A bit of a jumble, this post. First, here’s an interesting 15th century slag:
Ye have herde that twoo Flemmynges togedere
Wol undertake or they goo ony whethere
Or they rise onys, to drynke a baralle fulle
Of gode berkeyne; so sore they hale and pulle
Undre the borde they pissen as they sitte
Those Dutch – they get so drunk they just urinate under the table as they sit their beer! These sweet poetic thoughts are from Libelle of Englyshe Polycye, a short treatise in verse from the 1430s pumping up mercantile jingoism. I came upon it in the book Representations of Flemish Immigrants on the Early Modern Stage looking for references to a slightly later form of anti-Dutch slag, the stock theatrical character Hans Beerpot. We still have loads of lingering anti-Dutch sentiment in the English language hidden in phrases like “Dutch courage” (drunkenness) and “double Dutch” (lying) and even “going Dutch” on a date (formerly being cheap, now perhaps egalitarian) but I presumed they arose in the 1600s when England and the Dutch battled for naval domination of the North Atlantic and the North Sea. I was two hundred years too late in my thinking.
Point? This all ties into my recent noodlings about the question of when the English first brought beer to North America – which I presume depends on when beer first got to the ports of England from which expeditions to North America disembarked.* And the life in those ports was fairly beery in the first half of the 1400s. In “The Civic Franchise and the Regulation of Aliens in Great Yarmouth” by Liddy and Lambert, we read at page 131:
Cornelius Shipmayster, who also went by the name of Cornelius Ducheman, mariner, kept a hostel in the 1440s; his wife was fined for being a tippler of beer, and it is probably that she sold the beer her husband brewed. Beer production rose substantially in the autumn, to cater to the visiting merchants from the Low Countrys and during the quiet season men such as Robert Phelison were able to pursue multiple trades: a resident of the south leet, he brewed beer, ran an alehouse, and owned a fishing boat, which was arrested for naval service in 1437. In this multi-occupational community, hostelling and beer brewing were often practiced together.
Which leads to an observation: you have to slag someone’s nationality for being beer drinking drunkards only after observing them being beer drinking drunkards. So for the Dutch or Flemish or other sorts of low country aliens to be the focus of slagging they needed to be (i) present in England, (ii) drinking hopped beer and (ii) disorderly drunk. The stereotype is framed in Hans Beerpot from the 1550s play Wealth and Health.** He arguably plays no function other than to arrive in the plot as a stranger, drunk, singing in Dutch and (as an additional sixteenth century touch) representing military menace. But that’s all a bit late for my purposes. I’m interested in earlier things.
Context. The War of the Roses came to a head in the 1450s just when the Hundred Years War was ending with English loss of French possessions, including Bordeaux where (as mentioned a few posts ago) Bristol had had a thriving wine trade. There was still a spot of the plague going about. Normal ties, internal and external to England, were being disrupted as the very question of being English was being framed. No wonder aliens were being registered. No wonder the ways of the Dutch amongst them were being observed.
Anyway, this is about beer, right? Let’s go a little earlier. Three records of the Cofferers’ Accounts of the Gild Merchant of Reading, Berkshire from 1420, 1424 and 1427 indicate payment to theatrical players in terms of beer: seruicia or ceruisia in Latin. A later similar record from the 1452 accounts of St George’s Chapel of Windsor, Berkshire again for the part payment of actors states:
Et in ceruisia data lusoribus recitantibus ludum habitum in Collegio erga donatoris festum.
Were these all Dutch actors? Maybe. They were likely travelers, at least. But that makes an odd parallel pattern. Flems in port towns and actors liked hopped beer in the early 1400s. So, to find more similar patters, searches for variants of the root of the now familiar cerveza might be in order to see what might be up.***
And we find some in the 1390 accounts of the expedition led by then Earle of Derby, later Henry IV (reign 1399-1412), crusading through Prussia and, surprisingly, on to Lithuania. In a sort of code mixing English, Latin, French and plenty of numbers you see plenty of interesting references. When the force passes through the friendly lands of the Hanseatic ports en route, Derby’s clerk of the buttery starts buying beer along with wine and sometimes mead. As a result and for example, in September 1390 we read this sort of expense (amongst hundreds) being recorded:
Clerico buterie super beer per manus Gylder, pro j barello de beer, pro portagio et tractagio beer et vini…
Looks to be a bill for the beer, for the barrel in which the beer sit as the hauling of the beer as well as wine. There a lot of accounts like that. A lot. Which is interesting. Because here we have Englishmen drinking a hell of a lot of beer over a long period of time. Well before beer is considered to have been consumed much in England by Englishmen. Never thought to look for that sort of thing before.
Flems in England in the 1430s, actors in England in the 1420s and English crusaders in the 1390s. All having hopped beer very early in the timeline. I have to think about what this might add up to, if anything.
*This approach entirely sets aside the question of Viking brewing hundreds of years earlier in what is now Newfoundland but bear with me on that.
**See “Toward a Multicultural Mid-Tudor England: The Queen’s Royal Entry Circa 1553, and the Question of Strangers in the Reign of Mary I” by Scott Oldenburg – and especially the discussion around pages 110 to 115. The character also appears in the 1618 play Hans Beer Pot, his Invisible Comedy of See me and See me not by Daubridgecourt Capability Belchier.
***Examples of treachery in such matters abound. Consider the 1417 appendix to a will in which the summary states beer was to be brewed but the details make it clear it’s ale that being ordered but the future deceased.