The Medieval English Urban Cook
By Jeffery Crandall Berry
MPhil, University of York, 2016
Abstract: This thesis explores the place of late medieval English urban cooks in their towns and cities. It takes as its point of departure a 1519 quote from William Horman in his Vulgaria, ‘That my coke can not do : the towne coke shal fulfyll,’ which contains an implicit understanding of the role of cooks in an urban environment. This thesis examines the activities of cooks, both the town or common cook and the private or household cook. It explores their economic situation, and the way they were perceived both by the municipal authorities and by the other inhabitants of the municipality. It utilises civic records, wills and probate inventories, literary sources, and archaeological evidence with the goal of building context which can inform the future study of medieval urban cooks.
The first chapter examines common cooks from an administrative perspective, using various regulations as a window not only onto the activities of cooks, but also asking what those regulations imply about how cooks were viewed by the municipal authorities. The second chapter considers cooks from the perspective of other urban inhabitants. It asks what perceptions were held of cooks by town or city dwellers and how the cooks viewed themselves. It interrogates the sources to determine what activities cooks were engaged in and what may be determined about their economic situation. The last chapter asks what differentiated a common cook from a household cook, and whether any differences were qualitative or quantitative. The conclusion brings the various strands together to provide a fuller context for urban cooks than any single perspective could offer.
Top Image: Barthélémy l’Anglais, Le Livre des propriétés des choses, 15th century. Biblioteque nationale MS Français 218, folio 373