This was the Wyn-monat, the Wine-month of the Anglo-Saxons. Spenser’s personification of the month is an image of “Old England:”—

Then came October full of merry glee;

For yet his noule was totty of the must,

Which he was treading in the wine-fat’s sea,

And of the joyous oil, whose gentle gust

Made him so frolic and so full of lust.”

The illumination of the Saxon Calendar (Fig. 264) shows us the falconer with his hawk on fist, ready to let her down the wind at the heron or the wild duck. Other illuminations of this early period exhibit the grape-picker and the grape-presser. The wine-press of the time will appear in a subsequent page. Much has been written upon the ancient culture of the vine in England. Bede says, “The island excels for grain and trees, and is fit for feeding of beasts of burden and cattle. It also produces vines in some places.” The later chroniclers, who knew the fact, quote Bede without disputing his assertion. Winchester, according to some of the earlier antiquaries, derived its name from Vintonia, the city of the vine; but this is very questionable. The Bishop of Rochester had a vineyard at Halling; and one of the bishops, as Lambarde tells us, sent to Edward II. “a present of his drinks, and withal both wine and grapes of his own growth in his vineyard at Halling, which is now a good plain meadow.” The same authority says, “History hath mention that there was about that time [the Norman invasion] great store of vines at Santlac [Battle].” He has a parallel instance of the early culture of the vine:—“The like whereof I have read to have been at Windsor, insomuch as tithe of them hath been there yielded in great plenty; which giveth me to think that wine hath been made long since within the realm, although in our memory it be accounted a great dainty to hear of.” Lambarde then particularly describes the tithe of the Windsor vineyard, as “of wine pressed out of grapes that grew in the little park there, to the Abbot of Waltham; and that accompts have been made of the charges of planting the vines that grew in the said park, as also of making the wines, whereof some parts were spent in the household, and some sold for the king’s profit.” This is an approach to a wine-manufacture upon a large scale. There can be little doubt that many of the great monasteries in the South of England had their vineyards, and made the wine for the use of their fraternities. They might not carry the manufacture so far as to sell any wine for their profit; but the vineyard and the wine-press saved them the cost of foreign wines, for their labour was of little account. The religious houses founded in the Anglo-Saxon period had probably, in many cases, their vineyards as well as their orchards. There is an express record of a vineyard at Saint Edmundsbury; Martin, Abbot of Peterborough, is recorded in the Saxon Chronicle to have planted a vineyard; William Thorn, the monastic chronicler, writes that in his Abbey of Nordhome the vineyard was “ad commodum et magnum honorem”—a profitable and celebrated vineyard. Vineyards are repeatedly mentioned in Domesday-Book. William of Malmesbury thus notices vineyards in his description of the abundance of the County of Gloucester:— “No county in England has so many or so good vineyards as this, either for fertility or sweetness of the grape. The vine has in it no unpleasant tartness or eagerness [sourness, from aigre], and is little inferior to the French in sweetness.” Camden, in quoting this passage, adds, “We are not to wonder that so many places in this country from their vines are called vineyards, because they afforded plenty of wine; and that they yield none now is rather to be imputed to the sloth of the inhabitants than the indisposition of the climate.” This question of the ancient growth of the vine in England was the subject of a regular antiquarian passage-at-arms in 1771, when the Honourable Daines Barrington entered the lists to overthrow all the chroniclers and antiquaries, from William of Malmesbury to Samuel Pegge, and to prove that the English grapes were currants—that the vineyards of Domesday-Book and other ancient records were nothing but gardens—that the climate of England would never have permitted the ripening of grapes for wine. The throng of partisans to this battle-field was prodigious. The Antiquarian Society inscribed the paper pellets shot on this occasion as “The Vineyard Controversy.

We have no hesitation in believing that those who put faith in the truth of the ancient records were right;—that vineyards were plentiful in England, and that wine was made from the English grapes. It was not a change in the climate, not the sloth of the people, that rendered the vineyards less and less profitable in every age, and finally produced their complete extinction. The wine of France was largely imported into England soon after the Norman conquest. It is distinctly recorded that a passion for French wines was a characteristic of the court and the nobility, in the reign of Henry III. The monks continued to cultivate their vines,—as in the sunny vale of Beaulieu, where the abbey, which King John founded, had its famous vineyard; but the great supply of wine, even to the diligent monks, was from the shores of France, where the vine could be cultivated upon the commercial principle. Had the English under the Plantagenets persevered in the home cultivation of the vine for the purpose of wine-making, whilst the claret of a better vine-country, that could be brought in a few hours across the narrow sea, was excluded from our ports, the capital of England would have been fruitlessly wasted in struggles against natural disadvantages, and the people of England would have been for the most part deprived of the use and enjoyment of a superior drink to their native beer. The English vineyards were gradually changed into plain meadows, as Lambarde has said, or into fertile corn-fields. Commercially the vine could not be cultivated in England, whilst the produce of the sunny hills of France was more accessible to London and Winchester than the corn which grew in the nearest inland county. The brethren of a monastery, whose labour was a recreation, might continue to prune their vines and press their grapes, as their Saxon ancestors had done before them; but for the people generally, wine would have been a luxury unattainable, had not the ports of Sandwich and Southampton been freely open to the cheap and excellent wine of the French provinces. This is the course of every great revolution in the mode of supplying the necessities, or even the luxuries, of a people amongst whom the principle of exchange has been established. The home growth for awhile supplies the home consumption. A cheaper and better supply is partially obtained through exchange and easy communication—from another parish, another county, another province, and finally from another country. Then the home growth lingers and declines; capital is diverted into other channels, where it can be more profitably employed. Governments then begin to strive against the natural commercial laws, by the establishment of restrictive or prohibitory duties. A struggle goes on, perhaps prolonged for centuries, between the restrictions and the principle of exchange. The result is certain. The law of exchange is a law of progress; the rule of restriction is a rule of retrogression. The law of exchange goes on to render the communications of mankind, even of those who are separated by mighty oceans, as easy as the ancient communications of those who were only separated by a river or a mountain. The rule of restriction, generation after generation, and year after year, narrows its circle, which was first a wide one, and held a confiding people within its fold; but, as it approaches to the end, comes to contain only a class, then a few of the more prejudiced of a class, and, lastly, those who openly admit that the rule is for their exclusive benefit. The meadows and the corn-fields of England have profitably succeeded her unprofitable vineyards; and the meadows and the corn-fields will flourish, because the same law of exchange that drove out the vineyards will render the home exchange of corn and meat more profitable, generally, to producer and consumer than the foreign exchange. England is essentially a corn-growing and a mutton-growing country; and we have no fear that her fields will have failing crops, or her downs not be white with flocks, if the law of exchange should free itself from every restriction. England was not a wine-growing country, and therefore her vineyards perished before the same natural laws that will give the best, because the most steady, encouragement to her bread-growing and beer-growing capacity.