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An overview of the stories

Comparison of early/mid and late medieval food




Hugues Capet (987 – 996)

Robert II  (996 – 1031)

Henry I  (1031– 1060) 

Philip I the Amorous  (1060– 1108)

Hugues Capet (depending on the account) either usurped or was called to the throne, displacing the last Carolingian king. His most enduring accomplishment was to found the dynasty that bears his name and only ended its reign with the execution of Louis XVI; his direct line remained in power until the start of Taillevent's period in 1328. He and his immediate descendants ruled over a very weak France which shrunk to its smallest during this period; but by the reign of Philip I the country had begun to expand again.

William the Conqueror's 1066 invasion of England put it under a form of French rule. English rulers would remain closely linked to France for several centuries.


The first Crusade (1095-1099) occurred during this period and was followed by several others. A number of developments in food and agriculture are believed (on more or less solid evidence) to have grown out of the resulting contact with the East.

A number of disastrous famines occurred during the start of this period, with accounts of cannibalism and even human meat being sold in markets. It has been suggested that subsequent efforts to improve farming were in part a reaction to these disasters. Though famines continued to occur over the centuries in France, none of the later ones gave rise to accounts (credible or not) of cannibalism.

Brouet (a type of stew that became a common late medieval dish) begins to be mentioned.

The early Parisian markets were on the Ile de la Cité, in front of the church of the Madeleine. The Saint-Denis fair was still the major regional market for goods from afar.

The Bayeux Tapestry (soon after 1066) shows the first meal the Norman invaders had on English soil and includes a number of details, including what might be meat being cooked in the animal's own skin, a portable stove for smaller items, officers eating on a shield as a table, a servant “horning the water” (calling people with a horn to wash their hands and eat), and high-status people eating with their hands. This at the least is a rare image of an army eating on the march; some of the elements applied in normal dining as well. The feast itself may have been a way of declaring possession of the land where it was held.


Cheese was often given as a tithe in Normandy.

Whale-hunting is mentioned off Normandy using a net. Whale meat was sold near Arras.

Herring and mackerel fishing was recorded in the Atlantic ocean. (Herring were not found in the Mediterranean, which might be why they are not mentioned in Gaul by classical writers.) The abundance of herring made it the default fish-day option for many.

Sturgeon was caught in the Rhone.


Tenants, essentially owned if not officially slaves, were ceded with the land. In Normandy, three classes existed: “hosts”, who had restricted holdings, paid rents, and sometimes acted as actual hosts to visiting dignitaries (and may have sometimes had a free status); peasants, the most numerous, had larger holdings and both paid rents and owed services; bordiers, who also paid rents and performed more onerous tasks, often domestic rather than agricultural.

The “despotism” of Henry I's reign is said to have brought security which was propitious to agriculture.

Clearing of land begins to be mentioned more often. But it was still fitful and even sometimes intentionally limited (William the Conqueror granted forest land to some monks in Normandy on condition that they never clear it).

Land was often divided into charruées, or “plowings”; that is, land that required the work of one plow (this generally equaled one English “hide”). In practice, this was often set at 60 acres (Norman acres, roughly three times the size of the English). But this may have corresponded to two-field cultivation; some records mention 90 acres, which might have corresponded to three-field cultivation. The measure was often theoretical, since many peasants did not have plows.

At least two types of plows existed, one, shown in the Bayeux tapestry, with wheels, the other without. Typically oxen or horses pulled the plows; the one in the tapestry is pulled by an ass.

The marc, a common measure, is first mentioned in Normandy.


The windmill appeared in France. It probably originated in Persia, though scattered references to pre-Crusade European windmills can be found. A mill existed in Dover which used the incoming and outgoing tide to power it (a “tide mill”). These would be found elsewhere later.

Some bread was still made in the fireplace, probably on metal or earthen plates (panes subcinericios). Fouace (one such bread, usually local) is also mentioned. Bread could also be prepared at home and then baked at the local lord or monastery's banal (common) oven. There is some retrospective evidence that bakers were already (again) established in cities, but they were then required to use the communal ovens. Around Paris, one of these belonged to the monastery of St. Germain (then outside Paris) and gave its name to today's Rue du Four (“Street of the Oven”). Another was associated with the Church of St. Eustache. Bakers at this point were called talmeliers (“sifters”), since the mills did not yet fulfill that function and the bakers, in turn, were limited in what else they could do without their own ovens.

The distinction between bakers and pastry-chefs was not yet official, but baked treats were already recorded (oublies – wafers – and nieules, which have been variously cited as the same thing or as different and much lighter). An Arab recipe for a “French” flan suggests that what had been a flatcake was now somewhat like a pizza, with slightly raised sides and a cheese filling.

Normans introduced panis piperatus (a type of gingerbread), simnel (seminel, made with eggs and so probably like a brioche) and “wasted cakes” to England, no doubt based on breads/cakes at home.


Monasteries continued to brew the beer-like cervoise, recorded as being made from barley or oats.

Norman vineyards reached their peak, primarily for local production.

The bishop of Paris abolished a custom (coemptio vinearum) which existed in one of his territories of wine-makers (not always willingly) accepting a loan from the local lord which they then reimbursed with wine of greater value. The custom existed in parts of Normandy as well.

Bernadine monks sometimes drank hot water (not often mentioned on its own) and also used it to soften biscuit.

Spiced wines (clairet and piment) begin to be mentioned.


Based on very sparse records, pepper seemed to be the dominant spice. But a richer variety of spices still came to Europe, at least as far as Italy, where dishes “reeking with Indian spices” were mentioned before the first Crusade.

Sugar was first noted by a French writer in Tripoli in 1099; in 1106, Bauduin (French king of Jerusalem) captured eleven camels loaded with sugar.


In 1000, a church council made Saturday a fast day (in theory, it still is today). But this was never widely observed.

Monks were allowed to use pork fat on their vegetables; in 1092, a Paris council allowed monks to let their pigs graze in the forest without paying local lords any fee.


Special meals for canons in St. Quentin established between 1085 and 1288:

Meat, hens or chickens, eggs and pepper.

Stuffed chickens: for each chicken, 4 eggs and a quarter pound of pepper in all the chickens.

Half a pig and a sheep, eggs, and pepper.

Carp, eggs and pepper.

Whole deer with their skins.

Partridge, or a whole duck, called marlot, for two canons.

Fresh shoulders [of pork?].

Salted shoulders.

For afternoon snacks: wafers (oublies) and lighter pastries (nieules) with wine and mulberry wine.

June 16, 2012