Monday, November 4, 2019

Medieval acorns for pigs - from the Hours of Duc de Berry (1400s), Queen Mary Psalter (1310) and Henry VIII (c1500)

The "Labours of the Months" for November was a depiction of pigs routing under oak trees - with the bottom limbs removed - for acorns to eat before they were butchered.  The great Très Riches Heures of the Duc de Berry (left) was done in the 15th century, The Hours of Henry VIII from c1500 and Queen Mary Psalter c1310 all show swineherds with sticks to get more acorns. 

The British Library has a manuscript Royal 2 B VII f. 81v - The Queen Mary Psalter, 1310-1320 - depicting the acorns and pigs in “The Labours of the Months” section. “Detail of a miniature of men beating down acorns to feed their pigs, on a calendar page for November.” HERE
The Très Riches Heures was made for the Duc de Berry initially 1412-1416 with additions up to 1489. HERE


The Hours of Henry VIII was made in France c1500 and belonged to the British Royal family, and now owned by The Pierpont Morgan Library.  MS H 8  HERE
“Thrashing for Acorns (fol. 6)  In November the labor is to take the pigs to the forest and rattle the branches of the oak trees so they shed their acorns, thus fattening up the animals.”

Click to enlarge pictures.

©2019 Patricia Bixler Reber
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  1. Is it known which species of acorn were used in the areas depicted in the above images?

    From what I understand, various Oak varieties will have different tannin contents in their acorns. High tannins means bitter acorns, which the pigs will not eat readily (and which can make them bloated and sick).

    For example in Spain I know the Spanish Holm Oak is used (Q. ilex rotundifolia) and has a relatively low tannin content in its acorns. Italian Holm Oak however (Q. ilex ilex) has might higher tannin content in its acorns.

    I'm curious which oaks were used, say, in France and England.

    1. That is a very interesting question! But no, I don't know what kind of Oaks they were.