1577 Holinshead Swish-Swash

Last week. I mentioned authors who find nothing admirable in mead made from honeycombs. One such is Raphael Holinshead.

Holinshead’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, included extensive history and geographically based information. It was published in 1577 then revised and expanded before being re-issued in 1587. This book was used extensively by authors and playwrights; Shakespeare said to have based Henry V, King Lear, and MacBeth on its content.

Macbeth and Banquo Encounter the Witches

Raphael Holinshead was not the only author of this work, at least 7 others were significantly involved in the work.

1577 Holinshead. From Harrison, 1807 CHAP. VI. OF THE FOOD AND DIET OF THE ENGLISH.

“as Metheglin is in Wales, wherof the welchmen make no lesse accompt, then the Greekes did of theyr Ambrosia or Netar, which for the pleasantnesse thereof, was supposed to bee such as the goddesse themselues did vse. There is a kind of swish swash made also in Essex, and dyuers other places, wyth Hony and water, which the countrey wiues putting some pepper & a little other spice among, call meade verye good in myne opinion for such as loue to bee losse bodied, otherwise it differeth so much from the true Metheglin, as chalke doth from cheese. Truely it is nothing else but the washing of the combes, when the hony is wrong out, and one of the best things that I knowe belonging thereto is, yt they spend but little labour and lesse cost in making of the same, and therefore no great losse if it were neuer occupyed.”

Here we see a connection between metheglin and Wales. This connection is repeated in a number of texts in the 16th and 17th century. While it is almost certain that this reference is to Wales in England, the reference is used in some early to mid 16th century German texts, where it is possible it refers to the Swiss French or Welschen.

Despite the accolades for Metheglin, there is nothing approaching a recipe presented.

Cosmeston Medieval Village: Wales – 14th c.

The recipe here is for mead made with honeycombs. Again the strength of the honey/water mixture to be fermented is undefined, and probably relatively weak. But more importantly we have an instruction for addition of pepper and spice to the mixture (with no instruction for before fermentation, during fermentation, or both). This addition has the potential to make a very nice mead, even with a low amount of honey.

The comparison of meade and metheglin “as chalk doth from cheese”, a phrase that remains recognizable today, has its first documented occurrence in 1390.


Woodcut from Holinshead Chronicles: Public Domain via Wikimedia.

Cosmeston Medieval Village Credit Nilfanion https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cosmeston_Medieval_Village_(4738).jpg

The Holinshead Project. http://www.cems.ox.ac.uk/holinshed/. Accessed February 11, 2018.

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