Norman Craftsmen and Fashions

One antique sketch of this time (Fig. 809) shows the whole process of the erection of the important edifices that arose during the more tranquil part of the Anglo-Norman Period. There is the lordly principal, stating probably the dimensions, and giving the architect his own views of the outline and character of the building, while the latter listens, and explains his work, and artificers of different grades are busy at the various executive processes. The number of builders and artificers employed was greater than at any former period, and their skill was much superior. Invention was natu­rally stimulated under such circumstances. William of Sens, em­ployed as an architect by Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, constructed a machine for loading and unloading vessels, and for conveying weights by land. One of the most important works of the period, London Bridge (Fig. 808), first constructed of timber, and afterwards of stone, the production of an ecclesiastical archi­tect, will be treated of at length in another place. The gateway to the buildings placed on the bridge (Fig. 807) exhibited a hideous spectacle of blackened and ghastly human heads bristling on spear points, a scene expressive of the worst spirit of war, and strangely at variance with the harmonizing influence of industry and the arts which the Normans cultivated. London at this period possessed neither grandeur nor conveniences, taken on the whole; the com­mon people lived in very poor dwellings, intersected by narrow miry lanes, the whole enclosed by walls. The manor-house of the period presented in many respects a great contrast to one of the present day. Although chimneys, when introduced, resembled the modern (Fig. 810), the coarse habits which existed side by side with magnificent taste and talent, induced the preference of a hearth in the midst of the hall, whence the smoke of wood and turf (for coals were seldom used) ascended to blacken the roof. Fashion partially banished the tapestry from the best rooms, and painted wainscoting was preferred. Ornamental carved furniture (such as the chairs, Fig. 798) enriched the stern and sombre interior of this feudal home. The fabrication of armour gave a lively impulse to the metallic arts, for which the lord had workshops on his estate, and many beautiful articles were produced for church and household display. Candlesticks (Fig. 799) were furnished with a spike at top, on which the candle was stuck, sockets being of later contrivance. The coins of this period are of great rarity. Royal mints con­tinued in the chief towns and on the principal estates; and in the reign of Stephen every castle was said to have its mint. There was but one coin, the silver penny (at least no other has come down to us), and the penny was broken into halves and quarters, to form half-pence and farthings. In Fig. 796 we see an Anglo-Norman coiner at work. The dress and implements of many of the rural labourers employed on the different manors, often on the lands held by the monks, who were the greatest improvers of agriculture and gar­dening, may be understood by a reference to our engravings, which are copied from manuscripts of that time. We have there the ordi­nary labourers of the soil (Fig. 782), reapers and gleaners (Fig. 801), thrashers (Fig. 806), millers (Figs. 797, 802); and besides these, there were shepherds, neatherds, goatherds, cowherds, swineherds, and keepers of bees. The fisheries (Fig. 785) were productive. In Kent, Sussex, Norfolk, and Suffolk were herring fisheries. Sandwich yielded annually forty thousand herrings to the monks of Christ Church, Canterbury; and in Cheshire and Devonshire there were salmon fisheries. In Cheshire, one fishery paid one thousand salmon annually as rent. The rent of marsh or fen land was generally paid in eels.

Our great woollen manufacture is to be dated from this period. The art of weaving cloth we owe to the Flemings. In 1197 laws were laid down regulating the fabrication and sale of cloth. Linen was also manufactured. The guilds or incorporated trades date their origin from this period. The weavers, fullers, and bakers were the earliest; other trades followed, but the next period is the chief one when these important and peaceful associations were formed. Thus far, their object seemed mutual succour, but it was extended afterwards. Ladies of rank employed themselves in embroidering tunics and veils and girdles for themselves, robes and banners for their knightly husbands and sons, gorgeous vestments for their favourite clergy, storied tapestry for their chosen church. The native English at the Conquest were said to be a rude and illiterate people, but William and his successors loved and favoured learn­ing, which had its chief source with the Arabs that had conquered Spain. This was the golden age of Universities. But attainment rested with the clergy. The common people we do not wonder to find untaught, for that has been generally their fate everywhere, but the nobility were scarcely better. There were two great classes equally proud and eminent, dividing between them the mastery of the rest. These were the men of the sword, and the men of the pen—in other words, the soldiers and the monks. Scholastic logic stood first in the rank of studies, and lorded it over all other. Abstruse learning was indeed followed with such intense zeal as to be fatal to polite literature. Poetry was cast out contemp­tuously to glee-singers and troubadours; and though rather more respect was paid to music, it was only such as was suited to the choir. The most elegant art practised in the monasteries was the emblazoning of initial letters (Fig. 805) in manuscript books. The scribe usually left blanks for these letters, which were afterwards filled up by artists, who exercised a rich invention in the pattern, and executed them with the aid of gold and silver. As the twelfth century advanced, these manuscript books were often made of pro­digious size. The sports of the Norman lords were chiefly hunt­ing and hawking; the English were forbade to use dogs or hawks, and had to resort to gins, snares, and nets (Fig. 791), when they durst follow these sports at all. It was some time before the Conqueror or his successors permitted the tournament, which might have been dangerous before the two nations became amalgamated; but the noble students of chivalry practised military sports, of which the principal was the quintain, in which the young man tilted with his lance at a shield or Saracen elevated on a pole or spear, past which he rode at full career.


Figure 783
783.—Costume of the time of John.
Figure 784
784.—Horse Beating a Tabor.
Figure 787
787.—Bob Apple.
Figure 792
792.—Ancient Quintain.
Figure 794

This exercise was imitated by the young men who were not blessed with noble birth; a sand-bag being in that case substituted for a shield or a Saracen, and a quarter-staff for a lance (Fig. 792). To this was added the water-quintain and the water-tournament (Fig. 789), rendered more exciting by the chance of immersion in the river in case of a failing blow. Such pastimes strengthened the muscles and the nerves, and inured a warlike race to take delight in overcoming difficulty, encountering peril, and enduring pain. But if these promoted the courage and agility required in war, others, even for children’s enjoyment, stimulated a horrid love of cruelty and bloodshed. Excellent schoolmasters they must have been, whose pupils were in the regular habit of bringing a fighting-cock on the Tuesday of Shrovetide to school, which was turned into a pit for their amusement. And a suitable preparative this was for such manly sports as that of horse-baiting (Fig. 788). There might be less inhumanity, perhaps (though the process of teaching was barbarous enough, no doubt), in the curious feats animals were taught to perform, as that of bear-playing (Fig. 793), and horses beating a war point on a tabor (Figs. 784, 786). But, happily, we have traces that the Norman-English delighted some­times in sports more innocent; we can fancy them sitting absorbed in the intellectual game of chess (Figs. 798, 800), or enjoying the fresh air, the green grass, the summer sun on the bowling-green (Fig. 794), or bursting with obstreperous laughter by the rustic fireside at the game of bob-apple (Fig. 787). The general time of retiring to rest was at sunset in summer, and eight or nine in winter, when the couvre feu, cover-fire, or curfew bell, was rung. The Conqueror, though he did not (as supposed) originate this custom, no doubt employed it as a means of repressing the spirit of the English. In some remote places the curfew still “tolls the knell of parting day,” and from towers to which, like that of Barking (Fig. 813), it has lent its name. The dead among the common people were buried without coffins. The Conqueror was thus laid in a shallow grave lined with masonry. When stone coffins were used by the wealthy classes, they were let into the ground no lower than their depth. Gradually, they came to be placed entirely above the ground, and then the sides were sculptured. The tomb in the engraving is of this kind (Fig. 804). The costume of the Normans of both sexes was chiefly Oriental, borrowed from the Crusades of this period (Figs. 783, 791). The most remarkable exception was the singular knotted sleeve of the ladies, as shown in Fig. 791.