Norman-French Cuisine Invades England (Somewhat) in A.D. 1066
Dr. James J. S. Johnson
Nevertheless He [i.e., the Creator-God] left not Himself without witness, in that He did good, and He gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. (Acts 14:17)
The year A.D. 1066 is best remembered by William the Conqueror’s successful invasion of Britain—an event that changed world history forever.(1),(2),(3)
As this author’s previous history research has reported, the fate of America’s George Washington actually hung in the balances during the Battle of Hastings (!), on the 14th of October, A.D.1066.(1),(3)
However, did that invasive immigration of Normans also change the dietary habits of Britain’s inhabitants?
Archaeologists from Cardiff University and the University of Sheffield have combined the latest scientific methods to offer new insights into life during the Norman Conquest of England. … But little has been known about how it affected everyday people’s lives. … There is evidence the Norman invasion led to more controlled and standardised mass agricultural practices. Pork became a more popular choice and dairy products were used less. But on the whole, a diet dominated by vegetables, cereals beef and mutton remained largely unchanged.(4)
In other words, according to recently reported archeological research, the conclusion is that the Norman conquest of England only changed popular cuisine habits “somewhat”, but “not so much”.(4),(5),(6)
Dr. Elizabeth Craig-Atkins of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Archaeology said: “Examining archaeological evidence of the diet and health of ordinary people who lived during this time gives us a detailed picture of their everyday experiences and lifestyles. Despite the huge political and economic changes that were happening [in 1066], our analysis suggests the Conquest may have only had a limited impact on most people’s diet and health. “There is certainly evidence that people experienced periods where food was scarce. But following this, an intensification in farming meant people generally had a more steady food supply and consistent diet. Aside from pork becoming a more popular food choice, eating habits and cooking methods remained unchanged to a large extent.”(4)
Before the Norman invasion, in A.D.1066, the island of Britain’s demographics displayed the mix of original Celtic peoples and later-arriving Saxons, plus a sprinkling of settlers from two centuries of intermittent immigrations by Norse Vikings.
However, when Duke William’s force came from Rouen, they brought with them their Norman-French language, plus some Norman-French dietary preferences. French cuisine often features poultry, plus the Viking heritage of Normandy always included fish, such as cod, salmon, and herring.(2),(5),(6)
Eventually, bones reveal who was eating what.(4),(5),(6),(7)
Researchers used a technique called stable isotope analysis on bones to compare 36 humans found in various locations around Oxford, including Oxford Castle, who had lived between the 10th and 13th centuries. Signals from food we consume are archived as chemical tracers in our bones, allowing scientists to investigate the quality and variety of a person’s diet long after they have died. … Levels of protein and carbohydrate consumption were similar in the group and evidence of bone conditions related to poor diet—such as rickets and scurvy—were rare.(4)
The study of diet enables exploration of the impact of political change on everyday life through its illumination of the provisioning, marketing, selection and preparation of foodstuffs. … Previous analyses of diet in England during the 11th-century Norman Conquest have focused on changes in food culture brought about by French cultural influences. These include increased consumption of domesticated pigs and wild species, as well as changes in cooking practices, such as a greater frequency of roasting and new methods of slow cooking…. These changes can be set against developments in food culture, which characterise the early centuries of the late medieval period, such as the increasing consumption of fish….(5)
Unlike swine raised far from coastlines or navigable rivers, swine raised by Vikings—and by Norman French—were often fed fish scraps.(7)
Isotope analysis was also used on 60 animals found at the same sites, to ascertain how they were raised. Studies of pig bones found their diets became more consistent and richer in animal protein after the Conquest, suggesting pig farming was intensified under Norman rule. They were likely living in the town and being fed scraps instead of natural vegetable fodder.(4)
These dietary differences complicate research for archeologists who rely upon Carbon-14 dating methods. Traditional radiocarbon dating usually assumes a terrestrial food-based diet—ingesting photosynthesis-fixed 14C via eating grains, root vegetables, fruits, and nuts, plus various meats and dairy products derived from grain-fed or grass-fed herbivores.(7),(8)
However, fish-dominated diets—supplemented by pork from swine raised on fish scraps—accumulate less Carbon-14 in human bones, so dietary adjustments are needed when estimating date-of-death timeframes for the bones of those who habitually ate fish and other foods traceable to a marine food-chain.(7),(8)
Meanwhile, whatever good food is eaten—whether it’s from a terrestrial food-chain (like chicken), or from the sea (like fish)—should be eaten with thanksgiving, because good food is its own proof of God’s caring providence.(9)
For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:4-5)
- “But what if there had been no George Washington to ‘father’ America? … If the battle [of Hastings] had gone the other way and William the Conqueror had died, then he would not have been alive to have [fathered] a son named Henry (England’s Henry I), who was born two years after the Battle of Hastings. Since George Washington is a [F21] direct descendant of Henry I, Washington wouldn’t have been born roughly 700 years later…” Johnson, J. J. S. 2012. Christmas, Vikings, and the Providence of God. Acts & Facts. 41(12):8-10, posted at https://www.icr.org/article/christmas-vikings-providence-god .
- Haywood, J. 1995. The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Viking World. London, UK: Penguin Books, pages 14-15, 80-81, 137. Normandy’s William the Conqueror was an F5 descendant of the famous Norwegian-born Viking Hrolf (the Ganger) Ragnvaldsson, who established Rouen, Normandy.
- Andrusko, S. M., et al. 1983. Genealogical Research at the Library of Congress. Library Trends. 32(1):51-65, especially page 53. See also Ashley, M. 1998. The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens: The Complete Biographical Encyclopedia of Kings and Queens of Britain. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 439, 497-504, 521, esp. 499. ICR’s adjunct faculty, British historian Dr. William R. Cooper, provided helpful scholarship with this biogenetic data analysis.
- Cardiff University staff writer. 2020. Norman Conquest of 1066 Did Little to Change People’s Eating Habits. Posted by PhysOrg (July 6, 2020) at https://phys.org/news/2020-07-norman-conquest-people-habits.html .
- Craig-Atkins, E. B. Jarvis, L. Cramp, et al. 2020. The Dietary Impact of the Norman Conquest: A Multiproxy Archaeological Investigation of Oxford, UK. PLoS One. 15(7): e0235005 (July 6, 2020), posted at https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0235005 .
- Some of the biochemical findings were unexpected. It seems that the Anglo-Norman clergy, who mandated cultist dietary restrictions for the common folk, did not practice what they themselves preached. “It might be expected, for example, that Christ Church’s monastic community observed religious proscriptions against meat [1 Timothy 4:1-5], and so consumed more fish (and poultry) than individuals interred in the other cemeteries. However, this appears not to have been the case, as Christ Church has the lowest mean δ15N and δ13C values compared to the other sites. The three individuals from Oxford Castle may have had a higher social status, and therefore a diet richer in meat and fish, but in this case, as the mean δ15N value is highest, but the δ13C value is lowest, marine dietary input must have been negligible in this small sample of individuals.” (Quoting Craig-Atkins, E. B. Jarvis, L. Cramp, et al., cited in the previous footnote). On Europe’s dietary restrictions during the Dark Ages, see Kurlanksy, M. 1997. Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World. New York, NY: Walker & Company, pages 24 & 35.
- Johnson, J. J. S. 2018. Viking Bones Contradict Carbon-14 Assumptions. Acts & Facts. 47(5):21, posted at https://www.icr.org/article/viking-bones-contradict-c14-assumptions . For a short podcast on this topic, review James J. S. Johnson’s “Why One-Size-Fits-All Radiocarbon Dating Doesn’t Work”, ICR Creation Science Update Podcast (August 24, 2018), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/one-size-fits-all-radiocarbon-dating-doesnt-work .
- Jarman, C. L., M. Biddle, T. Higham, et al. 2018. The Viking Great Army in England: New Dates from the Repton Charnel. Antiquity. 92(361):183-199. See also Arneborg, J., J. Heinemeier, N. Lynnerup, et al. 1999. Change of Diet of the Greenland Vikings Determined from Stable Carbon Isotope Analysis and 14C Dating of their Bones. Radiocarbon. 41(2):157-168. Arneborg and her team recognize how diet must be accounted for when using Carbon-14 dating methods: “If the bone collagen is of terrestrial origin, the measured (conventional) 14C age is converted into a true calendar age by using the global tree-ring calibration curve. However, this simple procedure is not applicable when the bone collagen is derived in part from marine carbon which, due to the marine reservoir effect, appears several hundred 14C years older than the corresponding terrestrial carbon. This seriously constrains the dating of bones of people who have had access to food protein from the sea.”
- Acts 14:17. See also Johnson, J. J. S. 2011. Our Daily Bread: How Food Proves God’s Providence. Acts & Facts. 40(4):8-9, posted at https://www.icr.org/article/our-daily-bread-how-food-proves-gods/ .