Our fourth A&S Research Paper comes to us from Baroness Ysabella de Draguignan, of the Barony of Dragonship Haven, and is drawn from her study of historical household management; here, she describes for us how one of her days might have progressed. (Prospective future contributors, please check out our original Call for Papers.)
A Day in the Life of a Minor Fifteenth-Century Provençal Noblewoman
Baronne Ysabella de Draguignan was born 21 November 1375 in St. Saveur le Viscomte, Normandy, France, born to Nicolas de Villarquemada (d. 1380) and Bernice de Clarens (d. 1386). Her siblings include Iago (older brother, d. 1380), Esther (older sister), Adhemar de Villarquemada (older brother), Jean-Claude (older brother), and Guillaime (older brother, d. 1401).
She was educated at Rouen in upper Normandy until she was sixteen. Her elder brother, Jean-Claude, arranged a marriage to Baron Gerard D’Aigues-Mortes in 1396 when she was then twenty, which united the largest southern and northern salt-making families and created a regional monopoly on salt. They have two children; Lillian and Michel. Ysabella was granted the title of Baronne de Draguignan by the King in 1403.
Dawn: Ysabella wakes up each morning around 6am, says a Kyrie, rolls over, and arises from her down-stuffed mattress. She pulls the tapestried cloth of her canopied bed aside, stands and moves to wash her face with fresh water her maid has brought in this morning. She brushes her hair with a mixture of powdered herbs, and anoints her face with a cerotum (ointment made with oil and wax) to lighten her complexion and keep it safe from the sun. She then makes her cheeks red by powdering them with powdered red sandalwood. As she does this, she perhaps recites another prayer if she is feeling particularly devout. Her favorite is the following:
Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, eterrne Deus, ui me ad principium huius diei pervenire fecitsti, tua me hodie salva virtute ut in hac die ad nullum declinem moretale peccatum, ne ullum incurram periculum; sed semper ad tuam justiciam et voluntatem faciendm omnis mea action tuo moderamine dirigatur. Per Christum.
Lord God Almighty and Eternal Father. Who has allowed me to reach the beginning of this day, by Your holy power, protect me from all danger, so that I may turn away from any mortal sin, and that by Your gentle moderation my thoughts may be directed to do Your holy justice and will. Through Christ amen.
She prays for the success of Pope Clement VII, (who resides in Avignon and whom she firmly believes is the true Pope) and for the safe return of her husband Gerard D’Aigues-Mortes from business travel. She also prays for her brother Adhemar’s conquest over the English, whom she hates with a passion that is very nearly zealous. (The Hundred Years War is well underway.)
Her maid, Maria de la Parra, who is a daughter of an affineur d’argent (gold refiner), helps her dress and arranges her hair with a silk veil. She adds an enameled bronze pendant in the shape of a trefoil to represent the Christian Trinity. Each lobe of the trefoil is outlined in green and red enamel. In the upper right lobe is a green ‘Y’ and in the bottom lobe a red ‘D’, the monogram of her name; in the third lobe sits a red dove to represent the Holy Spirit.
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Breakfast: As she walks to the small hall to eat with the rest of the house, she verifies that the chambermaids have swept the halls and entry way where people might gather. Although breakfast was not as common as it is today, it is the custom of her family to partake and she had brought this tradition with her when she moved south, even if the clergy frown on it. She also refuses to allow meals in private unless ill, or in the field, but requires her entire household to consume their meals together.
Breakfast consists of a fish, such as herring, with garlic sauce, cheeses, and watered wine. She does not eat wheat or rye because her physician, Marque Roumain, has determined the cause of her illnesses were because both were hot and humid, and affected her humors, whereas rice and millet where cold and dry. (It is now thought that the Baronne Draguignan suffered from celiac disease.)
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Beginning Work: After breakfast she takes her ladies in waiting with her on her daily rounds. These young women were all from wealthy families who, through this connection, hoped to be well married. The ladies in waiting include Maria, her maid, and Armanda, the daughter of one of the avocets (lawyers), Luc de Clerc, who is in the estate’s employ. Her other ladies in waiting are Bornazela, the daughter of a silk-hat maker, and Willelma, a book-seller’s daughter.
Her first daily visit is to instruct Dame Ramunda the Beguine on the tasks and priorities of the day, and it is Ramunda’s responsibility to ensure successful resolution of those matters. Ramunda would then speak with the head steward of the house, Jehan, as to what needed to be accomplished for the day.
On this particular day, however, Jehan needs to speak with Ysabella herself, to determine which animals will be slaughtered, smoked or salted on the feast day of Saint Martin le Miséricordieux (November 11th). That meat will be necessary to get them through the winter. The winters have become far colder than previous, and the older generation enjoys telling their Northern mistress this, along with tips and ideas on how to thrive in the new climate.
As there are two estates, Draguignan and Aigues-Mortes, and her husband was often absent for long periods of time, it is important that Ysabella understand the administrative duties of the estates. She knows the value of her estates, their expenditures, and the relevant law, in order to conduct business and form contracts with merchants.
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I pray that you are well. I pray to God our glorious Father for your victory in Aquitaine. I know the Holy Mother will protect a most-beloved brother. May your men be strong and follow your orders properly.
Oh my brother how thankful I am of your hand in my education, and my husband’s willingness to continue it, or I would not have been better at dealing with the workmen. I do forget their coarse and lying natures since it is not in my nature to be so!
My good husband was away from his estate in Aigues-Mortes while this took place, having business in Avignon…
As directed by you I made certain that Master Jehan found good men, who do not curse or were of an indolent nature. I also made certain my husband’s clerk Luc wrote a proper contract first and had them make their mark so there would be no change of price afterwards, as is often the case: When they come to your home yelling to all that you are a liar and false!
A deal was made and even though some money was given in exchange for service, every excuse was made to put off the labor. First Master Jehan was told the laborer must measure again the space. But, it took a week to do so. Then after, Luc suggested that a date of completion be added to the contract, to which the workers agreed.
However when this day drew near a fellow came to Jean to inform him that wood could not be got!
There were no horses to pull, or wagons to carry as far away as Avignon and as south as Marselha, which you know is only a day’s walk.
I demanded a man come and tell me every day of the progress. Which, you may not be surprised, hurried the progress along. The man came at length, began work, ate lunch, and then left shortly after!
This happened every day for three days in a row, with no work on the Sabbath, coming back Monday and briefly Tuesday, on which he demanded his pay.
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Dinner: Dinner is a large meal and served at midday. Again, she requests her household to join her in this meal unless detained in some other matter. But the reason for missing the meal has to be sufficient! She is fairly strict about that, unless you are working far in the fields—it is unreasonable to request workers to travel in for midday meals, but they will be present at supper. Dame Ramunda is responsible for working with the cook to dispatch meals for these workers during the day, and the men and women who take them their meals will also sit and eat with them to ensure continuity in her custom.
As people come to the table they wash their hands with scented water poured from an aquamanile or pitcher over a basin.
Dinner consists of several courses:
First Course. Norse pasties, Cameline-flavored meat soup, beef marrow beignets, roasted large Provençal figs topped with bay leaves, cress and herring with vinegar.
Second Course. Carp, poached plaice, Lombard tarts, venison and small bird pasties
Third Course. Frumenty, venison, glazed meats, fish in aspic, fat geese and fat capon a la dodin.
Fourth Course. Hippocras and wafers to finish
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Afternoon leisure: Her life is not all work; being a noblewoman awards her far more leisure time than many women. Although she can embroider, it is well known that she does not enjoy it. She often spends time in her gardens watching her children play. A favorite game of theirs is called Salt Post (freeze tag), where the person who was tagged is turned to salt, much like Lot’s wife of the Old Testament.
She enjoys playing Jeu de Volant and let her children join in on many occasions. (Jeu de Volant is an early version of badminton and is played without a net, using small rackets, called battledores, and a shuttlecock that is a cork with feathers at the top.) Ysabella has a shuttlecock trimmed with peacock feathers (to match her heraldry!) made by her keeper of fowl.
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Today, supper consists of hericot of mutton, rice topped with fried almonds, compote topped with white and red comfits, and hippocras and wafers to finish.
Evening: After supper the family spends time playing cards, or her favorite game, astronomical tables (a seven player variant of backgammon), and listening to music before evening prayer and bed. Her children play with small knights, horses, and poppets made from clay.
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And So To Bed: The Trotula, a 12th century text concerning the health and wellbeing of women, was adamant that women bathe in warm water and herbs often, so a bath is drawn for her before her bed. She washes her hair with the ashes of burnt vine, chaff of barley nodes, and licorice wood, and sowbread that was boiled in water and strained. When she finishes washing her hair, she anoints it with oil made of colocynth, oil of laurel, henbane seeds, and orpament to keep her hair black and thick. She then combs her hair again with the same powder and rose water that she used in the morning.
Her sleeping chamber is swept and strewing herbs—costmary (tanacetum balsamita) and dried sweet woodruff (asperula odorata)—are laid across the floor to make the room smell sweet.
The prayer she recites in the evening is as follows:
O steadfast hope, Lady Protectress of all who place their trust in you, glorious Virgin Mary, I beg you now that in that hour when my eyes will be so heavy from the shadows of death that I will not be able to see the light of this world, or able to move my tongue to pray to you or call to you, when my miserable heart that is so weak will tremble for fear of the enemies from hell, and will be so anxiously frightened that all the members of my body will melt in sweat because of the painful anguish of death, then, most gentle and precious Lady, deign to look on me in pity and to help me, to have with you the company of angels and also the knighthood of Paradise, so that the devils, agitated and terrified by your succor , cannot have any glimmer, presumption, or suspicion of evil against me, or any hope or power of removing me from your presence. Rather, instead, most gentle Lady, may it please you then to remember the prayer that I make to you now, and receive my soul in your blessed faith, into your care and protection, and present it to your glorious Son to be to be vested in the robe of glory and accompanied to your joyous feast of the angels and all the saints.
She lays her head on her perfumed and herbed pillows and falls asleep.
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Recipes of above-mentioned items
“But when she combs her hair, let her have this powder. Take some dried roses, clove, nutmeg, watercress, and galangal. Let all these, powdered, be mixed with rose water. With this water let her sprinkle her hair and comb it with a comb dipped in the is same water so that her hair will be smell better.” –The Trotula
“A cerotum with which the face can be anointed every day in order to the whiten it is made thus. Let oil of violets or rose oil(rose otto) with hen’s grease be placed in a clay vessel so that it boils. Let very white wax be dissolved, then let egg white be added and let powder of well-powered and sifted white lead(DEADLY, substitute food grade titanium powder for mineral make up) be mixed in, and again let it be cooked a little. Then let it be strained through a cloth, and to this strained cold mixture let camphor, nutmeg, and three or four clove be added. Wrap this whole thing in parchment. We do not apply this in any fashion until the cerotum smells good. For this let the woman anoint her face, and afterward let her redden it thus.” –The Trotula
“Take the shavings of brazilwood (a mistranslations, probably actually red sandalwood) and let it be placed in an eggshell containing a little rose water, and let there be placed in the same place a little alum, and with this let her anoint some cotton and press it on her face and it should make her red.” – The Trotula
Scented hand washing water:
“Boil sage, then strain the water, and let cool until it is luke-warm. Or instead you can use camomile or marjoram, or rosemary: and cook with the peel of an orange. And also laurel leaves [bay leaves] are good for this.” – Le Ménagier de Paris
Garlic sauce for fresh herring:
Steep [garlic] in must or verjuice. – Viander de Taillevent
Take cooked meat chopped very small, pine nut paste, currants, harvest cheese crumbled very small, a bit of sugar and a little salt. – Viander de Taillevent
Note that in Tournai, to make cameline, they grind ginger, cinnamon, saffron, and half a nutmeg; mix with wine, then take it out of the mortar. In a mortar, grind untoasted white breadcrumbs (Ysabella’s cook substitute toasted rice flour to thicken the sauce) that have been soaked in cold water, add wine, and strain. Then boil it all, and at the end add red sugar. – Viander de Taillevent
Lombard Tart (Lombardy custard):
Take good cream, and leaves of parsley. Take eggs, both the yolks and the white, and break the eggs into the cream, and strain through a strainer until the mixture be so stiff that be will stand up by itself. Then take marrow, and chopped up dates, and prunes. Layer the dates with the prunes and marrow in a pie shell and pre-bake a bit. Then take out of the oven. Take the egg and cream mixture and fill up the pie shell. Cast sugar on it, and salt. Then let it bake together until it be enough. If this is in Lent, leave the eggs and marrow out. Then serve. – Austin, Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery Books
½ ounce “Duke’s powder” spice mixture, 1 quart wine, ½ measure wine
1 ounce ginger root, 1 ounce grains of paradise, 1/12 measure galingale powder, 1/8 measure cinnamon powder, 1/12 measure nutmeg powder, ¼ measure cinnamon stick – Cindy Renfrow, A Sip Through Time
Hericot of mutton:
Cut meat into small pieces, bring to a boil, then fry it with bacon fat with cooked onions sliced thinly; thing with beef bouillion. Add mace, parsley, hyssop, and sage and simmer. – Le Ménagier de Paris
Cull it and wash it in two or three changes of warm water, until the water remains completely clear. Partially cook it, then strain and put on trenchers in dishes to drip and dry before the fire. When dry, cook with meat-fat broth and saffron until thickened, if it is a meat day. If it is a fish day, don’t add meat broth, but instead use almonds finely ground and not strained, then sugar it abundantly, with no saffron. – Le Ménagier de Paris
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Austin, Thomas. (1888) Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books. Harleian MS. 279 & Harl. MS. 4016, with extracts from Ashmole MS. 1429, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS 55. London: for The Early English Text Society by N. Trübner & Co.
Freeman, M., & York, N. (1971). Herbs for the mediaeval household: For cooking, healing and divers uses. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Getz, F. (1991). Healing and society in medieval England a Middle English translation of the pharmaceutical writings of Gilbertus Anglicus. Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press.
Greco, G. (2009). The good wife’s guide (Le ménagier de Paris): A medieval household book. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Green, M. (2001). The Trotula: a medieval compendium of women’s medicine. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Renfrow, C. (1994). A sip through time: A collection of old brewing recipes. Pottstown, Pa.: C. Renfrow.
Renfrow, C. (1998). Take a Thousand Eggs or More. Pottstown, Pa.: C. Renfrow.
Santich, B. (1995). The original Mediterranean cuisine: Medieval recipes for today. Chicago, Ill.: Chicago Review Press.
Schaus, M. (2015). Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An encyclopedia. S.l.: Routledge.
Scully, T. (1988). Viandier of Taillevent: An edition of all extant manuscripts. Ottawa: Univ. of Ottawa Press.
Wilkins, S. (2002). Sports and games of medieval cultures. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.
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