Friday, January 30, 2015

Porridge, Politics, and other Staples

Richard II marches off to Ireland
My staple diet at breakfast these last few weeks, besides porridge, has been the book "A History Of Medieval Ireland," by Edmund Curtis. The book is full to the brim of politics, winks, nods, decapitations, confiscations, conferrings, marches, marshes, marsh Irish, march English, and a-lot more dense but surely fascinating material. Not unlike my food, replete with cinnamon, figs, and honey, what might first sound unappealing, say "porridge," or "A History Of Medieval Ireland," can often hold so much more than is first expected for the eater/reader!

While reading the book, in amongst all the machinations of politics and the vagaries of war, there appears a short account of the life of one particular squire of King Richard II of England-Henry Christede. The account appears in the writings of Jean Froissart. Froissart, a French chronicler of the 14th century, met Christede, Christede related his tale -

Christede told the chronicler that he spoke French, English, and Irish, for from his youth he had been brought up in Ireland and had spent many years with the Irish. At last, when riding to war against the Irish with his master the Earl of Ormond, his horse took fright and carried him among the Irish, of whom one, by a great feat of  agility, jumped on the back of his horse, held him fast and carried him to his house "which was strong and, in a town surrounded with wood, palisades and still water called Herpelipen." With his captor, who was a very handsome man, called Bren Costerec, Christede lived for seven years, married Costerec's daughter and had two girls, "until Art MacMurrough, King of Lenister, raised war against Lionel, Duke of Clarence, and, as the English prevailed, my father-in-law was taken, but was released on condition he would free me, which at first he would not do, because of his love for me, his daughter and our children, but finally accepted on condition he might keep one of my daughters. So I returned to England with my wife and the other daughter and dwelt at Bristol. My two children are married; the one in Ireland has five children and the one with me has six; and the Irish language is as familiar to me as English, for I have always spoken it to my wife and introduce it as much as I can among my grandchildren."

As the march of Kings through foreign lands to be subjugated go, King Richard II's march through Ireland was undertaken in an general atmosphere of appeasement. In a token of grace (says Curtis) he substituted for the leopard flag of England, the arms of Edward the Conquerer, a saint "much venerated by the Irish." It was in this manner, according to Froissart, "that the four princypall kynges and moste puyssaunt after the maner of the countrey come to the obeysaunce of the Kynge of Englande by love and fayreness, and not by batayle nor constraynte." Oh, if only the rest of our dealings with the English were as fair and flowery!

The second last paragraph is taken directly from Edmund Curtis's book "A History of Medieval Ireland," page 273.

Richard II sails home from Ireland