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Basic Goods

Since the necessities and travails of long distance travel have changed little through the Middle Ages, and by way of engendering ideas about what a fourteenth century traveler would possess, we look to Informacon for Pylgrymes (c.1458) by William Wey, a manual for pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land. Wey advises taking a few pairs of linen drawers for coolness and a long overcoat for chilly nights. He also recommends Venetian coins, laxatives to combat unhealthy airs, a good restorative, dried fruit snacks, cooking spices, a saucepan, a frying-pan, plates, cups, saucers, glasses, knives, "a grater for brede and such nessaryes." Wey expects pilgrims to take a sea route, and he suggests a shop where they may purchase "a fedder bedde, a matres, too pylwys, too peyre schetis and a qwylt" to use as sleeping gear aboard the vessel. Wey also suggests:

". . . purse, dagger, cloke, nightcap, kerchief, shoehorn, boget and shoes. Spear, male, hode, halter, saddlecloth, spurs, hat and a horse combe. Bows, arrows, sword, buckler, horne, leash, gloves, string and thy bracer. Pen, paper, ink, perchmente, reed wax, pommes, bokes thou remember. Penknife, comb, thimble, needle, thread, pointe, lest thy girth breake. Bodkin, knife, lyngel, give thy horse meate, see he be shoe'd well. Make merry, sing an thou can, take heed to thy gear that thou lose none."

These suggestions fall into several categories. Some items are clearly personal, some concern the traveler’s horse, some would only be pertinent to a literate traveler, and some are clearly weapons. Generally, he groups categories together. So shall we. We shall, however, ignore most of the clothing items herein, as we speak to them elsewhere.

Personal items

Purses are worn hung from or tied to your belt to carry your personal items

Combs are double sided. Boxwood is a common material. Horn and presumably bone are acceptable materials. Ivory for nobles, usually carved or painted or both. Ladies should add a mirror and case to their kit.

Thimbles were made a number of ways. Cast thimbles are known, of both "beehive" and simple ring types. Others were formed of metal sheet. Presumably leather pads with a finger hole were used as well.

Needles were of copper alloy or iron. They can be carried in a needle case of leather or metal.

Thread, presumably only a small amount, is carried for emergency repairs. Ladies would likely carry more and possibly an assortment for embroidery work. Thread can be carried on a bobbin of wood, bone, or ivory that is turned for simple banded decoration.

Points, or laces/cords, are useful for many purposes. One should have a number of them for repairs. The could be cut from leather or braided from strong cord.

Bodkin: allegedly a sharp pointed dagger. We think it likely that Wey's reference might be to a needle-like implement for use with the lyngel.

Nightcap and kerchief: for wear in bed. Most likely these are your only bedclothes.

Shoes are recommended by Wey, but he doesn’t mention pattens, which many of our folk find indispensable for inclement weather. Nobles would almost certainly want boots or houseaulx (leather covers for to protect hosen while riding.)

Keys for all your locks, possibly even the ones at home.

Coins have a use not needing explanation. A selection of denominations and origins would be common for travelers.

Religious objects, an integral and intimate part of fourteenth century life, would be worn or carried. The nature of the objects remains fairly constant over the social classes, but as usual the quality and quantity increase with higher rank. Typical objects include pilgrim badges, beads (known today as rosaries), crucifixes, etc. Nobles could have reliquaries, portable shrines, devotional paintings and carvings (possibly set up as diptychs or triptychs), devotional books (such as psalters or books of hours). The richest would have portable altars, vessels and vestments for Mass, and their own priests.

Pilgrim badges were primarily made of lead (we should use pewter or Britannia metal) in mass quantities. Higher quality badges for higher ranking folk were made in silver and gold, often as custom work. Some shrines, like that of St. James of Compestela, used found objects (scallop shells) as well as the manufactured badges.

The Beads of the poor were often homemade of found materials. The highest ranks might have beads of gemstone and golden fittings. In between come semi-precious stone and carved wood, bone, or ivory. A simple construction consists of nine small beads and a large bead forming a decade; a more elaborate set could have five decades with an additional large bead at the beginning, but the number of beads is not standardized.

Entertainment stuff includes dice, gaming equipment for chess, draughts, and, yes, even playing cards (although we don’t know what they should look like), and reading material for the literate.

Cooking and eating

Obviously, Wey expects the traveler to be doing his or her own cooking.

Spoon: Wood and horn would have been used by the poor. Those of middle income start using pewter and combination spoons (wood bowls with handles of ivory or metal). The rich would have ivory or metal (pewter, brass, silver, silver gilt) spoons.

Drinking vessel: a mug or cup of pottery or wood would seem to be the most common. Though survivials are nearly unknown, it seems that leather mugs (now known as jacks) were also in use. Richer folks may have metal, crystal, and glass as well as combination material vessels. Drinking from bowls (plain or fancy according to rank) was common.

Bowl: Treen (wood) is excellent for lower classes. Pewter appears among those of middle income and continues on up the social ladder. Only high nobles or the very rich could be expected to have silver or gold items. Pottery is acceptable at any rank (with increasingly elaborate decoration and progressively finer execution).

Plate. Materials as for bowls. Nobles would have a wider variety of eating utensils and tableware,.such as masers, a selection of glasses and goblets, a carving set, a range of ewers for oil and vinegar, washing water, wine and so on.

Boget : a water bag or vessel of some sort. Costrels (leather, pottery, or stave-built) seem suitable for all ranks. Poorer persons could use hollowed gourds.

Health care

Knife: a small knife for table and possibly general utility use. Context in the advice suggests that this item might serve in a first aid function.

Lyngel: the reference appears to be to a "first-aid kit" of linen thread and possibly small strips of linen to serve as bandages.

Horse care

Male (mallet for driving the tether peg), hode (tether line?), halter, saddlecloth, spurs, ... and a horse combe would comprise a basic equestrian kit

Martial/Hunting Items

Spear, ... Bows, arrows, sword, buckler, horne, leash, gloves, string and thy bracer refer to armament/hunting gear, mostly archery equipment. The weaponry suggested by Wey is apparently intended for a middle class person traveling on business. See weapon standards for the social class you wish to portray.

For the Literate

Pen, paper , ink, perchmente, reed, wax, pommes (round bag of pumice powder), bokes ... Penknife make up the writing kit. Most of these items would have molded and decorated leather carrying containers. A need for writing supplies would apply to a person with pretentions to literacy and if carried, all of the equipment would be necessary. Paper is in common use, especially for transitory written items such as daily accounts and letters. Papermills are operating in several places in Europe at this time (though apparently not yet in England)..

Travel papers could include letters of credit, travel permissions and safe conducts, letters of introduction or commission, letters from loved ones or similar items being carried as a courtesy or commission.

Carrying It All (or the dread "larger container")

Containerization is a very medieval concept. Valuable items often have custom made containers to keep them safe while traveling. Glass vessels and fine metalwork would be carried in molded leather (possibly cuirbouilli) containers. Some of these had their own carry straps. Small, easily lost items (rings, other jewelry, coins) would be kept in pouches of leather or cloth or in small cofferets.

The poor folks would likely transport their goods in soft containers. The family's chest probably never left the house. Personal goods would be kept in the scrip (of leather or heavy cloth such as canvas) and large items and tools of the trade in a sack or three. Wicker baskets and backpacks are also reasonable.

Whereas pilgrims were allowed a chest (and advised to have a strong lock), it is reasonable to expect that any traveler of at least moderate means would have one. If you've got a lot of stuff, you would have several. Chests are wooden and may be of several types including the typical flat-topped chest and the round-topped coffer.