The Capitulare de Villis - On Gardening & Farming
Charlemagne (Charles I, Carolus Magnus, Charles the Great) (742-814) was King of the Franks from 768 until his death. He expanded small Frankish kingdoms into an Empire that covered much of Western & Central Europe.
Charlemagne BLMedieval Egerton 3028 f. 83v c
He conquered Italy & was crowned Imperator Augustus by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800, as a rival of the Byzantine Emperor in Constantinople. Charles I, was the 1st Holy Roman Emperor, & the 1st emperor in western Europe, since the collapse of the Western Roman Empire 3 centuries earlier. Under his influence, society, art, culture, gardening, religion, & farming underwent a Renaissance.
Charlemagne (742-812) experimented with plants in his own garden & oversaw plantings on his royal estates. He issued imperial edicts, or capitularies, to guide civil, military, & ecclesiastical affairs. The Capitulare des Villis specified a list of plants to be grown on royal estates, as well as farming guidelines.
Charlemagne by Albrecht Durer (1471-1548) around the late 8C. Holy Roman Emperor (742-812) called 'The Father of Europe.' Detail.
The Capitulare de Villis - On Gardening & Farming
This document dates to the end of the 8C & survives in a manuscript of near contemporary date. It describes, in an idealized form, the management of royal estates.
Charlemagne by Caspar Johann Nepomuk Scheuren (1810-1887)
The terminology & types of plant listed suggest that it describes estates in Aquitaine (i.e. western France, south of the Loire) which in the late 8C was ruled by Charlemagne's son Louis, later the Emperor Louis the Pious. Whether the text was created under Louis' instruction or his father's is not known. Louis I (778-840), or Louis the Pious, was king of the Franks & emperor of the West from 814 to 840. This document provides a unique insight into the social & economic worlds of the landed & the peasants.
Charlemagne & his son Louis Grandes Chroniques de France, France, Paris (BnF Français 73, fol. 128v)
Charlemagne's Edicts On Gardening & Farming
8. That our stewards shall take charge of our vineyards in their districts, & see that they are properly worked; & let them put the wine into good vessels, & take particular care that no loss is incurred in shipping it. They are to have purchased other, more special, wine to supply the royal estates. And if they should buy more of this wine than is necessary for supplying our estates they should inform us of this, so that we can tell them what we wish to be done with it. They shall also have slips from our vineyards sent for our use. Such rents from our estates as are paid in wine they shall send to our cellars.
Using the Horses - Victory of Charlemagne over the Avars - Albrecht Altdorfer, 1518
13. That they shall take good care of the stallions, & under no circumstances allow them to stay for long in the same pasture, lest it should be spoiled. And if any of them is unhealthy, or too old, or is likely to die, the stewards are to see that we are informed at the proper time, before the season comes for sending them in among the mares.
14. That they shall look after our mares well, & segregate the colts at the proper time. And if the fillies increase in number, let them be separated so that they can form a new herd by themselves.
15. That they shall take care to have our foals sent to the winter palace at the feast of St Martin.
17. A steward shall appoint as many men as he has estates in his district, whose task it will be to keep bees for our use.
18. At our mills they are to keep chickens & geese, according to the mill's importance—or as many as is possible.
19. In the barns on our chief estates they are to keep not less than 100 chickens & not less than 30 geese. At the smaller farms they are to keep not less than 50 chickens & not less than 12 geese.
20. Every steward is to see that the produce is brought to the court in plentiful supply throughout the year; also, let them make their visitations for this purpose at least three or four times.
21. Every steward is to keep fishponds on our estates where they have existed in the past, & if possible he is to enlarge them. They are also to be established in places where they have not so far existed but where they are now practicable.
22. Those who have vines shall keep not less than three or four crowns of grapes.
23. On each of our estates the stewards are to have as many byres, pigsties, sheepfolds & goat-pens as possible, & under no circumstances arc they to be without them. They are also to have cows provided by our serfs for the performance of their service, so that the byres & plough-teams are in no way weakened by service on our demesne. And when they have to provide meat, let them have lame but healthy oxen, cows or horses which are not mangy, & other healthy animals; &, as we have said, our byres & plough-teams must not suffer as a result of this.
24. Every steward is to take pains over anything he has to provide for our table, so that everything he gives is good & of the best quality, & as carefully & cleanly prepared as possible. And each of them, when he comes to serve at our table, is to have corn for two meals a day for his service; & any other provisions, whether in flour or in meat, are similarly to be of good quality.
25. They are to report on the first of September whether or not there will be food for the pigs.
32. That every steward shall make it his business always to have good seed of the best quality, whether bought or otherwise acquired.
34. They are to take particular care that anything which they do or make with their hands—that is, lard, smoked meat, sausage, newly-salted meat, wine, vinegar, mulberry wine, boiled wine, garum, mustard, cheese, butter, malt, beer, mead, honey, wax & flour—that all these are made or prepared with the greatest attention to cleanliness.
35. It is our wish that tallow shall be made from fat sheep & also from pigs; in addition, they are to keep on each estate not less than two fattened oxen, which can either be used for making tallow there or can be sent to us.
36. That our woods & forests shall be well protected; if there is an area to be cleared, the stewards are to have it cleared, & shall not allow fields to become overgrown with woodland. Where woods are supposed to exist they shall not allow them to be excessively cut & damaged. Inside the forests they are to take good care of our game; likewise, they shall keep our hawks & falcons in readiness for our use, & shall diligently collect our dues there. And the stewards, or our mayors or their men, if they send their pigs into our woods to be fattened, shall be the first to pay the tithe for this, so as to set a good example & encourage other men to pay their tithe in full in the future.
37. That they shall keep our fields & arable land in good order, & shall guard our meadows at the appropriate time.
38. That they shall always keep fattened geese & chickens sufficient for our use if needed, or for sending to us.
39. It is our wish that the stewards shall be responsible for collecting the chickens & eggs which the serfs & manse-holders contribute each year; & when they are not able to use them they are to sell them.
40. That every steward, on each of our estates, shall always have swans, peacocks, pheasants, ducks, pigeons, partridges & turtle doves, for the sake of ornament.
44. Two thirds of the Lenten food shall be sent each year for our use — that is, of the vegetables, fish, cheese, butter, honey, mustard, vinegar, millet, panic, dry or green herbs, radishes, turnips, & wax or soap & other small items; & as we have said earlier, they are to inform us by letter of what is left over, & shall under no circumstances omit to do this, as they have done in the past, because it is through those two thirds that we wish to know about the one third that remains.
45. That every steward shall have in his district good workmen — that is, blacksmiths, gold- & silver-smiths, shoemakers, turners, carpenters, shield-makers, fishermen, falconers, soap-makers, brewers (that is, people who know how to make beer, cider, perry or any other suitable beverage), bakers to make bread for our use, net-makers who can make good nets for hunting or fishing or fowling, & all the other workmen too numerous to mention.
46. That the stewards shall take good care of our walled parks, which the people call brogili, & always repair them in good time, & not delay so long that it becomes necessary to rebuild them completely. This should apply to all buildings.
47. That our hunters & falconers, & the other servants who are in permanent attendance on us at the palace, shall throughout our estates be given such assistance as we or the queen may command in our letters, on occasions when we send them out on an errand or when the seneschal or butler gives them some task to do in our name.
48. That the wine-presses on our estates shall be kept in good order. And the stewards are to see to it that no one dares to crush the grapes with his feet, but that everything is clean & different.
58. When our puppies are entrusted to the stewards they are to feed them at their own expense, or else entrust them to their subordinates, that is, the mayors & deans, or cellarers, so that they in their turn can feed them from their own resources—unless there should be an order from ourselves or the queen that they arc to be fed on our estate at our own expense. In this case the steward is to send a man to them, to see to their feeding, & is to set aside food for them; & there will be no need for the man to go to the kennels every day.
62. That each steward shall make an annual statement of all our income, from the oxen which our ploughmen keep, from the holdings which owe ploughing services, from the pigs, from rents, judgement-fees & fines, from the fines for taking game in our forests without our permission & from the various other payments; from the mills, forests, fields, bridges & ships; from the free men & the hundreds which are attached to our fisc; from the markets; from the vineyards, & those who pay their dues in wine; from hay, firewood & torches, from planks & other timber; from waste land; from vegetables, millet & panic; from wool, linen & hemp; from the fruits of trees; from larger & smaller nuts; from the graftings of various trees; from gardens, turnips, fishponds; from hides, skins & horns; from honey & wax; from oil, tallow & soap; from mulberry wine, boiled wine, mead & vinegar; from beer & from new & old wine; from new & old grain; from chickens & eggs & geese; from the fishermen, smiths, shield-makers & cobblers; from kneading troughs, bins or boxes; from the turners & saddlers; from forges & from mines, that is, from iron- or lead-workings & from workings of any other kind; from people paying tribute; & from colts & fillies. All these things they shall set out in order under separate headings, & shall send the information to us at Christmas time, so that we may know the character & amount of our income from the various sources.
65. That the fish from our fishponds shall be sold, & others put in their place, so that there is always a supply of fish; however, when we do not visit the estates they are to be sold, & our stewards are to get a profit from them for our benefit.
66. They are to give an account to us of the male & female goats, & of their horns & skins; & each year they are to bring to us the newly-salted meat of the fattened goats.
70. It is our wish that they shall have in their gardens all kinds of plants: lily, roses, fenugreek, costmary, sage, rue, southernwood, cucumbers, pumpkins, gourds, kidney-bean, cumin, rosemary, caraway, chick-pea, squill, gladiolus, tarragon, anise, colocynth, chicory, ammi, sesili, lettuces, spider's foot, rocket salad, garden cress, burdock, penny-royal, hemlock, parsley, celery, lovage, juniper, dill, sweet fennel, endive, dittany, white mustard, summer savory, water mint, garden mint, wild mint, tansy, catnip, centaury, garden poppy, beets, hazelwort, marshmallows, mallows, carrots, parsnip, orach, spinach, kohlrabi, cabbages, onions, chives, leeks, radishes, shallots, cibols, garlic, madder, teazles, broad beans, peas, coriander, chervil, capers, clary. And the gardener shall have house-leeks growing on his house. As for trees, it is our wish that they shall have various kinds of apple, pear, plum, sorb, medlar, chestnut & peach; quince, hazel, almond, mulberry, laurel, pine, fig, nut & cherry trees of various kinds. The names of apples are: gozmaringa, geroldinga, crevedella, spirauca; there are sweet ones, bitter ones, those that keep well, those that are to be eaten straightaway, & early ones. Of pears they are to have three or four kinds, those that keep well, sweet ones, cooking pears & the late-ripening ones.
Manuscript: The extant copy of the Capitulare de Villis survives in Wolfenbüttel, Cod. Guelf. 254 Helmst. (fols 12v-16r) which dates to c. 800. Intriguingly, the Capitulary is paired in this manuscript with the only extant copy of letters from Pope Leo III to Charlemagne (fols. 1r-9v). The tall, thin format of the manuscript is also interesting, & may suggest that it was intended to be easily portable.
Edition: A. Boretius, ed. Capitularia regum Francorum I, MGH Legum Sectio II (Hanover 1883), no. 32, pp. 82-91.
Translation: H.R. Loyn & J. Percival, The Reign of Charlemagne. Documents on Carolingian Government & Administration Documents of Medieval History 2 (London 1975) pp. 64-73.