Prince in the Tower

The bones found under a staircase in the Tower of London which are today encased in a marble urn at Westminster Abbey have been looked over at least once by modern-day scientists. The one thing they found out was that the elder of the two children must have had an illness of the jaw that must have been present for some time before death. 
Edward V did, before his disappearance, have a triumphal entry into London. He was also, along with his brother, seen by a lot of people while he was lodged at the Tower. Interestingly, not a single witness describes anything that might hint at his jaw being diseased. 
If one looks at the sources on that and applies the same careful scrutiny that is regularly applied to the same sources as soon as they deal with Richard of Gloucester and the events that led to his becoming King Richard III, the silence of the sources can mean just one thing. There was nothing wrong with Edward V's jaw when he arrived at London. And the elder of the two skeletons from the staircase cannot be him.


Disappearing facts

Rarely has there ever been a time in the history of humanity where there was so much change in the things we surround ourselves with. One of the places where that keeps impressing me is my office. If someone born in the 19th century had been able to show his office to a person born a hundred years earlier, that person would readily have recognized every item in that office. Inkpot, quill, paper. Today, change is so fast that in a single lifetime you can watch once-standard items disappear. Take the mechanical typewriters. In most offices, they have long been removed. Or those self-copying sets of paper sheets for when you needed two or more copies of the same text, or even the carbon paper used before those were invented. If you still remember using a landline telephone with a rotating dial, that was probably some fifteen or twenty years ago. Today, you would have to look hard to find any of the aforementioned items in an office. Instead, we have the newest digital technology to replace them. Our daily work, of course, is facilitated by that. But what about our collective long-term memory? You can still read protocols of trials held in the fifteenth century, or land sales from the time of Charlemagne, without any more inconvenience than having to learn how to decipher the style of script they have been written in. Today, at lot of those things never even get printed out on paper. Instead, they are saved on computer servers. At the speed with which technology is updated, there are even today sets of data which may be properly stored, but nobody can read them because the program needed to open them is not used any more. I won't even mention the ways that stored data may be corrupted by damage to the storage medium, or the possibility of data loss before backup. Maybe there were never more words written down than in our lifetime, but future generations may end up with less of our words left for them to read than they have from our Renaissance ancestors. They might also end up with less pictures. To keep that from happening, all the data we want to be there for our descendants would have to be regularly saved and adapted to the most recent hard- and software standards. But who takes the time for that? I still have my old cassette tapes and LPs, but do not have a cassette deck or a record player. I never got around to digitalizing them. Nor did I bother to transform several years' worth of calendars when my old Lotus Organizer (tm)turned out to be incompatible with the newest edition of Windows (tm). I haven't missed that data, but it and so much more will not be there for future historians who want to find out about what it was like to live in our times. Our collective memory, thus, is getting more short-lived every year. Which is sad, because, as someone wiser than me once remarked, those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it. Julia


Oldies but goodies

That is the title of a music compilation I have somewhere in my cd collection, but it also applies to many things in daily life.
Now, I am not advocating living in your grandparents´ furniture or clothes, but has anyone besides me noticed that the quality of such things that is offered on sale has been steadily declining these last years?
I saw that, recently, when looking for a new coat closet. We went to the biggest furniture store in town, only to find that many of the specimens on sale there were so flimsily made that the material had visibly warped on the pieces on exhibition, while the more solid ones were prohibitively expensive.
The down side of this can be seen every time the pickup time for large trash items comes around- remains of such furniture that have gone to pieces completely stacked up by the curb waiting for the trash lorry to haul them away.
The opposite is what you can see in antique stores and museums: pieces of furniture crafted so solidly that they are still functional after several hundred years- and, of course, being moved and removed several times in a lifetime.They may show the signs of having been used, but they still work.
I´d wish for more such things to be available today, in more modern shapes. Furniture you can really move, use, and handle without having to be afraid of it desintegrating.
And which doesn´t break the bank on purchase.
After all, our ancestors managed to afford that kind of quality, too. And for most people, their ancestors aren´t the Rockefellers or such like.

So, it could be done. But in our modern society, things that really are once-in-a-lifetime acquisitions aren´t very popular.
My Grandma had a washing mashine she had had for some thirty years, and which needed some new parts after that time. When we had the repairman in, he marvelled at the old machine, and said, they don´t make them like that any more because they would not sell enough new ones if the old ones held up like that.

So, we are paying for items with a limited time of usability, having to make do with less than the best quality to keep the economy spinning.
Anyone besides me who thinks there´s something wrong with that?



Condiment inflation

One of the most important pieces in royal sets of tableware was what interestingly even has a name of its own in the English language.
Namely, the salt cellar.
Now someone like me -not a native speaker- might be tempted to assume that was a big underground room full of NaCl.
What it really is is a kind of big sugar bowl, usually made from precious materials and highly decorated, which was displayed prominently on the table and which did contain, not sugar, but simple salt.
At the time these were invented, that still was a precious commodity to have. Someone who could afford to put a big bowl of it on their table had to be really well-off.

The same thing went for sugar. Refined sugar as we use it wasn´t invented until the second half of the second millenium C.E., and it was, at first, used sparingly because it was so expensive.

There was a time when nations went to war over the right of way to a certain archipelago just because nutmeg trees were growing on it (see the Wikipedia  article on nutmeg to find out why New Yorkers speak English because of that little altercation:)). Pepper was worth its weight in gold.

And the common European man´s cuisine was, save for the use of fragrant herbs, onions, and garlic, probably pretty bland.

On the other side, you had the dishes of the upper class, who had access to the abovementioned rarities and tended, in order to impress everyone with their riches, to use them in amounts that today would be considered to be making a dish inedible.
That is a problem faced by everyone who tries to adapt medieval recipes for modern use. The amounts as well as the choice of spices are sometimes staggering, and to a modern palate, not every combination comes off as well as what goes into honey cakes, mulled wine or spekulaas.

On the other hand, the substances I mentioned first did, because of new technologies, become freely available and cheap.
Sugar and salt do have one other thing in common: they act as preserving agents. Salted ham and candied fruit were some of the earliest ways people had of keeping perishable foodstuffs edible for longer periods of time when there were no refrigerators.
When they became cheap, the step to overusing them in an attempt to make food less perishable was a very small one.

And today? there´s salt, pepper, and sugar on everybody´s table, and, unfortunately for many people´s health, salt and sugar are the two omnipresent ingredients that the food industry puts into most of its products in quantities well beyond what many people can stomach.
Oh, and the resulting foodstuffs are still pretty bland-tasting, if you take the artificial aromas out.
And the renaissance meals were probably a lot healthier, too, at least when they were made from fresh ingredients.