Cider Musings

The Earliest reference to Cider in England 1050s?

It is usually said that cider-making was introduced from Normandy to south-west England at the time of the Norman conquest, but conquests rarely effect changes in agricultural practices. In early history it’s just the ruling class that changed. The rural population was subjugated but mass migrations did not usually happen and is not recorded in the Norman Conquest. About 8000 Normans came to England in the Conquest and aftermath

But there is  one curious document that points to cider in Hereford before the Norman conquest. It comes in the form of a story that the cleric scribe, Henry of Huntington wrote  about  two  of the sons of Earl Godwin, Harold and Tostig in his book The History of the English or Historia Anglorum.

The opening page from book 1 of Historia Anglorum.

Godwin was the most important man in England in the mid 11th century after the King Edward the Confessor, effectively more powerful but without the title. The ruling dynasty then being Algo Saxon. Oddly it was inserted into his history of the the English (written the 1130s) after the Battle of Stamford Bridge and before the Norman invasion. ( perhaps as both Harold then king and Tostig had roles at Stamford Bridge. Godwin had a daughter too, Edith, who married King Edward the Confessor. On one occasion about the year 1045 Edward was dining with Edith in the royal hall at Windsor, his wine being poured by Harold, and Tostig was there too. The brothers had recently quarrelled, and Tostig chose this moment to grab Harold by the hair. King Edward objected to the brawling and he ordered Tostig out of the hall.

Tostig fighting with Harold

Translated from the Latin by Andrew Dalby  

“Tostig departed in anger and went straight to Hereford, where his brother Harold had prepared a huge royal banquet. There he dismembered all his brother’s servants and put a human leg, head or arm into each vessel for wine, mead, ale, spiced wine, mulberry wine and CIDER ( my capitalisation). In Latin - vinum, medo, cervisia, pigmentum, moratum, sicera. Then he sent a message to King Edward saying that when he came to the farm he would find plenty of brined meat, but he had better bring with him anything else he needed. For this quite unspeakable crime the king ordered him to be outlawed and exiled”

Henry of Huntingdon is now the only source for this story or legend current in twelfth-century clerical circles and may, or not, be true ( character assassination is not new and Henry of course was Norman, not Anglo Saxon so probably had no love for the overthrown dynasty). But that is irrelevant: it is the detail that matters here  regarding cider. If Henry wanted his story to be taken seriously, he had to make it likely. He was evidently aware of cider as a Herefordshire product, otherwise it would not be in his list at all. If cider-making was introduced to England after the Norman conquest, it would not have been well known to Henry; he was born about 1080 and lived in Huntingdon. The fact that cider occurs in Henry’s list of drinks for a royal banquet in Hereford in the 1040s means that, whether or not the incident took place, cider really must have been available at that time and was not recently introduced by the Normans. This is not unsurprising as maritime trade across the English Channel between France, Normandy and England was common, being safer than land comerce from Roman times untill the late Middle Ages. Of course improved varieties of cider apple trees would have been introduced by the Normans.

The translation here is from The regretable incident at Hereford by Andrew Dalby. See Here