Sort of Friday afternoon musings

Historic questions, thoughts and other interesting stuff

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Colin Middleton
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Post by Colin Middleton »

gregory23b wrote:the bugs - which they did not know about in the first place.
Aren't you assuming that 'they' didn't know about the bugs? The concept or atoms derives from ideas put forward by Greek schollars, so this is quite an assumption.

If you're saying that the common folk didn't know about 'bugs', how much does the modern common folk know about them?

I'm open to evidence either way on this ale issue, but I don't want to see one assumption debunked by using another assumption, as we might as well invent the whole thing if that's our basis.

So, how much was ale drunk compaired to water? Who favoured which?

Was drinking water a sign of piety? I thought that monks (known for their piety) brewed a lot of ale.
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Marcus Woodhouse
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Post by Marcus Woodhouse »

Ale was brewed for the lay memebers and by the 12th century these mostly outnumbered the consecrated members. Monks were not always pargons of virtue either (though the really naughty ones were never the majority that medieval and reformation literature make out.) They also brewed it for the consumption of guests. The major outlay of any monastic house throughout the middle ages and increasingly so from the mid 14th century was in hospitality-it even cost more than wages (which surprised me until I discovered that the servents could also claim food and drink alongside wages (on feast days-of which there are a few) and that this was hospitality.
It isn't really that long ago that refidgeration became common place-I know my family lacked a fidge until the early 1980's. Yet we didn't have to spice our food to conceal the fact it was rotten or consume beer because the water was unfit to drink. As far as I'm aware the fact we did was down to enjoyment alone.
And witnessing/experiencing the less than pleasent side effects of drinking beer has not stoped me from doing so. I'm sure, making assumptions of my own, that they were just as well known in the middle ages. It seems somewhat selective this idea that they witnessed bad water making people bad and therefore didn't drink water while witnessing good and bad ale doing the same thing but did not claim that the miasma, quntessence, evil vapors of the beer were the root cause of it.
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gallois
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Post by gallois »

I have spent a couple of days now searching for evidence of the consumption of alcohol in the middle ages and the best source has been the Worshipful company of brewers in London. Their first charter was granted by King Henry vi in 1437 so records are available that show the trends of the day around that time.
The majority of evidence points to all classes drinking much more alcohol than water. There was a general distrust of water, regardless of its source. This may have been unfounded suspicion but was, nevertheless, a good excuse to drink ale or wine instead! Given the choice which would you drink?
I am not that old but I can remember many holidays to France and Spain when we were advised not to drink the tap water! Was it 'bad' or did we not trust it? If that is the case for recent times how much more then for the days when they still believed in dragons and witches!
As for monks brewing for the benefit of their visitors and not for themselves! there are more than 300 microbreweries in Belgium alone and the majority of them were associated with monastic orders some of whom were closed orders, therefore no visitors.
In the context of the original question. I dont believe anyone is saying that water was never drunk or that everyone, without exception drank alcohol. More that ale and wine was drunk in preference to anything alse as it was freely available and 'believed' to be good for your health!
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gregory23b
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Post by gregory23b »

"Aren't you assuming that 'they' didn't know about the bugs? The concept or atoms derives from ideas put forward by Greek schollars, so this is quite an assumption. "

No not an assumption but a complete lack of evidence to point to microbiology being on the agenda of the average brewer, regardless of Greek theories of atoms. Any more than the average medieval knew about man powered flight just because Leonardo managed to make some sketches about it. The miasma theory was thoroughly debunked in the 19thc yet there were still people harping on about it despite evidence.


"If you're saying that the common folk didn't know about 'bugs', how much does the modern common folk know about them? "

I would hazard that most kids in the western world are taught basic biology even at school level, they have been since at least 1930 I imagine. The overall knowledge of personal hygiene as related to health is well established at a microbial level. Again, show me the instructions about water or ale etc being carriers of disease via bacteria, rather than a general idea that 'bad' water is bad for you, so rather than an assumption it is a pretty good bet.

"I'm open to evidence either way on this ale issue, but I don't want to see one assumption debunked by using another assumption, as we might as well invent the whole thing if that's our basis. "

Er, no, as above, show me evidence that people who brewed, a huge percentage of the population, did so with an understanding of microbes that were barely theorised by a tiny amount of educated medical scholars.

If we do not have decent evidence in this we can go along the lines of show me they did not know about space travel or the combustion engine.

"I'm open to evidence either way on this ale issue"

As yet there is none supporting a knowledge of bacteria in relation to water, food, the transmission of diseases. One can only come from a 'show me they did', rather than 'show me they did not'.

Many theories existed at different times, that does not mean an automatic uptake or acceptance or wider understanding, we know that all too well. The Arabs are credited with many inventions, yet how many were taken up at a global level if at all? A singular theory does not mean practices to back it up.
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