TKJ. Medieval audio blog for the visually impaired.

If you know someone who suffers from poor eyesight then they can ‘listen’ to this blog – BUT ONLY IF YOU LET THEM KNOW!!!


J.K. Rowling and Me. THE TRUTH!

Usually I bring all things medieval to your eyes yet it’s time to break with convention.

It happened like this – I turned the TV on yesterday afternoon (yeah, I know, I should have been finishing book three of “The King’s Jew” – or down the pub!) and what should be on the screen but a biopic of JKR.


The movie showed all the trials and tribulations our Ms Rowling went through in order to get her first book published. It was then – cliché alert – like a bolt from the blue, that it hit me… I AM JK ROWLING!!! Well nearly. All I need is a sex change.


How so? I hear you ask.

Well, J. K. Rowling wrote her first book “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” and struggled to get taken seriously. Every agent in the land turned her down until she met up with Cristopher Little (her then agent). Hi Cristopher – I’m over here!

download (1)


So why do I think I’m J. K. Rowling? Well, the idea for the series’ first came to JKR as she was returning by train from Manchester to London. I LIVED IN MANCHESTER!!!! I’VE BEEN TO LONDON ON A TRAIN! You’re getting to see the similarities now aren’t you?

But is this simple Manchester connection the only thing me and JKR have in common? Not so dear reader – there’s more – read on!


When JKR began writing she knew she had a great story inside her – JUST LIKE ME.

When JKR received her first rejection from an agent she persisted because she believed in her talent – JUST LIKE ME.

JKR has lived a ‘rags to riches’ life story – Ok maybe we differ here as I’m still stuck in the ‘rags’ section! But I live in hope!

Rowling was a teacher – JUST LIKE I WAS.

She wrote in cafes – UNLIKE ME – I write in pubs (sometimes) – there are character traits in my novels that come straight from the saloon bar of a seedy pub!! Yes folks I like to frequent dangerous places – I’m not saying that Edinburgh cafes are dangerous places. I’ve been in a few and found them interesting (but not as interesting as the Edinburgh pubs (especially in Leith).


I can tell you’re not convinced, dear reader but let’s look at some other traits me and Ms Rowling share.


1 – We both worked hard on our book covers

2 – We let our writing take over our lives (sometimes to the detriment of personal relationships I’m sorry to say).

3 – We are both introspective and sometimes balk in the company of strangers.

4 – We have both taken part in radio broadcasts.

5 – We both found love in Portugal (not with each other I hasten to add!)

6 – We’ve both had movies made of our books – OK mine is just a video trailer for the book but you gotta start somewhere haven’t you?


7 – JKR got an OBE – I’ve got an OBOE! – What’s a circle / zero between friends? Giotto (the artist born in the same century “The King’s Jew” is set used to sign his name using a circle (a perfect circle!)

8 – Our eponymous heroine is the United Kingdom’s best-selling living author, with sales in excess of £238m – NOTE THOSE THREE NUMBERS – 2, 3 and 8 – my book is on sale for around £2.38.

9 – JKR supports charities such as Multiple Sclerosis Society of Great Britain – My book sales support Birling House and the Huntington’s Disease Association

10 – Last but not least – the sales of JKR’s debut novel under the name of Robert Galbraith (The Cuckoo’s Calling) rose by 4,000% when the news came out that she was the writer. An immediate 140,000 extra copies were printed. 140,000!!!! If I could sell just 140 copies of “The King’s Jew” in a bl**dy month I’d be ecstatic (my apologies for the expletive but I get a bit emotional at times!).

Maybe you could help me here dear reader – what shall I change my name to in order to have a surge in sales?

J.K. Stransky?

Darius Rowling?

Any and all suggestions gratefully received.

Thank you for reading this far and if you want some medieval reading just check out the other pages on the blog. Hang on – the phone’s ringing …

“Hello. Yes this is Darius. J.K Rowling? Is that really you? I beg your pardon! You’ll sue me if I put the above blog out there in the big wide world? How about a coffee instead? You will? Of course you can write your next book using the Stransky name. I’ll pick you up at eight.”


IN CONCLUSION – It’s make your mind up time

Here’s a link to the impoverished but still smiling (through gritted teeth) and still writing, Darius Galbraith Rowling Stransky.

Here’s a link to the book pages of the multi-millionaire J. K. Rowling. I Must Be Mad – You owe me a beer for this Joanne!!

TKJ – A brief history of prostitution in medieval times.


Medieval Bath-house and ‘lady’ attendants.

“Fancy a good time, dearie?”


Want to listen to an audio of The King’s Jew? Please Click here

Last week we looked at medieval booze and now it’s time to lift the lid (maybe we should say ‘blanket’) on “The Oldest Profession.”

On the evening of Wednesday, September 9th. 1238. The Feast day of St Gorgonius. In Cheapside, London, we meet a lady of the night in book one of “The King’s Jew”. She’s sat in an inn when Sir Gilles de Burgh and his men come in for some entertainment. The prose goes like this –

“A middle-aged whore sat alone in a corner resplendent in the emblem of her trade, a striped piece of cloth sewn on her ragged outer garment. She eyed Gilles, as a ferret would a rabbit. …. She saw him looking. One grimy hand reached into her lice-infested clothing and emerged to reveal a …. Alas this courtesan was unaware that her charms had diminished as her age had grown, and the effect on Gilles was a wave of revulsion. His favourite hunting dog, Charis, had sweeter dugs than hers!”


The ‘Working Girl’ and clients.

I have redacted certain elements of the text (don’t want to offend anybody!) but you get the picture? AND JUST TO SAY that there is another ‘lady’ who features in the novel who is strong and feisty and far removed from the pitiful creature you just met.

The thing to notice is that this ‘lady’ can be easily recognized by what she is wearing – The striped cloth in this case. Another oft-used device was a coloured shoulder-knot worn on the left-hand side.

Sumptuary Laws (laws mandating that prostitutes should dress in a manner different from other women) were passed in order to make whores immediately distinguishable from respectable women (sumptuary laws also applied to peasants and the nobility alike and not only for prostitutes)

Other clothing rules for our female entrepreneurs were: – striped hoods or cloaks, black and white pointed hats, and yellow dresses. These later evolved into armbands of a certain colour, or a hood cut in a distinctive shape. Fur, jewellery, and even embroidery were generally forbidden to prostitutes because such finery was only considered appropriate for respectable women (but it may also have been for the protection of the prostitutes themselves). Such visible wealth could have made them targets for robbery, and with no male guardians, they wouldn’t have had much legal recourse.



Bath-house – note the bed in left of picture. Good clean fun eh?

In 747, Cuthbert, Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote that it was a great ‘scandal and disgrace’ that so many English women and nuns should be allowed to set out on the pilgrimage to Rome. For very few of them ‘kept their virtue’, and there was scarcely a city in Lombardy or Gaul where you could not find several of these English pilgrims turned prostitute.

In 1161, Henry II tacitly condoned prostitution and gave the brothels of Southwark a status and protection they were to enjoy for the next 400 years.

Then in 1176, Henry placed the Bankside Stews of Southwark under municipal control. The most respectable prostitutes worked in brothels, or “stews.” Most villages had one.

BUT WHAT was a ‘STEW’ I hear you ask? – A ‘stew(e)’ or bath-house was simply a synonym for brothel. It is thought that the fashion for bathing was brought back to England by returning crusaders who wished to recreate the Hammams (bath-houses) of the east. There is evidence of ‘estewes’ being located on the Bankside dating from c.1100.


What the Crusaders saw.


In 1276 a law was passed that no whores be allowed within the London city walls.

In the early 1400’s there is a record of an Exeter prostitute, Emma Northcote, the majority of whose clients were priests.

In London, in 1401, there is a record of one Elizabeth, wife of John Waryn, who kept a ‘bordelhouse for monks, priests and others’.

In York in 1424 Elizabeth Frowe and Joan Skryvener were presented as procuresses for Austin Friars (Augustinian London Friars) and priests in general.

The importance of bawds, pimps and procurers in the sex trade of the late medieval period is underscored by the fact that they were often punished more severely for their actions than women accused of prostitution and if a woman engaged in her trade without the knowledge of her ‘handler’ then rough justice was meted out.



Who’s been sleeping in my bed?


Prostitutes then, as today, were vulnerable to violence. The 1299 Coroner’s Roll for Oxford records the murder of Margery de Hereford. The coroner determined that an unnamed clerk had known Margery carnally and that when she demanded her fee the clerk stabbed her in the left breast.

The Church had laws about every aspect of sex. Adultery and fornication in some cases were sins punishable by death, but for a time the Church actually condoned prostitution, admitting that it was a necessary evil. Indeed, St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the sterner theologians, wrote: “If prostitution were to be suppressed, careless lusts would overthrow society.”



Young St Thomas.


And in the early part of the Middle Ages, priests were actually allowed to marry and have children.

The areas where the ‘trade’ was practiced were suitably named and very suggestive – such as Gropecunt Lane and Popkirtle Lane, narrow byways running north from the St Pancras churchyard and intersecting with Cheapside just across from Mercers’ Hall.

Remember this is just a ‘blog’ a brief outline of the situation and if you want the definitive version then I recommend – Sexuality in Medieval Europe: Doing Unto Others by Ruth Mazo Karras (I haven’t read it myself but it crops up all over the place when researching the subject).

I’ll leave you with this image of a London ‘Stew’ – I particularly like the look of the ‘Jester’ standing in the doorway – you just know he’s dying to open his eyes!!



I doubt that this is the debating society headquarters!


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TKJ – A brief history of booze in medieval times.



The traveler wears spurs. Food and drink at the medieval inn.


“Alcohol consumption in medieval Britain was, by modern standards, very high.”

Thus say the experts and I’m not going to argue with them! 

A word of caution before I go further. Ale is not the same thing as beer. Beer has hops. Hops are what give beer its bitter quality and long shelf-life.


In the ‘Dark Ages,’ Ale and alehouses are mentioned from the earliest times in the laws and canons issued by kings and bishops.

Thus, in 616, the number of ale-sellers was restricted by King Ethelbert of Kent. (Ethelbert’s law for Kent, the earliest written code in any Germanic language, instituted a complex system of fines).



Ethelbert (is that a ‘pub’ he’s holding?)

In 570, The monk, St. Gildas (born around 517 in the North of England or Wales) accused British chieftains and clergy of going into battle drunk and leading the country to ruin.

Drunken Brits? I don’t believe it!

In 675, Fortunatus commented on what he considered to be the enormous capacity of Germans to drink!

In 680 Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, decreed that a Christian layman who drank too much must do penance for fifteen days AND he said that a person is drunk “when his mind is quite changed, his tongue stutters, his eyes are disturbed; he has vertigo in his head with distension of the stomach, followed by pain.”

In 688, King Ine of Wessex made laws specifically about alehouses.

In 745 Ecbricht, Archbishop of York decreed that no priest should eat or drink in a tavern.

That rule has long since gone!

While hops may have been used as early as around the mid-eighth century, exactly when and where brewing with hops began is unclear. Old recipes added such ingredients as poppy seeds, mushrooms, aromatics, honey, sugar, bay leaves, butter and bread crumbs. That’s why the ‘brew’ had to be strained (see Viking cupbearers below).

In 965 King Edgar of Wessex and England ordered that there be no more than one alehouse per village. Interestingly, Edgar also regulated the size of drinking vessels, by reference to measures which were marked by pegs in the size of the vessel (this is thought to be the origin of expressions such as ‘I’ll take you down a peg or two’). Edgar was a very small man, recorded as being less than five feet tall.


850-1100 A.D.

Alcohol was central to Viking culture. The Vikings had the same categories of alcoholic drink as the Anglo-Saxons — mead, ale, wine, and beor (BEER). Like the Anglo-Saxons, they venerated mead but drank mostly ale. Modern attempts to reproduce a Viking brew have resulted in a strong (9 percent ABV), dark, and malty beverage, sweet in taste – which would have seemed even sweeter in an age when sugar was rare. In polite Viking society ale was strained before being served – ale strainers have been found amid the grave goods of well-bred ladies, who performed the role of cupbearers in the Viking halls.


1066 – After William, Duke of Normandy, captured England at the Battle of Hastings, English-French wine trade expanded rapidly.

1080’s – Russian priests preached the virtues of drinking in moderation and entire sermons were devoted against drunkenness. However, the idea of abstinence from alcohol was rejected as heretical.

I’m with the Russians on that one!

1102 – In England, Anselm decreed that priests should not attend drinking bouts or drink too much.


St Anselm

St Anselm


1152– In England, where wine was imported and expensive, and therefore noble, the demand of its gentry sparked a viticultural revolution in the Bordeaux region of France. This had been English soil following the marriage of Henry Plantagenet to Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152.

1188 – The first national levy on ale in England was imposed to support the Crusades.

Twelfth Century

Alewives in England brewed, at least, two strengths of beer and monks brewed three, with the strength of the beverage indicated by single, double, or triple Xs.



Alewife serving a pilgrim outside her alehouse.


The ‘broom’ sticking out of the roof was sometimes seven feet long and a Royal Decree ordered that the size be reduced as people were being knocked off their horses!

Public records in the medieval period before the Black Death show that brewing ale was mainly women’s work. This female dominance of the trade likely evolved because brewing was not a specialist trade and only marginally profitable. The lack of needed specialization and physical location within the home made ale brewing an accessible trade for women to add income to the household in both towns and countryside communities

Thirteenth Century


The most important development regarding alcohol throughout the Middle Ages was that of distillation. However, it was Albertus Magnus (1193-1280) who first clearly described the process which made possible the manufacture of distilled spirits.



Albertus – full of spirit!

Thus was born the WATER of LIFE (aqua vitae)

Amaldus of Villanova (d. 1315), a professor of medicine, is credited with coining the term aqua vitae: “We call it [distilled liquor] aqua vitae, and this name is remarkably suitable, since it is really a water of immortality. It prolongs life, clears away ill-humours, revives the heart, and maintains youth.”

These were modest claims compared to those made much later by the fifteenth-century German physician, Hieronymus Brunschwig:



Medieval distillation.

“It eases the diseases coming of cold. It comforts the heart. It heals all old and new sores on the bead. It causes a good color in a person. It heals baldness and causes the hair well to grow, and kills lice and fleas. It cures lethargy. Cotton wet in the same time and a little wrung out again and so put in the ears at night going to bed, and a little drunk thereof, is of good against all deafness. It eases the pain in the teeth, and causes sweet breath. ….

He goes on for another fifteen pages about the benefit of spirits so I’ll call it a draw just here!

In the mid-1200s, fermenting and drinking hard or fermented cider became more popular in England as new varieties of apples were introduced.

1256 King Louis IX (1226-1270) banned taverns from serving drinks for consumption on the premises to anyone other than travelers.

1268 Adulterating alcoholic beverages was a crime punishable by death in medieval Scotland.

1300 In the village of Longhurst (as featured in Book one of “The King’s Jew) an estimated 60% of all families were connected in some way with the brewing or selling of ale.

1309 – London had an estimated one alcohol vendor for every 12 inhabitants.



Patrons of the Inn and ‘mine host’ in the back room fetching more ale.


1316 – Because of a scarcity of wheat in England, a proclamation was issued prohibiting its use in brewing.

1330 – A law was enacted in England that required that wine and beer be sold at a reasonable price. However there was no indication of how to determine what a fair price might be.

1366 – Exporting beer and ale from England required a royal license.



The man in green has drawn his dagger and is fighting with the bearded stranger!


1381 – The increasing price of corn in England led to an increasing price of ale, leading to a concern that the poor would not be able to afford the beverage. Therefore, the mayor of London decreed price controls on ale.

PRICES = (12d = 5p at today’s prices)

Wine = 4d a gallon.

Ale = 1d a gallon.

Beer = 1d a quart.

You could get two chickens for a penny!

Thus ends our look at some background for “The King’s Jew” Thank you for reading this far

JUST LEAVE A COMMENT OR ‘SIGN UP’ FOR YOUR FREE EBOOK and next week we’ll have a sneaky peek at some more background from TKJ = “The King’s Jew. Book One. At the tomb of King Edward the First…”

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TKJ – A Medieval cartoon – Can you decode its secrets?


This series of ‘blogs’ sets out to give you an insight into the building blocks that make up “The King’s Jew” – if you have any questions concerning any of these points just get in touch and I’ll be happy to share what knowledge I have garnered. Thanks.

The winner of last week’s FREE COPY is ……. Bev Newman – Congratulations, Bev.

YOU TOO can win a copy – just see offer at the end.


CHAPTER FIVE – Here we find the knight Gilles de Burgh at the house of the Jewish moneylender, Joseph ben Simon ben Moshe in London in 1238. Gilles wants to extend his credit but something totally unexpected is revealed (you’ll have to buy the book!).

But how did the Christian people of England see the Jews? All is revealed in this very telling cartoon from 1233.



Click to enlarge this medieval ‘cartoon’.


Tax records can tell us a great deal about life in the middle Ages. They don’t usually come with pictures, but this one does.

It is a cartoon from 1233 during the reign of King Henry III. It’s a detailed, complex cartoon and it is a bit of a mystery.

It was found on an Exchequer Roll, a government document recording various payments that is stored rolled up. This roll listed tax payments made by Jewish people in the city of Norwich in Norfolk.

Look at the cartoon above and see if you can find:

A castle – Pitchforks – A set of scales AND

A woman – A crown –Devils.


Background – Persecution of the Jews

The terrible treatment of Jews by the Nazi Government in the 1930s and 1940s was not a new event. Though nothing had ever been seen on the scale of the appalling ‘Final Solution’ begun in 1942 in which 6 million were murdered, Jews have been the victims of mistreatment since Roman times, as their different religion and their success in business attracted hatred and jealousy.

Laws were sometimes passed against them, such as the 1215 ruling by the Catholic Church that Jewish men had to wear spiked hats to identify them. At other times they have been made to wear stars on their clothing or change their names.


At the time this roll was written Jews in England were subjected to heavy taxes, had property stolen or confiscated and were sometimes attacked. The most serious attack on a Jewish community was the York Massacre in 1190 in which hundreds of Jews were killed as they took refuge in Clifford’s Tower, one of the city’s castles. The 12th century historian William of Newburgh accused the townspeople of an attempt at ‘sweeping away the whole race in their city’.


nch Markets

Medieval Norwich.


Medieval Norwich

In the 13th century, Norwich was one of the largest and most important towns in England. One of its richest and most powerful residents was Isaac fil Jurnet, a Jewish money lender who owned a large amount of property in the city and was a banker to the king. To some jealous citizens Isaac seemed like a king himself.

Isaac employed other Jews to collect the money that borrowers in the city owed to him. The most well-known (and most disliked) were Mosse Mokke and his wife Abigail.

The cartoon above is an example of the feelings many people had towards Jews in medieval England. It is about real people and their situation within 13th century society.


Let’s look at the image in more detail – below is the left section.


Image 2

Look at all my money!


You’ll see a man is holding a set of scales containing money.

This man is not a Jew. He is a poor Christian monk, his scales full of coin that Isaac is trying to wrest from him using one of the many devils at his command – that’s a devil behind him, the figure with the forked tongue!

Isaac had sued the Westminster monks to get the interest from money they had borrowed after they refused to pay it.


Now look at the centre images of the cartoon – below


Image 4

‘Three-headed Isaac.


That three-headed monster above with the crown towering over the centre of the drawing is Isaac fil Jurnet, the wealthy Jewish moneylender from Norwich who was banker to King Henry III, the Abbot and monks of Westminster, the Bishop of Norwich and many others.



Image 3

Mosse and his wife Abigail.


The man and woman facing each other above with Satan between them are Mosse Mokke and his wife Abigail both of whom were employed as debt collectors by Isaac.

Mosse wears the pointed hat that all Jews were ordered to wear AND the demon is pointing to their noses!


Now look at the right-hand side of the cartoon. –below.

Image 5

What do you think these characters are supposed to be? Well you’re right. These are even more devils come to assist the moneylender. They carry pitchforks and reaping tools in order to gather in the ‘harvest’ of money and debt.


Such was the febrile nature of English Christianity in those days and it saddens me to think that such attitudes eventually culminated in the ‘Holocaust’ of World War Two.


In 1290 when the Jews of England were expelled a learned Jew in Norwich, Meir ben Eliahu wrote a collection of poems imbued with a mixture of fear, anger and sorrow – in short a concoction of all sorts of those emotions, which the Jewish community in England must have lived through, when they finally lost their livelihoods and homes after more than 200 years of anti-Semitic persecution.

“Forced away from where we dwelt

We go like cattle to the slaughter.

A slayer stands above us all.

We burn and die.”

How prophetic was that?


JUST LEAVE A COMMENT OR ‘SIGN UP’ FOR YOUR PRIZE and next week we’ll have a sneaky peek at some more background from TKJ = “The King’s Jew. Book One. At the tomb of King Edward the First…”

And it is available at the following outlets:

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Google Play =

Apple iTunes =

Barnes & Noble – Nook =

TKJ – What the Medieval Butler saw!


When researching in order to write a 1,200-page trilogy there is so much background that never sees the light of day (or pages) of the finished books (though such close detail is naturally included to build and enhance the story). This series of ‘blogs’ sets out to give you an insight into building blocks that make up “The King’s Jew” – if you have any questions concerning any of these points just get in touch and I’ll be happy to share what knowledge I have garnered. Thanks




In Chapter Four we meet Merek a young madman who has one wish to fulfil – he wants to kill King Henry the Third.

It is a documented fact that an assassin did make an attempt on Henry’s life.

In order to gain access to the Palace of Westminster – where Henry was staying – Merek devised what he thought was a fool-proof stratagem. He would gain the confidence of the workers in the Great Kitchens and then wheedle his way into the residential quarters of the palace.

But what were the medieval kitchens really like and what type of persons worked within those fiery furnaces?


Dover Castle 12th century

Dover Castle – Twelfth century.


Ancient fire pits were positioned in the middle of the room. A central fireplace can allow the maximum number of people to warm up around it and radiate heat into the maximum useable area. A hole in the ceiling would provide a draft through which the smoke could escape.

This design lasted for thousands of years. It wasn’t until two-story buildings became common that the next design innovation took place. The fireplace was moved to the outside wall. People didn’t want to build a fire in the middle of a wood floor on the second story. So it was easier to set the fireplace and chimney structure off to the side. These early designs vented horizontally.

Constables House and Norman Chimney - Christchurch. Dorset

Christchurch, Dorset. 12th-century chimney.

That’s when the chimney was discovered. By venting the fireplace up through the roof, a draft was created, drawing the smoke away. The chimney is probably the most important and enduring innovation in fireplace technology

Eventually, separate kitchens evolved in a dedicated kitchen area, often separated from the main building by a covered arcade/walkway. This way, the smoke, odours and noise of the kitchen could be kept out of sight of guests, and the fire risk to the main building reduced.


Skipton Castle Kitchen

Representation of Skipton castle. Yorkshire.


Spits roasting meat and huge iron cauldrons bubbling with soups and stews were all part of the kitchen’s daily routine.

Lambs, cattle, pigs, and fowl were tethered or penned nearby. Indeed, barrels of live fish and crabs ETC were kept within easy reach. Many castles kept a pond stocked with fish, and cooking herbs would be grown in nearby gardens. Castle kitchens could be large enough to roast up to three whole oxen at once! Don’t try this in your modern kitchen!


Water would be normally be supplied by a well, but castles during the later Middle Ages began to pipe water right into the kitchen area. Utensils and whatever dishes the lord might possess would be washed in large stone sinks often using grass or straw as a scouring medium. Often sand would be used to properly clean metal cauldrons.


Well at Dover Castle

Dover castle well.


Breakfast in the Middle Ages was usually a simple meal of bread and wine / water. Dinner would be served between 10 a.m. and noon and feature several courses. Dinner, especially for celebratory feasts, would demand large quantities of food be prepared. At the marriage of Henry III’s daughter, sixty cattle were slaughtered and prepared as the main course for the meal!

Kitchens, Pantries, Larders and Butteries

There were also assorted knives, stirring spoons, ladles and graters. In wealthy households one of the most common tools was the mortar and sieve cloth since many medieval recipes called for food to be finely chopped, mashed, strained and seasoned either before or after cooking. This was based on a belief among physicians that the finer the consistency of food, the more effectively the body would absorb the nourishment.

It also gave skilled cooks the opportunity to elaborately shape the results. Fine-textured food was also associated with wealth; for example, finely milled flour was expensive, while the bread of commoners was typically brown and coarse. A typical procedure was farcing (from the Latin farcio, “to cram”), to skin and dress an animal, grind up the meat and mix it with spices and other ingredients and then return it into its own skin, or mould it into the shape of a completely different animal.



Plan of Westminster Palace.


Major kitchens – like those of thirteenth century Westminster Palace – had to cope with the logistics of daily providing at least two meals for several hundred people. Guidelines on how to prepare for a two-day banquet include a recommendation that the chief cook should have at hand hundreds of cartloads of “good, dry firewood”.

Besides washing up – using grass, straw and sand – the other job of highest importance and continual nature was tending the fire; watching the pots and spits, banking the embers to keep them going all night, lighting dead fires with brands or coals from living ones, and hauling coals and wood. This was when the SOUFFLEURS  – from the French meaning ‘to blow’ – came into their own as these guys looked after the fires and either made them burst into roaring flames or kept them low so as to simmer food.

The kitchen staff of huge noble or royal courts like Westminster Palace occasionally numbered in the hundreds, including:

Pantlers – (a servant or officer in charge of the bread and the pantry in a great family) who oversaw the storage and preparation of bread in the pantry.

Bakers – making pastry and the many and varied loafs of bread.

Waferers – who specialised in making crisp, often sweet, very thin, flat, and dry biscuits;

Sauciers – specialising in producing all manner of sauces.

Larderer – responsible for the storage of meat and fish.

Butchers – who slaughtered the animals, dressed the flesh and prepared the standard cuts of meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish.

luttrell-psalter-kitchen 1320

I wouldn’t like to argue with this guy!

Carvers – skilled at disjointing the meat and slicing it uniformly to obtain a maximum or satisfactory number of portions.

Page boys – young male servants;

Milkmaids – employed to milk dairy cows and prepare dairy products such as cream, butter, and cheese.

Butlers – a middle-ranking member of the servants of a great house, in charge of the buttery (originally a storeroom for “butts“, that is casks, of wine and ale).

AND many scullions who performed the most physical and demanding tasks in the kitchen, such as cleaning and scouring the floor, pots and dishes and assisting in the cleaning of vegetables, plucking fowl, and scaling fish. Hence the name SCULLERY – the place where this all took place.



The scullion.


Off the kitchen was the Pantry


Dover Castle - Henry the Second

Dover castle.


A pantry is a room where food, provisions or dishes are stored and served in an ancillary capacity to the kitchen. The derivation of the word is from the same source as the Old French term paneterie; that is from pain, the French form of the Latin pan for bread.

The head of the office responsible for this room was referred to as a pantler. .


The Larder

A larder is a cool area for storing food prior to use. Essential qualities of a larder are that it should be as cool as possible, close to food preparation areas, constructed so as to exclude flies and vermin, easy to keep clean and equipped with shelves and cupboards appropriate to the food being stored.



Dover castle.


In the northern hemisphere, most houses would arrange to have their larder and kitchen on the north or east side of the house where it received least sun.

A pantry may contain a stone slab or shelf used to keep food cool. In the late medieval hall, a thrawl (cold shelf) would have been appropriate to a larder. In a large manor all these rooms would have been placed as low in the building as possible, or as convenient, in order to use the mass of the ground to retain a low summer temperature. For this reason, a buttery was usually called the cellar by this stage.

Pay attention you readers of Scottish descent – The Scots term for larder was the spence, and so in Scotland larderers (also pantlers and cellarers) were known as spencers. This is one of the Anglo-Scottish derivations of the modern surname. Introduced by the Norman French after the Invasion of England in 1066, it was a metonymic occupational surname for someone who was originally in charge of the pantry of a great house or monastery. The term derives from the pre 10th century Old French word “despense”, from the Latin “dispendere”, meaning to weigh out or dispense. Any Spencers out there?


A buttery was a domestic room in a castle or large medieval house. It was one of the offices pertaining to the kitchen. It was generally a room close to the Great Hall and was traditionally the place from which the yeoman of the buttery (The Butler) served beer and candles to those lower members of the household not entitled to drink wine. The room takes its name from the beer butts (barrels) stored there.

Did Merek succeed in his deadly task? Well, you’ll have to read what happened to him but below is how he managed to gain entrance to the King’s chamber –

Extract from chapter four“Welcome, Merek,” said the leader of this group, “a busy night ahead of us. The King and his young Queen are in residence and we are short of one of our number as that scullion, John, has once more absented himself from our company.” Merek saw his chance. 

“Master Thomas,” he said with due deference, “if it please you, for a hearty meal and a mug of small beer, let me help this night for I have no more work at the Tower until the morrow.” He held his breath, amazed at his own audacity since he knew nothing of the real duties of these men yet it couldn’t be that difficult to carry a platter up a flight of stairs could it?

The man, Thomas, looked him over before he spoke quietly to the fellow next to him. The man disappeared for a brief moment returning with the colours of their calling. “Off with your cowl, Merek,” said Thomas, “and pull this on.”  He slipped the tabard over his head and, now officially a worker in the palace he smiled an inward smile unseen by any other and mentally danced a jig on the spot. Thomas watched him, and saw nothing but an additional serving man sent by the saints to make his night’s work easier. Merek revelled in the veil of innocence that covered his face and stood there quietly ready to do his duty. Kill the King.’


Thus ends our look behind the scenes of Chapter Four.


BUT SCROLL DOWN FOR YOUR PRIZE and next week we’ll have a sneaky peek at some more background from TKJ = “The King’s Jew. Book One. At the tomb of King Edward the First…”



And it is available at the following outlets:


Amazon =

Kobo =

Google Play =

Apple iTunes =

Barnes & Noble – Nook =




Now then – as you’ve read this far I believe you need a reward.


Sign up or Leave a comment and I’ll pick TWO names at random from my black fedora and send the lucky winners a FREE copy of the latest eBook incarnation of “The King’s Jew. Book One.”


Thank you, dear reader. Any questions – just SHOUT!





TKJ -From Peasant to Knight?

When researching in order to write a 1,200-page trilogy there is so much background that never sees the light of day (or pages) of the finished books (though such close detail is naturally included to build and enhance the story). This series of ‘blogs’ sets out to give you an insight into building blocks that make up “The King’s Jew” – if you have any questions concerning any of these points just get in touch and I’ll be happy to share what knowledge I have garnered. Thanks





Crusader knight


In Chapter Three

We meet sixteen-year-old Mathew. I suppose we could describe Mathew as a trainee thug in the service of Gilles de Burgh a knight in the service of King Henry III.

Mathew is assisting Robert, one of de Burgh’s men-at-arms, in terrorising a London peasant – the two are trying to retrieve a pig that they inadvertently lost (yes, a pig! – but not just any old pig – their master’s pig!).

But this begs the question of how Mathew came to be in the service of a titled knight? AND how did one become a knight in thirteenth century England?

Medieval Soldiers and Feudalism

During the Middle Ages a knight was originally a person of noble birth trained in weapons, horsemanship and chivalry. This ‘training’ began when the boy was maybe six-years-old.



Training started at an early age.


A Knight’s tools of the trade were expensive. Chainmail had to be tailor-made to fit or the wearer ran the risk of an ill-fitting suit hampering him in battle. In the early Middle Ages, a horse played an extremely important part in the life of a knight. A knight would own several horses which were built for different duties. The Courser was the most sought after and expensive warhorse, but the more common warhorse was the Destrier. The wealthy noblemen who became mounted knights were worth the equivalent of many foot soldiers. A successful soldier could become wealthy and knighthood conferred regardless of his background. Even if he started life as a peasant – like Mathew.



Sartorial elegance eh?



Although it isn’t mentioned in too much detail, Mathew arrived at the Manor of Longhurst aged six as an orphan. At first he slept with the animals and eked out a living as best he could. Then he began stealing food and was eventually caught and taken to Gilles de Burgh to be punished. Mathew put up such a fight that de Burgh was impressed and took him into his household as a dog boy.



The lord’s dog was more important than a peasant.



Being around soldiers and fighters seemed second nature to Mathew and soon he was accepted by de Burghs men and almost ‘adopted’ by them. As he grew in stature and guile he just ‘drifted’ into the life of a soldier.

Was this a glamorous life?

To a peasant who worked from dawn till dusk, it seemed a life of great delights. Yet these common soldiers earned hardly a penny-piece in what we would consider wages (on an ‘official’ campaign when they followed their lord into battle at the behest of the king they would be paid 8d a day – if they were lucky). Their main reward came in the free supply of chainmail and weapons, good horses, regular food, a place to sleep and that’s about all – except for the odd chance of booty and possessions after a fight /battle.

A man-at-arms like Mathew would never be able to afford a horse (£10 to £90) himself so this jobbing soldier – armed and dangerous – had a much better life than the peasants. And all for free! Except when he lost his life in service!



Death and destruction – the soldier’s lot.


Feudalism was based on the exchange of land for military service. A portion of land (called a fief) would be granted by the King to a successful soldier who had performed well during battle. This reward would be granted in exchange for his services. The fief, or land, was granted to create a lasting bond between a vassal and his lord. The knight would swear allegiance to his lord – the Knights Oath of Fealty. Fealty and homage were key elements of feudalism.

The Feudal Levy – A knight who had been rewarded with land pledged his military services.  This was called the Feudal Levy. When wars broke out soldiers and knights were raised by the Feudal Levy when there was a ‘Call to Arms’. Under the Feudal Levy soldiers and knights were required to fight for a limited period of 40 days – under certain circumstances this could be increased to 90 days. Medieval nobles, lords and knights of the Middle Ages were expected to provide trained soldiers to fight for the King and to provide clothes and weapons for the soldiers. The limited time requirement of the Feudal Levy was designed to ensure that the land would not suffer from neglect.



War over – time for the harvest.


The Feudal Pyramid

The King owned the land and granted land to important barons – who pledged their loyalty by swearing to serve and protect the king.

The king also granted land to the less powerful military men (the knights) who were called vassals.

The knights (or vassals) also agreed to fight for the king in exchange for their land.

The land was worked by the peasants or serfs who were bound to the land.


The Three Main Medieval categories

Were – The knight, The Priest, The Peasant – as shown below;



Climbing the Pyramid – The Feudal Pyramid of Power made it possible for everyone to move higher up the ranks and this is what many aspired to. Medieval Squires and Pages of the Middle Ages wanted to become knights. A Knight who proved valiant in battle could become wealthy. The most wealthy and powerful knights then joined the nobility.

Manors and Castles – The lands granted to knights in England were called manors. Dues and taxes were paid to the knights under Manorialism. A knight would live in a Manor House on his fief. A knight could bring in additional wealth by competing in jousting tournaments. These tournaments offered a substantial purse to the winner. Winners of such jousting tournaments became the Medieval ‘superstars’ of the Middle Ages. Knights became rich and famous. The tournaments were a necessary part of feudalism as they acted as a training ground for the knights. The most successful and, therefore, wealthy knights were able to increase their land holdings and acquire their own soldiers to whom he might grant lands and who in turn swore an Oath of Fealty to the knight. Powerful knights under feudalism were, therefore, able to acquire their own substantial fighting forces. This in turn led to the construction of castles by knights – the great power bases of the Middle Ages.



Typical castle layout.


Thus, despite all prohibitions to the contrary, many a poor soldier won knighthood through valour in the service of a lord. Despite this double-ended openness of the knightly class, it nevertheless retained distinct caste rigidity. Its newest members, like parvenus of every age, copied or even excelled the hauteur of their older brothers in aristocracy.’

Did Mathew become a knight?

Well, without spoiling the novel let me just say this – at the end of Book one (1265) he is still a soldier though he is now aged forty-three. He has been offered other positions yet remains true to his new master. Indeed, he now commands a garrison and has been elevated to captain’s rank yet his upbringing keeps him within his soldier’s ethics.

Mathew is that rare thing ‘a man’s man’ – fiercely loyal, dangerous to a fault (don’t ever cross him) and – strangely for the time period – he is not a religious man. Given the choice of putting his trust in God – or otherwise – Mathew would rather trust his weapons.

He doesn’t have many friends yet I would class him as a friend of mine. I like Mathew and all that he stands for.



Is Mathew riding to the rescue? Such a sight would give me hope.


Thus ends our look behind the scenes of Chapter Three.

BUT SCROLL DOWN FOR YOUR PRIZE and next week we’ll have a sneaky peek at some more background from TKJ = “The King’s Jew. Book One. At the tomb of King Edward the First…”

01_THE_KING_s_JEW (1)2

And it is available at the following outlets:

Amazon =

Kobo =

Google Play =

Apple iTunes =

Barnes & Noble – Nook =


Now then – as you’ve read this far I believe you need a reward.

Sign up or Leave a comment and I’ll pick TWO names at random from my black fedora and send the lucky winners a FREE copy of the latest eBook incarnation of “The King’s Jew. Book One.”

Thank you, dear reader. Any questions – just SHOUT!