glass with two hands”, a stipulation also found in Vernon and Lille.

Leon Le Grand, in a lengthy study of Medieval hospital regimens, notes that many Medieval hospital rules were derived from those of Saint-Jean of Jerusalem, which
had as a principle to give the sick everything they asked for, so long as one could procure it and it was not harmful to their health.... Different accounts... show that this article did not remain a dead letter. At Beauvais, for example, during the exercise 1379-1380, most of the finer dishes, such as mutton, fish, crayfish, milk, apples, figs and grapes, tartlets, are noted as having been bought for the sick. At Saint-Nicolas de Troyes, at the Hôtel Dieu of Soissons, they were provided sugar, spices, figs, almonds. At Saint-Julien de Cambrai, in 1361, one notes the purchase of beer, of wine, of white bread, figs, apples, pears, walnuts, cherries and medlars for the same purpose.... At the same hospital, five pittances had been founded for the poor, one of wine and two of fresh water fish. At Abbeville, 60 sous [were given]... to allow the distribution, on the first and second of the Calends of each month, to the sickest people the foods which would give them the most pleasure.
In 1336, at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the community arranged to distribute the fruits of their vines to "whichever people, pregnant women or sick of the said hospital, want grapes."

Not everybody thought such indulgence was appropriate. The preacher Jacques de Vitry (1160-1170 - 1240) wrote:
Often hospital workers, with a charitable intention, go too far; they go along the sickbeds, asking each and the other what they want to drink and eat; in their ignorance and their simplicity, the poor only consult their taste, ask for wine and meat, even if they have a violent fever, and this too strong meat causes their death... You no more have the right to give them foods contrary to their health than you should leave a sword in the hands of a madman.
Vitry's concern was not unfounded; consider this note on liberated concentration camps: “The liberators' first response was to give the people food. Unfortunately, many died soon after liberation because they ate foods that were too rich for their weakened systems.” (Bartel)

Leon Le Grand also cites the rule of Saint-Jacques du Haut-Pas, in Paris, which mentions poultry, lamb and kid from Easter to Saint Michael's, with pork from young pigs after Saint Michael. “The reason escapes us for which the meat of female animals was always banned, but one understands better that of Lenten food eels, lentils, broad beans, cabbage were excluded, considered too difficult to digest.”

In general, the Church's rules on fasting were eased for the gravely ill. At Aubrac, they were not applied to those in the hospital at all and Innocent VIII (pope 1484 - 1492) excused those in the Hôtel Dieu of Troyes “so that the sick more easily recover their health.”

Le Grand also derives from the statutes of the Hôtel Dieu of Angers an idea of how the sick were served:
At the appointed hour, a bell rang to alert the sisters: at this call all were to go at once, without exception, to serve the poor. Coats and caps were distributed to the sick so that they did not get cold during the meal; then one proceeded to the ablution of the hands; the sisters, a towel around their neck, passed before the beds of the poor and presented the water to them, as was then the custom for all people of distinction before the meal. The pittance, prepared in the kitchen in a large iron pot or in frying pans, was then brought into the hall; the sisters distributed bowls and wooden or tin spoons to the sick, wooden goblets, shared out the food and served it to them, cutting their bread and giving them the help they needed."
Monks too might help with this and of course prayer played a large part, with Holy Water being brought in afterward. This was especially important in order to avoid any invalid who died doing so without the help of religion.

The sick were not always well-behaved. In 1416, the abbey at Charité-sur-Loire implemented new rules, one of which tried to correct an awkward situation: "The sick, who because of their small number were sometimes placed at a single table where they often gave themselves over to pleasantries which could be misinterpreted, would in the future be placed beside the Prior's dais." (Audoin-Rouzeau), Whether larger groups of the sick behaved better in hospitals is uncertain, though it probably helped that they were not typically seated together at a table.

A variety of details survive from other places. In 1327, at the hospital of Bracon (in the Jura), it was set that
the sick lying within the hospital have daily three dishes, that is at lunch a pottage and a plate of meat or fish, or other depending on the day and circumstances, for dinner one such dish as the mistress finds possible
Otherwise, the sick, the poor and women lying in should have whatever it is possible to have, and in the morning before lunch as breakfast should eat just as the mistress sees possible, all the sick and women with child living in a way, both as to food and drink as to other necessities, as the mistress of the said place allows.
In 1395 the “hotel for the sick of Meullen” bought 1000 herring and 20 Paris sous of mustard.

At Saint-Elizabeth de Trèves, the daily fare was plain bread (better on feast days), cabbage, peas, or other seasonal vegetables. On Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, two pieces of meat, on other days eggs, cheese; at Lent, herring.

At Saint-Jean-en-L'Estrée in Arras about a hundred pigs were bought each year between 1313 and 1336; between 1318 and 1324, from 33 to 78 sheep were bought in different years. Somewhat less beef and poultry was bought. Beef was given exceptionally to some invalids; poultry was given to pregnant women, strangely, in Lent. Says Richard, the editor, “gruel, made of oat flour, eggs, peas, and other vegetables, a great deal of milk, wine, beer, verjuice complete this food, to which one could add 'flans' and pastries on certain feast days.” He adds however that the accounts are not very explicit on this point.

At Hesdin, in the same region, pigs were also bought from 1324 to 1336. In the first year, twenty-six were bought at different prices, some to eat "by pieces in winter", seven to sell, three to eat between Easter and Pentecost, six to make bacons, that is, flitches.

Other foods at Hesdin were: a type of ox called bouvet, “an old cow fattened when it no longer gives milk”; rabbits, chickens, geese, snipe, partridge (“rarely”); herring, unidentified fish; eggs; broad beans, peas, beets, borage, cress, parsley, onion, garlic, vegetables mentioned generally as porée; oats for making "ground flour", a gruel for little children; Brie cheese, Beauvois cheese, dry cheese, various spices, ginger, cinnamon, pepper, saffron, cumin, paradise seed, white sugar, rosy sugar, clove, cubeb, mustard, honey, almonds, rice, figs, licorice; salt; vinegar; olive oil; wine, goodale, grape verjuice, apple verjuice, apples, pears, walnuts, cherries, peaches, strawberries, etc.

If indeed all this food went to the sick, they were unusually well treated; the spices alone would have been a great luxury. The Hesdin accounts also include, under equipment, a “mortar to make sauces”, indicating unexpected care in preparing the food. On the other hand, in 1333 the equipment also included a barrel for making gruel, with a funnel and a bucket and a “cauldron for carrying gruel to the sick”. It is not impossible (though not specified) that different ranks of visitor received different rations.

The same hospital had gardens and a rural domain and maintained cows to provide milk for the sick, as well some livestock. It also set out a donation box ("trunk")  specifically to add to the pittance (et fist on chele semaine pitanche as povres d'argent que on avoit pris u tronc del ospital.)

A series of accounts for the Hôtel Dieu of Beauvais survive from the late fourteenth century. Items in the entries from 1379-80 include:
For Nov 23 – Wednesday, half a hundred herring; Saturday, half a hundred herring, one hundred apples, half a hundred eggs and three cheeses
Dec 3 – Saturday, eggs and cheeses
Dec 18 – Friday, 1 quart of herring; Saturday, fish and herring
Jan 15 – Friday, to bake 2 tarts at Robert the pastry-maker's; Saturday, for butter and cheese, apples
Feb 5 – Monday, eggs and cheese; Tuesday, a quarter of veal, spices; Wednesday, one hundred herring; Saturday, a quart of herring
Other items include crayfish, mustard, almonds, chickens, cherries, new broad beans, and oats. Still, if these were all for the hospital, it is not sure if they were always intended for the sick. More explicit references mention mutton, almonds, fish (on Fridays), mussels and crayfish for the sick. Milk is mentioned as well, especially for children. For the feast of Saint-Jean, some foods were reserved for the sick, including sugar, "gruel" bread [?], cherries, apples, figs and grape, butter, crayfish. Accounts for 1377 mention finer meats (veal or mutton), chicken, milk, tartlets and sugar, figs and grapes, and crayfish for the sick.

The community members themselves of course fell sick. At Saint-Gervais de Soissons, between 1447 and 1482, foods are listed for several sick nuns, including quite a bit of sugar and two mentions of claré, a spiced wine like hypocras: “sugar, beverages and other little things”; “mutton, fish, sugar, cherries and other things”; “mutton, fish, cherries, sugar, claré and other things”; “sugar, almonds, white bread and cherries” and green ginger after the illness; “a chopine of claré', sugar, figs, white bread”; and “sugar, almonds, white bread”. Sugar still had some claim to be medicine at this point, but the overall effect here to a modern reader is of treats (and not very healthful treats at that).

A full humoral analysis of all these foods would require a separate study, but fruit in general was regarded with suspicion by doctors of the time, which makes its frequent appearance all the more striking. Aldobrandino of Siena (13th c.) however does write that cherries comfort the stomach and that bitter almonds (though never actually specified in these lists) are better than others for comforting the sick. Otherwise, it is striking that one sees so little soup, for instance.

Lallemand, in a work generally covering the tenth to the sixteenth century, lists various allocations, without specifying the dates. At Gonesse, fresh meat on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday; bacon on Monday with eggs or cheese in the evening; eggs, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; with this other foods as available. At the hospital of Séclin in Flanders, accounts mention fresh herring, salted salmon, mussels, small pike, carp, pork, beef, veal, mutton. Eggs, cheese, peas, garlic, spices, vinegar and verjuice were also purchased. At the Hôtel Dieu of Angers, sardines, bleaks, cabatz grapes [from Touraine], and a half-pound of almonds were bought for someone who was "outrageously sick". (One wonders how they felt after eating sardines, grapes and almonds...)

At Metz, Larchey lists:
For each invalid daily three quarters of a loaf and 1 pint of wine "old measure". Item on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at dinner each a dish of pottage such as is made in the kitchen of the [sceans ["seated"? established?], that is peas, broad beans and cabbage, according to what the day gives and with this further each a bowl of gruel, which the converts make [sic] in their rooms and further at supper each a dish of cheese bruye [brouet?] made as above.
Item on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, each of the said days before the dinner a piece of grilled meat, or a soup of meat when grilled meat is lacking, and they have at dinner each a piece of meat and pottage such as the day provides, and at supper each a sirloin [? alouez/alloyau?] of meat with the pottage.
Item for Lent, each day at breakfast rye puree at dinner peas and saffron puree and at supper a soup of oil and saffron and each day a herring, and Sunday at supper and Monday at dinner a pittance of fish.
(From context this seems to be fifteenth century, though Larchey says only that he took it from the cartulary for the hospital, for which he gives no date.)

Coyecque's work on Paris' Hôtel Dieu in the Middle Ages is probably the most cited work on this subject. Here is his summary of food there:
Outside Lent, the invalids avoided meat one hundred and forty days out of the year, that is three days a week, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; the one hundred and eighty five other days, they ate meat. Mutton was the basis for all the meals; beef and cow meat were served less frequently; as to veal, lamb or pork, these were only eaten on certain feast days, ten times a year; let us add almond pottage, eggs, salt and fresh water fish, figs, grapes, sugar, gruel, Capendu apples, pears, cheese and tarts; further, each hall received, weekly, three pints of milk. On fast days, eggs and dairy were replaced by herring, barreled (gutted) or smoked, and by onions preserved in walnut oil.
The “gravely ill” were better cared for: they were given better wine than usual; poultry was reserved for them. They were only fed on capons, goslings, poussins or pigeons. If meat disgusted them or was contrary to them, they were given "stew to breathe" [brouet à humer, made with eggs, butter and verjuice] or "meat cullises"; if they wanted a roast, the cook set his spits in motion. On fish days, instead of cod or whiting, they were served a dish of little fried fish."
He asks, rhetorically, “Was one well fed at the Hôtel Dieu?”
The bread, the wine, the meat, were they of good quality? Nothing allows us to deny it; do not forget, besides, that in the Middle Ages as today, the guests of the hospital, for the most part, at least, knew privation by experience, the dry hard piece of bread washed down with a gulp of water, if not complete fasting: an excellent condition for not being difficult and for appreciating the house's pittance...
For the quantity, it is different: each invalid had a choir boy's ration. Was it enough? We would not dare to claim it; some were not of this opinion and asked for a supplement – which they got in return for solid cash.
But, he points out, not everyone could afford this. Still there was always the chance of a rich bequest “for an addition to the pittance”, or a sudden gift of sheep, as well as the leftovers from the community's table.

His description of how this was served differs slightly from that above at Angers:
Two meals a day... were held. When the invalids heard sound, on the clock, the hour of dinner or supper, eleven or six o'clock, rising up on their seats, they held their hands out towards a small table where were found various utensils: an earthen pot where the sister poured the wine ration, a half-setier by meal; a goblet for drinking, a wooden bowl and a spoon, also in wood.
The first official rules for the Hôtel Dieu of Paris are variously dated to between 1217 and 1363. The eighth article states that a sick person must first confess and receive Communion before being admitted (note that this would have excluded Jews, for instance). After the personnel was to take him to his bed and treat him like the master of the house; then to give him every day what he wished to eat, before the brothers were served.

Coyecque's second volume includes some statutes from 1408 “for the Ostel-Dieu and for the good of the poor.” This begins with the reasonable (if perhaps optimistic) order to keep the gravely ill in beds by themselves, without a companion. The next item is a curious mix of French and Latin:
Item that those charged with cooking the meat for the sick, have it properly prepared, so that, when it is presented to the said invalids, eam non abhorreant propter ejus nigredinem aut aliam causam propter quam eciam sani non vellent commedere [they do not shrink from it because of its blackness or other causes such that even healthy they would not want to eat it]
The need for such a stipulation leaves one wondering just how badly prepared the meat might sometimes have been, especially given the limited means of many of the invalids.

The item after this points out that vineyards had been dedicated in Suresnes, Gentilly, Vanve and “other good territories near Paris” to the use of the poor and declares that at least the gravely ill should be served wine from these rather than served wine from the Gastinois and Champagne “as has been done before, by which several paupers, so it appears, have lost their lives.”

Aside from the idea that Champagne was once considered fatal to the sick, a modern reader might be equally surprised to know that at this point the wine of the Paris region was well-regarded, and had been for centuries. The intent here then was that the sick be given very good wine.

In general, much of this fare sounds tasty even today and was probably all the more so to people whose normal diet would typically have been very limited. This is not to suggest that Medieval hospitals were in any way luxurious; the sharing of beds alone would make them unbearable to most of us today. But in terms of food, some might consider crayfish, Brie cheese, almond pottage and tartlets, all washed down with good wine, as tempting alternatives to modern hospital fare.


Dagier,Étienne, Histoire chronologique de l'hôpital général et grand hôtel-Dieu de Lyon 1830

Audoin-Rouzeau, Frédérique, Ossements animaux du Moyen-Âge au Monastère de La Charité-sur-Loire 1986