Subversive Brewers in Medieval England

This past week, I presented on the panel, “Beer and Taxes: Nothing Can Be So Certain,” at the Sixty-Second Annual Midwest Conference on British Studies in Detroit (hosted by Wayne State University). My paper, “Subversive Brewers: Ale and Tax Evasion in Medieval and Early Modern England” featured research completed for my M.A. thesis. I had not returned to my thesis in roughly six years, so it was an amusing, and at times cringeworthy, experience. Still, dusting off my thesis reminded me of how much fun I had researching the history of beer. It remains a topic near and dear to my heart.

For those interested, my entire thesis is available online, either through the Proquest thesis database or at Academia.edu, but a snippet of the paper I presented in Detroit is included below.

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Abb. 8: Jorg Prewmaister, Mendel Band I (1437), Seite 60 (Source: Historical depictions, guild signs and symbols of the brewing and malting handcraft; online thesis by Matthias Trum.)

Segment from, “Subversive Brewers: Ale and Tax Evasion in Medieval and Early Modern England” (please contact me if you wish to read the full paper):

Along with setting the price of ale, the English government also regulated the size and cost of serving measurements. The London Aldermen only allowed three measurements for selling ale: the quart, the pottle, and the gallon.[1] An Assize from 1277 declares that, “no brewster henceforth sell except by true measures, viz. the gallon, the pottle and the quart. And that they be marked by the seal of the Alderman.”[2] The law required all brewers to have their quart, pottle, and gallon containers inspected by an Alderman four times a year.[3] If a brewer brought any container to the Alderman that did not meet the measurement standard – the wooden serving containers shrank over time – the Alderman destroyed the vessel. Brewers who neglected to present their measures to the Aldermen had to pay a monetary fine.[4]

A section of the Liber Albus, the first book of English common law, lists the punishments for any brewer caught serving ale in a measurement that did not have the seal of an Alderman. According to the Liber Albus, those caught breaking the laws of appropriate measurements faced a fine of forty pence and the destruction of the brewer’s measures for the first offense. The punishments increased for multiple offenses: “The second time let her be amerced to the amount of half a mark. And the third time, let her be amerced to the amount of twenty shillings.”[5] As the government reissued the Assize of Ale, the punishments for breaking the law became harsher. A proclamation from 1316 set the cost of one gallon of ale at three farthings and one penny for the city of London.[6] Any brewer caught breaking the ale law lost her brewery for the first offense, and she lost access to engage in the trade completely for the second offense. For the third offense, the guilty party faced exile from the city.[7]

Ale brewers resisted the regulations implemented by the English government, either by openly objecting to the prices set by officials, or by subversive means of fraudulence. Multiple accounts appear of brewers approaching the Mayor and Aldermen with complaints of the legal price of ale appear, and often the brewers threatened to discontinue their service of providing ale to the public. The Plea and Memoranda Rolls feature many accounts of London brewers who appeared in the Mayor’s Court challenging or refusing to abide by the ale laws. The brewers made these objections in hopes they would receive higher wages, but their attempts to alter the ale laws ultimately failed.[8] London officials viewed such demands as particularly harmful to society, as threats to cut off or diminish the ale supply would directly affect the ability of London citizens to obtain the necessary victual. The majority of the brewers who threatened to cease brewing faced imprisonment as a result. The Liber Albus outlines such punishment, stating:

And if any brewer or brewster be not willing to brew, or brew less than such person was wont to brew, let such person be held to be a withholder of victuals from the City, and for such disobedience and malice incur the penalty of imprisonment, at the will of the Mayor for the time being; and nevertheless, let such person foreswear the said trade within the franchise of the City for ever.[9]

Brewers not only had to adhere to measurement and cost restrictions, but they faced an obligation to engage in the trade regularly to ensure a steady supply of ale to the public.

As the English government tightened its control over the brewing trade through the Assize, problems between brewers and local authority figures developed during the fourteenth century. On May 19, 1350, Adam le Brewere proclaimed before both the Mayor and the Sheriffs of London that brewers deserved exemption from the Alderman’s regulation and control. Adam states that he intended to “gather together the brewers, and they would agree not to take service except by day only and at the wage of 12d. [pence] a day.”[10] Adam’s threat to halt the availability of ale to the public resulted in his imprisonment, as, according to the Alderman, his demands directly displayed contempt for the King and the commonwealth of the people.[11]

Other brewers openly challenged and made threats in public and in the Mayor’s Court against ale taxation caused by the Assize. In 1375, a brewer named Simon Macchyng declared that the brewers of London “would or could not observe the recent proclamation” of the Assize, which put in him prison.[12] Like Simon, Thomas Goudsyre also faced charges of imprisonment in the same year for refusing to sell a gallon of ale at the legal price.[13] Another troublesome brewer named William Ronyn made a public declaration in a market place in November of 1375 that he and all other brewers of London would stop brewing due to the price set by the Assize.[16] William faced additional charges for carrying out his threat, as he convinced a portion of the brewers to cease production or refuse the price of the Assize.[17]

Ale brewers made up a unique area of England’s economy during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Due to the wide practice of the trade and the high demand for ale, the English government regulated brewing more than most other crafts. While brewing and baking shared a similar importance, the early thirteenth-century formation of the Bakers’ Gild provided bakers with a greater advantage than brewers. Bakers faced public humiliation for providing small loaves of bread, as did other craftsmen caught breaking the law by short-changing their customers, including brewers. Unlike brewers, however, neither bakers nor members of other trade gilds had to pay fines in order to engage in their ordinary work. Instead, the English government left control of the respective industries largely to the gilds.[18] Other craftsmen could freely manufacture goods in accordance with the law, but brewers had to pay standard fees simply because they made ale. The government regulated brewing more because it wanted to ensure the public had access to ale, but also because of the profits gained by taxing ale brewers.[19]

[1] A pottle measured around one-half of a gallon.

[2] Sharpe, ed., Letter Book A, folio 129 b, available online at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=33031.

[3] Monckton, English Ale and Beer, 57.

[4] Monckton, English Ale and Beer, 57-58.

[5] Monckton, English Ale and Beer, 56-7. The feminine form appears in this declaration because women made up the majority of brewers during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. A half-mark was equal to six shillings and eight pence.

[6] A farthing was equal to a quarter of a penny. The price for a gallon of ale cost 1 ¾ pence.

[7] Sharpe, ed., Letter Book E, folio lvii, available online at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=33100.

[8]A.H. Thomas, ed., Calendar of Plea and Memoranda Rolls Preserved Among the Archives of the Corporation of the City of London at the Gildhall: Rolls A1a-A9, A.D. 1323-1364, Volume I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926), 260-70; A.H. Thomas, ed., Calendar of the Plea and Memoranda Rolls of the City of London: Volume II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1929), Roll A 21, Membr. 3 and 3b, available online at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=36685. Specific details pertaining to Brewere, Macchyng, Goudsyre, and other disruptive brewers’ appearances before the Mayor’s Court appear in chapter five.

[9] John Carpenter, Liber Albus: The White Book of the City of London, trans. and ed. Henry Thomas Riley (London, 1861), 311.

[10] A.H. Thomas, ed., Calendar of Plea and Memoranda Rolls Preserved Among the Archives of the Corporation of the City of London at the Gildhall: Rolls A1a-A9, A.D. 1323-1364, Volume I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926), roll A6, membr. 5b, available online at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=36660. Although wages increased following the outbreak of bubonic plague, Le Brewere’s demand of 12 d. is particularly high.

[11] Thomas, ed., Plea and Memoranda Rolls: Vol. I, roll A6, membr. 5b.

[12] A.H. Thomas, ed., Calendar of the Plea and Memoranda Rolls of the City of London: Volume II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1929), roll A21, membr. 3b, available online at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=36685.

[13] Thomas, ed., Plea and Memoranda Rolls: Vol. II, roll A21, membr. 3b, available online at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=36685.

[14] Thomas, ed., Plea and Memoranda Rolls: Vol. I, roll A9, membr. 2b, available online at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=36663.

[15] Thomas, ed., Plea and Memoranda Rolls: Vol. I, roll A9, membr. 2b, available online at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=36663.

[16] The price of ale during listed in the record at this time was 1 ½ d. per gallon.

[17] Thomas, ed., Plea and Memoranda Rolls: Vol. II, roll A21, membr. 3b, available online at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=36685.

[18] Salzman, English Industries of the Middle Ages, 313-15.

[19] Bennett, Ale, Beer, and Brewsters, 47; Salzman, English Industries in the Middle Ages, 297. Brewers remained below the ranks of other gilds, because an overall social perception that brewers were public servants existed at the time.

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HIST 4388: Alcohol in the Atlantic World

Classes begin next week at UTA, which means the past few days have been full of course prep. I will say, having the chance to visit the local homebrew store to buy materials for class… well, it was a nice treat.

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My kind of school supplies.

A few seats remain. To any UTA students out there, jump in and join the fun!

To everyone else not at UTA, but who may be interested in the class (a number of you have contacted me over the past few weeks), I hope to post regular updates related to the course throughout the semester. You can also follow course discussions on Twitter via the hashtag: #H4388.

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The course syllabus is now available. You can find it online here.

Drinking for Freedom

This holiday weekend, as people across the United States celebrate the anniversary of the American colonies’ declaration of independence, many will do so by firing up backyard grills and enjoying cold, crisp bottles of beer. Beer is particularly popular in the United States at the moment, thanks to the rapid spread of innovative breweries across the country. Drinking also seems to go hand-in-hand with holiday celebrations, but there is a certain appeal to enjoying a cold beer on a hot July day.

Though many likely stocked up on beer in anticipation of the holiday, what would the American colonists who supported the fight for independence drink? Probably not beer.

Eight men around table, drinking and smoking, 1797
“Eight men around table, drinking and smoking” (1797), via Library of Congress

I say probably, because beer was certainly available in the mainland thirteen colonies. The colonists, though, tended to have a taste for the stronger stuff, and they had plenty to choose from. Readily available ‘potent potables’ included (but were not limited to): rum, a variety of wine, cider, rum, brandy, whiskey, and more rum. Beer did flow through the colonies, but often tavern-goers opted for bowls of rum punch. They also mixed their own cocktails out of beer, adding rum and sugar to make a popular drink known as Flip.

More popular, though, was rum punch. A mixture that traditionally included five ingredients, aided by a handy rhyme (to keep the recipe easy to remember after the second or third round). The handy little rhyme called for:

One of sour,
Two of sweet,
Three of strong,
Four of weak.

One part sour – which usually comprise of either limes or lemons. Two parts sugar to take the edge off the sour lime flavor. Three parts strong included whatever rum one had handy, though aged rum was preferred. Four of weak included a mixture of water and ice, so tavern-goers could have more than one round before falling on the floor (though that did tend to happen).

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Greenwood, Sea Captains Carousing in Surinam, c. 1750s, via Wikimedia Commons.

Rum punch was immensely popular, as shown in the number of illustrations that feature the rum punch bowl as the focal point (for both the viewer of the illustration and those depicted drinking in the tavern). The colonists would mix, and consume, this popular punch in great quantity. One recipe called for one quart of lemon juice, one quart of brandy, two quarts of rum, five pounds of sugar, and four to five quarts of water and ice.

This drink was enjoyed by all, from the humble tavern patron to members of the social elite. Recipes of rum punch could become quite extravagant, as shown in Harriott Pinckney Horry’s recipe book from 1770. Here is her recipe for The Duke of Norfolk Punch:

“Boil twelve Gallons of Water, as soon as it Boils put in twelve pound of loaf Sugar and the Whites of thirty Eggs… [strain with a cloth] into a rum Cask; then put in five quarts and a half of Orange juice, and three quarts and a half of Lemon juice [strained]. Peel thirty Oranges and thirty Lemons very thin, steep the Peel in a Gallon of rum four days, strain the rum off into the Cask adding four gallons more of rum. It will be fit to bottle in two Months.”

Harriott Pinckney Horry’s recipe provides an example of ‘elite’ rum punch, likely the kind enjoyed by the Founders themselves (not a far leap, as her brother was a Revolutionary War veteran and signer of the Constitution).

1801 - Anacreontick's in full song
Gillray, Anacreontick’s in full song, 1801, via Library of Congress. The tune of ‘The Anacreontic Song’ would become better known in the United States as ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’

Historians have made much about the abundance of alcohol in the North American colonies, as well as the role drinking played in fueling the movement toward independence. Americans continue to celebrate this momentous day, and though the beverage of choice may have changed, the practice of pouring and enjoying a refreshing glass continues.

Happy Independence Day! As always, enjoy that rum punch responsibly.

 

Further Reading:

Peter Thompson, Rum Punch & Revolution: Taverngoing & Public Life in Eighteenth Century Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998).

Ian Williams, Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776 (Nation Books, 2006).

Ed Crews, “Drinking in Colonial America” 

D-Lab and really expensive liquor

This past week I attended a three-day program that focuses on regular dissertation writing from nine o’clock in the morning until four o’clock in the afternoon. This program is called Dissertation Lab (or D-Lab), and it is held every summer at UTA for PhD students who are at the writing stage of the dissertation process. It was an intense three days, but the overall experience was remarkably productive, and I accomplished more than I anticipated.

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A picture taken by my colleague, Mylynka Kilgore Cardona, of the D-Lab group diligently working (with me peeking in on the far left).

While working on the chapter, I had a chance to work with some fun sources I gathered while working at The Wellcome Library in London last summer. The Library holds a wealth of cookery and physick (medical) books from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which include countless recipes involving alcohol. There was one recipe in particular that I wanted to share, given its wonderful extravagance.

A mid-to-late seventeenth century recipe to make “Orange Watter” – distilled spirits were often known as ‘waters’ – appears common enough at first. Many of the recipes for such spirits were costly, and the addition of two quarts of brandy, as well as thirty ‘civil oranges’ (both imported goods to England), put this recipe out of financial reach for most. However, added on, almost as an afterthought, to the end of the recipe there is an intriguing note. It suggests the addition of saffron to the mixture “for colour.” Saffron has long been one of the most desired, and most expensive, spices. A trip to the grocery store today proves that saffron is still quite expensive (an extravagance for graduate students like myself).

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Saffron threads.

Saffron was certainly a luxury item in the seventeenth century, but that was not the final addition to this special liquor. The recipe continues: “[add] a small quantity of leafe Gold, Musk and Amber greace [ambergris].” Reading that last line – jotted down with apparent ease, centuries ago, by an unclear contributor to a family cookery book – brought my progress to a halt. First, the gold leaf; the addition of actual gold to the recipe may not be as impressive today, given the inclusion of gold leaf in not-so-expensive liqueurs like Goldschläger, but it was a clear sign of opulence at the time.

The final two ingredients, musk and ambergris, would bring strong aromatic, perfume-like qualities to the recipe. Both ingredients, though, originate from animal sources. Musk was obtained from the musk deer – a species nearly hunted to extinction. Ambergris was (and still is) obtained from sperm whales. In the seventeenth century, both musk and ambergris were extraordinarily expensive. The ingredients were also believed to be aphrodisiacs, placing this recipe for a orange-flavored liquor in a very interesting category.

Unfortunately, this recipe did not offer any description of the use for this ‘Orange Watter.’ Was it medicinal? Many of the recipes for spirits in these sources were intended to be used as a cure for all sorts of ailments. The inclusion of musk could hint at medicinal properties, as it was used as a restorative at that time. Was it simply an enjoyable, luxurious beverage – one that I am sure (or hope) was consumed in very small quantities? It isn’t clear what the purpose of this beverage was, or if the person who documented this intriguing recipe had any particular interest in that aspect. Such is the frustration historians encounter time and time again. We read through these preserved sources, such as these recipe books, to find enticing insight into the behaviors of those who lived in the past, without the contextual framework to give it meaning. I suppose, though, that is my job.

While I continue to mull over what to make of this particular recipe, it was a surprising and amusing find in the midst of the three-day writing grind. At the very least, I know that every liquor I buy from now on will likely appear rather dull in comparison.

Sidecar Cocktail
What, no saffron?

Throwback Thursday: at the Cantillon Brewery, 2011

Traveling is a wonderful experience, and the memory of such experiences frequently leave me feeling restless and wallowing in moments of nostalgia. Recently, I’ve been thinking over a trip I made to the Cantillon Brewery in Brussels, Belgium in the summer of 2011. Founded in 1900, the brewers at Cantillon produce traditional-style lambic ales, relying upon the process of spontaneous fermentation (exposing the beer to the outside air and the wild yeasts). The last operating brewery within Brussels, Cantillon is keeping the tradition of Belgium lambic ales alive in the midst of the current corporate takeover.

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Brewers at work.

The trip to the brewery was an enlightening moment for me. Those who worked at the brewery, including the Master Brewer (whose name, regrettably, escapes me at the moment), spoke candidly about the state of the beer industry – specifically, the decline of the brewing industry in Belgium, and how the United States was “leading the way” in creative brewing. I remember feeling stunned at hearing both points. In my mind, Belgium produced the finest beers – Belgium was the leader in beer brewing. That trip revealed my naiveté. What I learned instead was that Belgian brewers were fighting a losing war against monster companies like InBev, and breweries across Belgium, to this day, continue to close their doors at a shocking rate.  The second point was equally surprising to me. Sure, the craft brewing movement in the United States was well underway, but beer purchases in the US continued (and still continue) to be dominated by the likes of Anheuser-Busch. To the brewers at Cantillon, though, the creativity of those behind craft brewing was a source of hope for the future of the beer industry. It was an eye-opening experience to say the least (and gave me ideas for future research projects, which will have to remain on hold until the dissertation is finished…).

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The hop boiler at Cantillon.
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“Time does not respect what is done without him.”
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The Cantillon spread – if only I could try them all.

Meeting the brewers, exploring the brewery, and tasting some fine lambic beers while at the Cantillon Brewery was a remarkable experience. I had just completed my first year as a PhD student at the time, and though I wrote my MA thesis on beer brewing in London, this was my first experience visiting a brewery abroad. I can only hope my travels in the future take me once more to Cantillon, and to beautiful Belgium. At the very least, I will forever remain grateful that I had the opportunity to make such a trip in the first place. The taste of the Cantillon gueuze may have faded, but the impression of that experience certainly has not.

Until next time…

Brussels
Cheers.

The History of Alcohol

Alcohol has existed alongside human settlement before the development of writing systems (and with it documented history). In spite of the era or the geographic location – with a few exceptions – humans have produced and heartily consumed fermented beverages. This history is my specialty. While the history of food and cuisine is also a strong area of interest, most of my time is spent researching the history of alcohol.

Currently, I am working on my doctoral dissertation, tentatively titled: “John Barleycorn vs. Sir Richard Rum: Alcohol, the Atlantic, and the Distilling of Colonial Identity, 1650-1800.” In this I am exploring a central question:  “Why did the temperance movement occur in the nineteenth century?” After millennia of continuous alcohol production and consumption patterns, why did this movement emerge to bring drinking to an end? To answer these questions, I am looking to the era prior to the nineteenth century, and the rise of mass-produced hard liquor (or, spirituous liquors) during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. My project will show how the changing patterns of consumption, along with the emerging theories of the Enlightenment, paved the way for the growing movement against alcohol in the 1800s.

This summer and fall, I will be conducting research on fellowship at the Massachusetts Historical Society and at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. Progress on my research, as well as posts on working in academia, will appear here along the way.

Thank you for take the time to visit – I look forward to hearing any thoughts you may have.

Cheers!