A Description of Elizabethan England. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
Of Cattle Kept for Profit
[1577, Book III., Chapter 8; 1587, Book III., Chapter 1.]
THERE is no kind of tame cattle usually to be seen in these parts of the world whereof we have not some, and that great store, in England, as horses, oxen, sheep, goats, swine, and far surmounting the like in other countries, as may be proved with ease. For where are oxen commonly made more large of bone, horses more decent and pleasant in pace, kine more commodious for the pail, sheep more profitable for wool, swine more wholesome of flesh, and goats more gainful to their keepers than here with us in England? But, to speak of them peculiarly, I suppose that our kine are so abundant in yield of milk, whereof we make our butter and cheese, as the like any where else, and so apt for the plough in divers places as either our horses or oxen. And, albeit they now and then twin, yet herein they seem to come short of that commodity which is looked for in other countries, to wit, in that they bring forth most commonly but one calf at once. The gains also gotten by a cow (all charges borne) hath been valued at twenty shillings yearly; but now, as land is enhanced, this proportion of gain is much abated, and likely to decay more and more, if ground arise to be yet dearerwhich God forbid, if it be His will and pleasure. I heard of late of a cow in Warwickshire, belonging to Thomas Breuer of Studley, which in six years had sixteen calves, that is four at once in three calvings and twice twins, which unto many may seem a thing incredible. In like manner our oxen are such as the like are not to be found in any country of Europe, both for greatness of body and sweetness of flesh or else would not the Roman writers have preferred them before those of Liguria. In most places our graziers are now grown to be so cunning that if they do but see an ox or bullock, and come to the feeling of him, they will give a guess at his weight, and how many score or stone of flesh and tallow he beareth, how the butcher may live by the sale, and what he may have for the skin and tallow, which is a point of skill not commonly practised heretofore. Some such graziers also are reported to ride with velvet coats and chains of gold about them and in their absence their wives will not let to supply those turns with no less skill than their husbands: which is a hard work for the poor butcher, sith he through this means can seldom be rich or wealthy by his trade. In like sort the flesh of our oxen and kine is sold both by hand and by weight as the buyer will; but in young ware rather by weight especially for the steer and heifer, sith the finer beef is the lightest, whereas the flesh of bulls and old kine, etc., is of sadder substance, and therefore much heavier as it lieth in the scale. Their horns also are known to be more fair and large in England than in any other places, except those which are to be seen among the Paeones, which quality, albeit that it be given to our breed generally by nature, yet it is now and then helped also by art. For, when they be very young, many graziers will oftentimes anoint their budding horns or tender tips with honey, which mollifieth the natural hardness of that substance, and thereby maketh them to grow unto a notable greatness. Certes it is not strange in England to see oxen whose horns have the length of a yard or three feet between the tips, and they themselves thereto so tall as the height of a man of mean and indifferent stature is scarce equal unto them. Nevertheless it is much to be lamented that our general breed of cattle is not better looked unto; for the greatest occupiers wean least store, because they can buy them (as they say) far better cheap than to raise and bring them up. In my time a cow hath risen from four nobles to four marks by this means, which notwithstanding were no great price if they did yearly bring forth more than one calf a piece, as I hear they do in other countries.
Our horses, moreover, are high, and, although not commonly of such huge greatness as in other places of the main, yet, if you respect the easiness of their pace, it is hard to say where their like are to be had. Our land doth yield no asses, and therefore we want the generation also of mules and somers, and therefore the most part of our carriages is made by these, which, remaining stoned, are either reserved for the cart or appointed to bear such burdens as are convenient for them. Our cart or plough horses (for we use them indifferently) are commonly so strong that five or six of them (at the most) will draw three thousand weight of the greatest tale with ease for a long journey, although it be not a load of common usage, which consisteth only of two thousand, or fifty foot of timber, forty bushels of white salt, or six-and-thirty of bay, of five quarters of wheat, experience daily teacheth, and I have elsewhere remembered. Such as are kept also for burden will carry four hundred-weight commonly without any hurt or hindrance. This furthermore is to be noted, that our princes and the nobility have their carriage commonly made by carts, whereby it cometh to pass that when the queens majesty doth remove from any one place to another, there are usually 400 carewares, which amount to the sum of 2400 horses, appointed out of the countries adjoining, whereby her carriage is conveyed safely unto the appointed place. Hereby also the ancient use of somers and sumpter horses is in manner utterly relinquished, which causeth the trains of our princes in their progresses to shew far less than those of the kings of other nations.
Such as serve for the saddle are commonly gelded, and now grew to be very dear among us, especially if they be well coloured, justly limbed, and have thereto an easy ambling pace. For our countrymen, seeking their ease in every corner where it is to be had, delight very much in those qualities, but chiefly in their excellent paces, which, besides that it is in manner peculiar unto horses of our soil, and not hurtful to the rider or owner sitting on their backs, it is moreover very pleasant and delectable in his ears, in that the noise of their well-proportioned pace doth yield comfortable sound as he travelleth by the way. Yet is there no greater deceit used anywhere than among our horsekeepers, horsecoursers, and hostlers; for such is the subtle knavery of a great sort of them (without exception of any of them be it spoken which deal for private gain) that an honest-meaning man shall have very good luck among them if he be not deceived by some false trick or other.
There are certain notable markets wherein great plenty of horses and colts is bought and sold, and whereunto such as have need resort yearly to buy and make their necessary provision of them, as Ripon, Newport Pond, Wolfpit, Harboro, and divers others. But as most drovers are very diligent to bring great store of these unto those places, so many of them are too too lewd in abusing such as buy them. For they have a custom, to make them look fair to the eye, when they come within two days journey of the market to drive them till they sweat, and for the space of eight or twelve hours, which, being done,they turn them all over the backs into some water, where they stand for a season, and then go forward with them to the place appointed, where they make sale of their infected ware, and such as by this means do fall into many diseases and maladies. Of such outlandish horses as are daily brought over unto us I speak not, as the jennet of Spain, the courser of Naples, the hobby of Ireland, the Flemish roile and the Scottish nag, because that further speech of them cometh not within the compass of this treatise, and for whose breed and maintenance (especially of the greatest sort) King Henry the Eighth erected a noble studdery, and for a time had very good success with them, till the officers, waxing weary, procured a mixed brood of bastard races, whereby his good purpose came to little effect. Sir Nicholas Arnold of late hath bred the best horses in England, and written of the manner of their production: would to God his compass of ground were like to that of Pella in Syria, wherein the king of that nation had usually a studdery of 30,000 mares and 300 stallions, as Strabo doth remember, lib. 16. But to leave this, let us see what may be said of sheep.
Our sheep are very excellent, sith for sweetness of flesh they pass all other. And so much are our wools to be preferred before those of Milesia and other places that if Jason had known the value of them that are bred and to be had in Britain he would never have gone to Colchis to look for any there. For, as Dionysius Alexandrinus saith in his De situ Orbis, it may by spinning be made comparable to the spiders web. What fools then are our countrymen, in that they seek to bereave themselves of this commodity by practising daily how to transfer the same to other nations, in carrying over their rams and ewes to breed and increase among them! The first example hereof was given under Edward the Fourth, who, not understanding the bottom of the suit of sundry traitorous merchants that sought a present gain with the perpetual hindrance of their country, licensed them to carry over certain numbers of them into Spain, who, having licence but for a few, shipped very many; a thing practised in other commodities also, whereby the prince and his land are not seldom times defrauded. But such is our nature, and so blind are we indeed, that we see no inconvenience before we feel it; and for a present gain we regard not what damage may ensue to our posterity. Hereto some other man would add also the desire that we have to benefit other countries and to impeach our own. And it is, so sure as God liveth, that every trifle which cometh from beyond the sea, though it be not worth threepence, is more esteemed than a continual commodity at home with us, which far exceedeth that value. In time past the use of this commodity consisteth (for the most part) in cloth and woolsteds; but now, by means of strangers succoured here from domestic persecution, the same hath been employed unto sundry other uses, as mockados, bays, vellures, grograines, etc., whereby the makers have reaped no small commodity. It is furthermore to be noted, for the low countries of Belgie know it, and daily experience (notwithstanding the sharpness of our laws to the contrary) doth yet confirm it, that, although our rams and wethers do go thither from us never so well headed according to their kind, yet after they have remained there a while they cast there their heads, and from thenceforth they remain polled without any horns at all. Certes this kind of cattle is more cherished in England than standeth well with the commodity of the commons or prosperity of divers towns, whereof some are wholly converted to their feeding; yet such a profitable sweetness is their fleece, such necessity in their flesh, and so great a benefit in the manuring of barren soil with their dung and piss, that their superfluous members are the better born withal. And there is never a husbandman (for now I speak not of our great sheepmasters, of whom some one man hath 20,000) but hath more or less of this cattle feeding on his fallows and short grounds, which yield the finer fleece.
Nevertheless the sheep of our country are often troubled with the rot (as are our swine with the measles, though never so generally), and many men are now and then great losers by the same; but, after the calamity is over, if they can recover and keep their new stock sound for seven years together, the former loss will easily be recompensed with double commodity. Cardan writeth that our waters are hurtful to our sheep; howbeit this is but his conjecture, for we know that our sheep are infected by going to the water, and take the same as a sure and certain token that a rot hath gotten hold of them, their livers and lights being already distempered through excessive heat, which enforceth them the rather to seek unto the water. Certes there is no parcel of the main wherein a man shall generally find more fine and wholesome water than in England; and therefore it is impossible that our sheep should decay by tasting of the same. Wherefore the hindrance by rot is rather to be ascribed to the unseasonableness and moisture of the weather in summer, also their licking in of mildews, gossamire, rowtie fogs, and rank grass, full of superfluous juice, but especially (I say) to over moist weather, whereby the continual rain piercing into their hollow fells soaketh forthwith into their flesh, which bringeth them to their baines. Being also infected, their first shew of sickness is their desire to drink, so that our waters are not unto them causa ægritudinis, but signum morbi, whatsoever Cardan do maintain to the contrary. There are (and peradventure no small babes) which are grown to be such good husbands that they can make account of every ten kine to be clearly worth twenty pounds in common and indifferent years, if the milk of five sheep be daily added to the same. But, as I wot not how true this surmise is, because it is no part of my trade, so I am sure hereof that some housewives can and do add daily a less portion of ewes milk unto the cheese of so many kine, whereby their cheese doth the longer abide moist and eateth more brickle and mellow than otherwise it would.
Goats we have plenty, and of sundry colours, in the west parts of England, especially in and towards Wales and amongst the rocky hills, by whom the owners do reap so small advantage: some also are cherished elsewhere in divers steeds, for the benefit of such as are diseased with sundry maladies, unto whom (as I hear) their milk, cheese, and bodies of their young kids are judged very profitable, and therefore inquired for of many far and near. Certes I find among the writers that the milk of a goat is next in estimation to that of the woman, for that it helpeth the stomach, removeth oppilations and stoppings of the liver, and looseth the belly. Some place also next unto it the milk of the ewe, and thirdly that of the cow. But hereof I can shew no reason; only this I know, that ewes milk is fulsome, sweet, and such in taste as (except such as are used unto it) no man will gladly yield to live and feed withal.
As for swine, there is no place that hath greater store, nor more wholesome in eating, than are these here in England, which nevertheless do never any good till they come to the table. Of these some we eat green for pork, and other dried up into bacon to have it in more continuance. Lard we make some, though very little, because it is chargeable: neither have we such use thereof as is to be seen in France and other countries, sith we do either bake our meat with sweet suet of beef or mutton and baste all our meat with sweet or salt butter or suffer the fattest to baste itself by leisure. In champaign countries they are kept by herds, and a hogherd appointed to attend and wait upon them, who commonly gathereth them together by his noise and cry, and leadeth them forth to feed abroad in the fields. In some places also women do scour and wet their clothes with their dung, as other do with hemlocks and nettles; but such is the savour of the clothes touched withal that I cannot abide to wear them on my body, more than such as are scoured with the refuse soap, than the which (in mine opinion) there is none more unkindly savour.
Of our tame boars we make brawn, which is a kind of meat not usually known to strangers (as I take it), otherwise would not the swart Rutters and French cooks, at the loss of Calais (where they found great store of this provision almost in every house), have attempted with ridiculous success to roast, bake, broil, and fry the same for their masters, till they were better informed. I have heard moreover how a nobleman of England not long since did send over a hogshead of brawn ready soused to a Catholic gentleman of France, who, supposing it to be fish, reserved it till Lent, at which time he did eat thereof with great frugality. Thereto he so well liked the provision itself that he wrote over very earnestly, and with offer of great recompense, for more of the same fish against the year ensuing; whereas if he had known it to have been flesh he would not have touched it (I dare say) for a thousand crowns without the popes dispensation. A friend of mine also dwelling some time in Spain, having certain Jews at his table, did set brawn before them, whereof they did eat very earnestly, supposing it to be a kind of fish not common in those parts; but when the goodman of the house brought in the head in pastime among them, to shew what they had eaten, they rose from the table, hied them home in haste, each of them procuring himself to vomit, some by oil and some by other means, till (as they supposed) they had cleansed their stomachs of that prohibited food. With us it is accounted a great piece of service at the table from November until February be ended, but chiefly in the Christmas time. With the same also we begin our dinners each day after other; and, because it is somewhat hard of digestion, draught of malvesey, bastard, or muscadel, is usually drank after it, where either of them are conveniently to be had; otherwise the meaner sort content themselves with their own drink, which at that season is generally very strong, and stronger indeed than it is all the year beside. It is made commonly of the fore part of a tame boar, set up for the purpose by the space of a whole year or two, especially in gentlemens houses (for the husbandmen and farmers never frank them for their own use above three or four months, or half a year at the most), in which time he is dieted with oats and peason, and lodged on the bare planks of an uneasy coat, till his fat be hardened sufficiently for their purpose: afterward he is killed, scalded, and cut out, and then of his former parts is our brawn made. The rest is nothing so fat, and therefore it beareth the name of sowse only, and is commonly reserved for the serving-man and hind, except it please the owner to have any part thereof baked, which are then handled of custom after this manner: the hinder parts being cut off, they are first drawn with lard, and then sodden; being sodden, they are soused in claret wine and vinegar a certain space, and afterward baked in pasties, and eaten of many instead of the wild boar, and truly it is very good meat: the pestles may be hanged up a while to dry before they be drawn with lard, if you will, and thereby prove the better. But hereof enough, and therefore to come again unto our brawn. The neck pieces, being cut off round, are called collars of brawn, the shoulders are named shilds, only the ribs retain the former denomination, so that these aforesaid pieces deserve the name of brawn: the bowels of the beast are commonly cast away because of their rankness, and so were likewise his stones, till a foolish fantasy got hold of late amongst some delicate dames, who have now found the means to dress them also with great cost for a dainty dish, and bring them to the board as a service among other of like sort, though not without note of their desire to the provocation of fleshly lust which by this their fond curiosity is not a little revealed. When the boar is thus cut out each piece is wrapped up, either with bulrushes, ozier, peels, tape inkle,1 or such like, and then sodden in a lead or caldron together, till they be so tender that a man may thrust a bruised rush or straw clean through the fat: which being done, they take it up and lay it abroad to cool. Afterward, putting it into close vessels, they pour either good small ale or beer mingled with verjuice and salt thereto till it be covered, and so let it lie (now and then altering and changing the sousing drink lest it should wax sour) till occasion serve to spend it out of way. Some use to make brawn of great barrow hogs, and seethe them, and souse the whole as they do that of the boar; and in my judgment it is the better of both, and more easy of digestion. But of brawn thus much, and so much may seem sufficient.