Dunstana Talana the Violet
Photo by Diarmait ua Dhuinn
|Order of Precedence|
Purpure, on a flame Or a lizard passant regardant gules.
- 1 Offices:
- 2 Persona History:
- 3 Interests:
- 4 Timeline of Activity:
- 5 Prior Groups
- 6 Populace Provided Information:
- 7 Trivia
- 8 Notable Contributions or Accomplishments:
- 9 Affiliations:
- 10 Mundane Information:
Irish woman living in London with her merchant/scholar husband.
How Her Name Turned Out To Be Dunstana
(Originally posted to the Northkeep Facebook Group, posted here with permission of Diarmait)
The answer comes from both my SCA and mundane lives. When I got into the SCA, I made up "Talana" on the spur of the moment. Fantasy-inspired names were more accepted then, so few, including me, thought much of it; but when I tried to back-engineer the documentation, I found myself stuck. I was pretty well entrenched as Talana and I couldn’t think of any name I felt suited me better, so I let it go.
Until I got married. That didn’t fix my SCA name problem, but did put me on a collision course with a new name, which came out of my post-wedding conversion to the Episcopal Church. We lived in St. Dunstan’s Parish, Tulsa, and I was confirmed in that church. An old SCA friend, another convert to Episcopalianism, had added an English saint’s name to his persona as a personal commemoration of his confirmation. Cool idea, I thought.
The idea turned out to be both cool and providential because, while the husband and I both have Irish personas, we wanted to fit them together across space and time, and decided we would live in London around 1300. He is a merchant/scholar. I am a tradeswoman/housewife. Being foreigners, we naturally lived in the “immigrants’ quarter” of London, which was in the area now called “Cheapside,” near the Tower of London.
In the parish of St. Dunstan’s-in-the-East.
That’s when it began to come together: immigrants were looked upon with suspicion (gee, things don’t change over time, do they?). But, if Talana were to take on the name of an English saint, it might smooth the path to acceptance by the locals. Taking on the name of an Anglo-Saxon saint in a culture where the aristocracy is a bunch of French-speaking Johnnies-come-lately (damned Normans) might give her a bit of connection with the English-speaking merchant and lower classes. Thus was “Dunstana Talana the Violet” first penned.
But who was St. Dunstan?
He was born around 909, the son of a Wessex nobleman, and the nephew of Bishop Anthelm of Wells and of Winchester. Dad and Uncle packed the boy off to monastic school, where he was noted for mastering many kinds of artistic craftsmanship. Uncle Anthelm became Archbishop of Canterbury in 923 and called young Dunstan to come serve in his household. From there Dunstan secured an appointment to the court of King Athelstan.
Court politics being what they are, enemies hatched a plot to disgrace Dunstan with a charge of witchcraft. The King threw him out of the court, but that wasn’t enough for the plotters, who beat him to a pulp, tied him up, and tossed him in a cesspit – because in Anglo-Saxon England, your enemies throw you at poo.
Having survived both the pit and the horrific skin infection that resulted, he decided to take holy orders and headed to Glastonbury, where he studied, plied his arts, and played the harp. One legend says that, while working at his forge, the Devil showed up to mess with him, but Dunstan seized him by the nose with his tongs and told him to get lost. Another story says the Devil was riding by when his horse threw a shoe, and he asked Dunstan to nail it back on. Dunstan grabbed the Devil and nailed the shoe to *his* hoof instead, and refused to remove it until the devil swore he would never again enter a house with a horseshoe over the door. This may be the origin of hanging a “lucky” horseshoe over a front door.
During this time at Glastonbury, Dunstan inherited a fortune from his father. The resulting influence landed him a ministerial appointment under King Edmund the Deed-Doer, who was generally a Good Guy (TM); but again, a court clique turned a king against him, and got him exiled once more; however, the story goes, just as he was on the point of getting the hell out of Dodge, King Edmund, while hunting deer, nearly pitched over a cliff. As his life flashed before his eyes, he realized he’d treated Dunstan shamefully, and promised to make it right if God would save his bacon. The king managed to avoid falling to his death, and straightaway took Dunstan to Glastonbury and personally put him in the Abbot’s chair. Dunstan spent couple of years restoring the abbey, erecting new buildings, establishing a school for local youth, installing an irrigation system, and other abbot-y projects.
In 946, King Edmund ran afoul of an assassin, and was succeeded by his brother, Eadred who also was a Good Guy(TM). King Eadred worked for reconciliation with the Danish half of England, seeking to firm up royal authority, rebuild churches, and replace the religious practices of the Danes in England with those of the Anglo-Saxons. Dunstan played a leading role in this and apparently was so committed to the work rather than his own advancement that he turned down not one but two offers of a bishopric.
Then the good times hit a snag. Eadred died and was succeeded by old King Edmund’s elder son, Eadwig, who was a headstrong teenager and a bit of a prat. He and Dunstan did not hit it off well – on his coronation day, Eadwig skipped out on an important meeting with the nobles for some nooky-nooky time with his girlfriend. Dunstan walked in on them and dragged the king to the meeting, admonishing the youth that day one of your reign is no time to be dabbing it up with a strumpet.
That got him in a new kind of poo, because even someone with Dunstan’s credentials couldn’t just go about rousting kings, even if they were jerks. Rather than wait to be killed (or thrown at another cesspit), Dustan, possibly England's first notable to pull off a royal banishment hat trick, fled across the channel, where the Count of Flanders thought him so spiff that he gave the exiled abbot the Abbey of Mont Blandin.
Eventually, the English nobles had enough of Eadwig, and drove him south of the Thames and out of the way. They made Eadwig’s brother Edgar King in the north, and called Dunstan home. As soon as he got back, the Archbishop of Canterbury finally managed to stick a miter on Dunstan’s head and made him Bishop of Worcester. The next year, Dunstan got the See of London as well. Two years later, in 960, he became Archbishop of Canterbury.
Dunstan and King Edgar (called “the Peaceable”) worked together in running the kingdom. The culmination of Edgar’s reign came with his coronation in 973 as an imperial king in a ceremony which Dunstan designed – and which is the basis of the English coronation service to this day.
Edgar died a few years later, succeeded by Eadward (later known as Edward the Martyr). Twelve-year-old Aethelred the Ill-Counselled succeeded Eadward. Aethelred comes off in history as mostly a butthead, and England looked like a hot mess mess during his reign. Dunstan had some harsh words for the new king (he seemed to have no problem throwing shade on underaged monarchs), but instead of trying for a fourth banishment, this time he opted for a quieter course of action and decided to retire to Canterbury and do archbishop-ish things, like founding schools, making bells and correcting books in his cathedral library.
Dunstan died on May 19, 988. The English people began treating him as a saint shortly after, though his canonization did not come about until 1029. For over two centuries he was THE favorite English saint, until the Normans, who couldn’t leave anything well enough alone, martyred Dunstan’s Canterbury successor, Thomas a Becket, who took usurped the job of devotional golden boy.
Dunstan is considered a patron saint of goldsmiths, silversmiths, blacksmiths, bell makers, musicians, embroiderers, and illuminators. I would add heralds to that list. (can you say “Swiss Army Laurel”?) I ask you: How awesome was this guy?
Even the church of St. Dunstan’s-in-the-East, where Diarmaid and Talana worshipped, is amazing. It is 900 years old and has survived two devastating fires: one in Anglo-Saxon times, and the Great Fire in 1666. Both times, the people rebuilt it. The church took a direct hit during the Blitz, but did not succumb. It is one of the few buildings damaged in the Blitz still standing, dignified with its scars, forever telling Hitler to get lost.
There’s a saying in the SCA that your name will find you. I got a doozy.
Snippets from a Medieval Life
(Originally posted to the Northkeep Facebook Group on March 18, 2017, posted her with permission of Diarmait.)
As you by now know, Talana and Diarmaid live in 1300s London in the immigrant quarter near the Tower of London. She, like many women today, has to juggle an occupation with housewifely duties. One of those is getting the daily meals made. Unlike me, she works in a shop space attached to her home, which helps a bit. Still, food preparation was a time consuming thing – marketing, tending fires, preparing bread dough, and so on.
Fortunately for her, there is typically only one full meal in her day. Breakfast is usually a piece of bread and cold meats from the day before. Dinner is served sometime in the early afternoon and is the largest meal of the day. In the evening there is a much lighter meal, where she “sups” rather than dines (hence “supper”). Before bedtime there might be a snack, perhaps with some warmed and spiced wine or ale.
Her kitchen was very different from my modern one. There was no refrigerator, and no countertops - just a table for doing prep work. The cooking area was an open hearth and a stove. The stove was a masonry firebox with a hole at the bottom for feeding the fire, and one at the top that pots were set over. If you’re familiar with the concept of a “rocket stove,” you know that this arrangement produces a lot of heat for the fuel used. She might also have a chafing dish, a ceramic stand for holding charcoal, on which a skillet or pan can be set to prepare food. Her small, open hearth can both cook meat on a spit and provide a bed of coals to bury a pot in to slow-cook a dish as I do in my Crock-pot.
Talana’s kitchen does not have an oven. Ovens produce huge amounts of heat, and to do that, they use huge amounts of fuel. It is both more practical and economical for Talana to take her roasts and trussed birds to a cook-shop – rather like taking your turkey to a BBQ place to cook for you when you don’t have a smoker. Talana and Diarmaid don’t eat a lot of roasted meat, though she will grill a cutlet and make daubs (pot-roasts) in her own kitchen. Also, if she puts a cut of meat, tucked in a pot and sealed over with a heavy water-and-flour crust, and tucks it into the hot ashes she doesn’t have to make two round trips to the cook-shop. She does, however, have to get up early to start the fire so she’ll have sufficient coals to get the pot on sufficiently early for the dish to be ready for dinner.
She can also put the day’s pottage on at the same time. She makes pottage every day. Sometimes the soup is just some coleworts with and onion and some parsley, simmered in water, with perhaps a bit of oatmeal to give it some body. If the pottage is going to be the main feature of the day, she’ll use a number of different “pot-herbs,” like leeks, turnip greens, spinach, and the like, with some savory herbs, and in instead of water, add broth from beef, mutton, chicken, or fish.
Let’s say she is planning Sunday’s meal, which means that, despite it being the season of Lent, she and Diarmaid to eat meat. Since the other dishes today will be a bit indulgent, the pottage will be simple and plain, just a cabbage soup. All that needs to be done for the pottage is to shred and chop all the veggies and toss them in a pot, cover with water, and set the pot at the edge of the fire to cook slowly.
During Lent it’s easier to get salted meat than fresh; but whileTalana and Diarmaid have been able to get a regular supply of fresh fish, they’ve also eaten so much salt cod and salted herring that a piece of fresh meat will make Sunday that much nicer. Her Saturday morning marketing yielded pay dirt when she found the butcher had just slaughtered a few pigs, and she was able to get a piece of loin and also a bit of fat to render enough lard for the Sunday meals. She decides to seethe the loin (like braising) and make a sage sauce to go with it.
With the lard she renders from the fat – again, a slow cooking process, which she’ll do in a 3-legged pot near the coals – she will have enough grease to fry something. She still has apples in storage, laid by from the harvest of the tree in her garden last fall, and with them she can make some fritters. She decides to make some extra batter, to which she will add some spices and a bit of sugar, and set aside to make wafers with for a bedtime snack.
Friday’s dinner had included a dish of beans cooked with onion. She soaked more of the dried beans than she needed for that meal, in order to have some ready-soaked for today. She gives the softened beans a quick pounding to break them up a bit, adds in some more water (she would use broth, if she had any), and tucks in a strip of salt pork (carved from the piece she squirreled away in her larder back before Ash Wednesday), and set the pot on to slow cook with the others. Just before serving, she will remove the salt pork, chop it, fry it in a skillet, and stir it back into the beans.
Since Sunday is the Sabbath day, she had to have the bread made the day before. She can buy flour in different grades of quality, from whole-meal with a great deal of bran in it up to finely-bolted white flour for making manchet, the best quality wheat bread. It’s most practical for her to buy flour that has been through only the coarsest sifting, and bolt it at home herself to the grade she prefers. She owns a set of bolting cloths, with a range of weaves from coarse to fine. That way, if she does bolt for fine flour, then she, not the miller, keeps the bran, which she can feed to the pig she keeps in a pen at the far back of the property.
(The pig also takes care of scraps and garbage and, until it is turned into ham and bacon, will also earn its keep by producing the occasional litter. Urban swine-keeping was so common that a city ordinance dictated pens had to be cleaned out every Saturday, and professional urban swineherds would collect animals on a regular basis to take out of town to forage, and then return them to their owners.)
But back to the bread. Like most households without an oven, she prepares her own bread dough and pie crusts, then takes her loaves, tarts, fine cakes (cookies), and pies to a professional baker. (You have to be careful with bakers – some might pinch bits of dough off your loaf, taking enough from this customer and that to build a whole loaf that they can sell profiting off someone else’s flour and work.) The loaf for Sunday is a day old, but still good. It’s “cheate” bread, which is like today’s wholemeal bread. She sees no reason to have white, or “manchet,” bread, particularly if it’s going to be day-old and they aren’t entertaining guests. White bread is for special occasions. Truth to tell, Talana would be just as happy eating maslin bread (a blend of wheat and rye); but husband Diarmaid doesn’t care for it. Neither do many of the English, who turn up their noses at maslin, thinking wheat flour befouled with rye is fit only for serfs. Her thought is that they won’t hold their noses so high the next time there’s a too-wet winter that rots the wheat but leaves the rye alone. The English then can either go broke buying wheat brought from France, or maybe they’ll have a little sense and eat a bite of maslin. In the immigrant’s quarter, her neighbors include many from the German Hanseatic countries, Poland, and the Russias – all countries where rye is more commonly eaten then in England, so at least her baker deosn’t look askance at her loaves of maslin dough. (The modern equivalent of maslin is Jewish rye, which is also a blend of wheat and rye).
She has a half of a cheese in the larder, but she’ll save that for the supper, to eat with bread and any leftovers from dinner. She owns a cow, which she pastures on the town “commons,” open land available for communal pasture. She found a dairywoman with whom she’s hired to milk the cow and make butter and cheese, in exchange for a share of the production. The woman, to Talana’s delight, learned her dairy skills from her mother, who came from Cheshire, an area famous for cheesemaking since King Stephen’s day. It being Lent, however, Talana is using almond milk for cooking instead of cow’s milk, while her dairywoman is making and storing up cheese and butter to deliver in a couple of weeks, when Lent is over.
As she prepares the dinner to get onto the hearth, she also grinds some spices – ginger, clove, and cinnamon – to put in the batter for the fritters and wafers, and to spice the wine she will heat to serve with the wafers she’ll make as the evening winds down.
She doesn’t waste time getting started with her preparations, as she needs to have all the prep work done and the coals stoked and banked before heading to Sunday mass.
Thank you for reading these articles this week. I hope you’ve enjoyed them. I’ve certainly enjoyed writing them. Now that our people are returning, we can hope to read their war stories over the next few days.
[To go with this article, I have put a .pdf in the “Files” section with recipes for the dishes she is preparing today. For a pottage recipe, see my recipe for “buttered wortes” from last Sunday, and add enough broth to it to make a soup]
Six SCA Things About Me
(originally posted to her Facebook Profile on November 24, 2015, reposted here with the permission of Diarmait)
- I first heard about the SCA from one of the guys I played Starfleet Battles with in the high school library during the lunch hour. I attended my first fighter practice in January, 1981, where I met an established member by the name of Bjorlic auf Graumasser - I think he's called Beorthlic now.
- I received three of my five Sable Thistles after I became a Laurel - learning never stops unless you let it. (I never did get an AoA)
- I was not an apprentice, but I have some great ones.
- My Stupid Peer Trick (tm) is hanging a spoon off my nose.
- The first Centurion cloak I made was to go with HL Colin Ui Niall's landeschneckt fighting outfit. Since then I have made in the vicinity of forty cloaks, including individualized ones for English, Norse, Greek, and Turkish personas.
- Nineteen years after becoming a Laurel I proved to myself I could still produce a "Masterpiece" when I took the challenge of making Her Grace Gilyan's second outfit. The "workshop" of me and my apprentices, HE Elisabeth de Calais (who executed all the mind-numbingly repetitive yellow stitching on the spiral bands) and HE Sabine Lefevre (who make the dazzlingly pink silk kirtle to go under the blaiut), turned it out in 5 weeks.
More Talana Stories
- How the SCA Won a Convert
- Tales of Ricardo di Pisa
- Article: What Makes a Peer?
- Article: On Escorting Ladies Into Court
- Period Cookery
- Research (For a number of articles by Talana, please visit the Northkeep Facebook group, and in the "Search This Group" box, enter her name, 'Talana'.
Timeline of Activity:
Populace Provided Information:
Mistress Aline Swynbrook, OL
(On the occasion of what would have been Talana's birthday, 04/03/20) I am attending a virtual vigil tonight for a new Laurel. I always try to think what advice Talana would give people when I go into those situations. She's still the peer I want to grow up to be.
Talana once described herself with these words: "My singing voice is registered as an offensive weapon. I am warranted to fight in Madrigal, Choral, Aria, and Campfire-song styles. "
Notable Contributions or Accomplishments:
The Centurion Cloaks
In or around 1998, Centurion Colin Oisin Donavan ui Neill contacted Talana to commission a Centurion Cloak. At that time, there were few cloaks. The original batch of cloaks had been made through a group effort by the Shire of Mooneschadowe, but many Centurions did not have one. Talana researched period eagle designs, and came up with her distinctive artwork - which was later also used by Calontir Trim as a basis for their Centurion-themed trim. There is no accurate count or estimate of just how many Centurion cloaks she made over the decades. Jarl Owen ap Aeddan has said that he owned no less than nine Talana cloaks (6 he commissioned, 3 he was given), but as is tradition, they were passed on to other Centurions. He also provided that when Talana was made a Baroness of the Court of Ansteorra, that the pathway to the Crown from her seat was lined by Centurions wearing her cloaks. Centurion Treschen von Asselen is quoted as saying that the tradition of the cloaks might well have died out without Talana's efforts. (Please see the Centurions of the Sable Star of Ansteorra page for photos of her work).
At Castellan 2018, their Excellencies of Northkeep, Beorhlic Folcwineson and Elisaveta af Isefjord, announced the creation of a new Baronial award, The Dunstana. This award is to be given only once per Baronial investiture, to individuals "who serve as an example and inspire those around them to be better than we think we are." Talana was invested as the initial (Posthumous) recipient.