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THE FLITCH OF BACON. 489
In general it is supposed to attach itself exclusively to Dunmow. This however is no more than a popular error. We know from authentic records that it prevailed also at Tutbury in Staffordshire, and I cannot help suspecting that a more extended and accurate research would prove that it existed in many other localities, and was itself but the shadow of some older custom. Sir William Dugdale * indeed fancies that he has found the source of it so far as Tutbury is concerned, and he thus quaintly describes it from an ancient parchment roll in English of the time of King Henry VIII., which however was not the original, having been translated from a roll in French, belonging to the age of King Edward III. The person, of whom he is speaking, is Sir Philip de Somerville, who held several manors of the Earl of Leicester, then Lord of the manor of Tutbury "by two small fees; that is to say, when other tenants pay for reliefe, one whole knight's fee, one hundred shillings, he, the said Sir Philip, shall pay but fifty shillings; and when escuage f is assessed throghe owtt the lande, or to ayde for to make th' eldest sonne of the Lord, knyght; or for to marrye the eldest daughter of the Lord, the said Sir Philip shall pay bott the motye J of it that other shall pay.
"Neverthelesse,the said Sir Philip shall fynde, meyntienge,§ and susteigne, one bacon flyke,|| hanging in his hall at Whichenoure.if redy arrayede all times of the yere, bott in Lent; to be given to everyche mane, or womane married, after the day and the yere of their mariage be passed; and to be gyven to everyche mane of religion, archbishop, bishop, prior, or other religious; and to everyche preest, after the yere and day of their profession finished, or of their dignity reseyved in forme followyng; whensoever that ony suche byfore named wylle come for to enquire for the baconne, in their own persone, or by any other for them, they shall come to the baillyfe, or to the porter, of the Lordship of Whichnoure, and shall say to them in the manere as ensewethe.
* Dugdale's " Baronage of England," vol. ii. p. 106, folio. London, 1675.
t Escuage (Scutagium, from the French, Eicu, i. e., a buckler or shield) signifies a kind of knight's service, called service of the shield.
X i.e. Moiety. § i.e. Maintain. II i.e. Flitch.
H Whichnor, a small village of Staffordshire, situated in the north division of the hundred of Offlow and deanery of Tamworth.
"' Bayliffe, or porter, I doo you to knowe; that I am come for myselfe (or, if he be come for any other, shewing for whome) to demaunde one Bacon flyke, hanging in the halle of the Lord of Whichenoure after forme thereunto belongyng.'
"After which relacioun, the baillyffe or porter shall assign a day to him, upon promyse by his feythe to retourne; and wyth him to bryng tweyne of his neighbours. And in the meyne time, the said Bailliffe shall take with him tweyne of the freeholders of the Lordship of Whichenoore; and they three shall go to the manoir of Rudlowe belongynge to Kobert Knyhtleye, and there shall somon the forseid Knyghtleye or his baillyffe, commanding him to be ready at Whichenoore the day appoynted, at pryme of the day, withe his caryage; that is to say, a horse and a sadylle, a sakke and a pryke * for to convey and carye the said baconne and corne a journey owtt of the countee of Stafford at his costages.t And then the sayd Baillyffee shall with the sayd freeholders somone all the tenaunts of the said manoir to be ready at the day appoynted at Whichenoore for to doo and perform the services which they owe to the baconne. And at the day assign'd, all such as owe services to the baconne, shall be ready at the gatte of the manoir of Whichenoure, frome the sonne-rysinge to none, attendyng and awatyng for the comyng of hym that fetcheth the baconne. And when he is comyn, there shall be delivered to him and hys fellowys chapeletts, and to all those whiche shall be there to do their services deue to the baconne; and they shall leid the seid demandant wythe trompes and tabours and other maner of mynstralseye to the halle dore, where he shall fynde the Lord of Wychenoore or his steward, ready to deliver the baconne in this manere. He shall enquere of hym, whiche demandeth the baconne, yf he have brought tweyn of his neybors with hym. Whiche must answere, 'they be here redy.' And then the steward shall cause thies two neighbours to swere yf the seid demandaunt be a weddyt man; or have be a man weddyt; and yf sythe his
* A pryke signifies a spur, from its having at one time consisted of a single point.
+ This word is explained by Minshew to mean cost.
THE PLITCH OF BACON. 491
marriage one yere and a day be passed; and yf he be a freeman or a villeyn.
"And yf his seid neighbours make othe that he hath for hym all thies three poynts rehersed; then shall the baconne be take downe, and broghte to the halle-dore; and shall there be layd upon one half a quarter of wheatte, and upon other of rye. And he that demandeth the baconne shall kneel upon his knee; and shall holde his right hande upon a booke, which booke shall be layde above the baconne and the corne; and shall make othe in this manere.
"' Here ye,Sir Philippe de Somervile,Lordof Whichenoore, mayntener and gyver of this baconne,—that I, A site I wedded B my wife, and sythe I hadde hyr in my keping and at my wylle by a yere and a day, after our mariage, I wold not have chaunged for none other, farer ne fowler, rycher ne pourer, ne for none other descended of gretter lynage, slepyng ne wakyng, atnoo time. And yf the seid B were sole, and I sole, I wolde take her to be my wyfe before alle the wymen of the worlde, of what condiciones soever they be, good or evylle; as helpe me God and his seyntis, and this fleshe and all fleshes.'
It is not a little singular that a custom of the same kind in substance, though differing in the details, should have existed also at the priory of Dunmow, in Essex, whence arises the old saying " that he which repents him not of his marriage, either sleeping or waking in a year and a day, may lawfully go to Dunmow and fetch a gammon of bacon away." It is unknown when or with whom the custom originated, but that it did exist there can be no doubt whatever. In Blount we read, "I have enquired of the manner of it, and can learne no more but that it continued untill the dissolution of that house, as also the abbies. And that the party, or pilgrim for bacon was to take his oath before prior, and convent, and the whole town, humbly kneeling in the churchyard upon two hard-pointed stones, which stones some say are there yet to be seen in the prior's churchyard; his oath was ministred with such long process, and such solemne singing over him, that doubtlesse must make his pilgrimage (as I may terme it) painfull; after, he was taken up upon men's shoulders, and carried, first about the priory churchyard, and after through the town with all the fryers and brethren, and all the townsfolke, young and old, following him with shouts and acclamations, with his bacon borne before him, and in such manner (as I have heard) was sent home with his bacon; of which I find that some had a gammon, and others a flecke, or a flitch; for proof whereof I have, from the records of the house found the names of three several persons that at several times had it."
The hard-pointed stones, on which the claimant was forced to kneel, while attesting his conjugal felicity, were bad enough in all reason, and plainly showed the lord of the manor was willing to save his bacon if possible; but the oath was of a nature, one would have thought, to preclude any husband of three weeks standing from the trial, providing only he had the least conscience; it was ten times harder of digestion than that which we have already seen propounded to the candidates for the flitch at Whichenovre. It is thus given by Morant in his " History of Essex."
"You shall swear by custom of confession,
The last time this premium on conjugal love and fidelity was ever received was on the 20th of June, 1750, by John Shakeshanks, wool-comber, and Anne his wife, of Wethersfield.