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August from the Hours of Henry VIII

August's labor from the Hours of Henry VIII showing men threshing the grain in a barn, with another man and two oxen bring a cart of grain to be threshed
August from the Morgan Library MS. H.8, fol. 4v
Illuminated by Jean Poyer
France, Tours ca. 1500

The labor of August from the Morgan Library’s Hours of Henry VIII  MS H.8 fol. 4v shows threshing, the labor that naturally follows after the July calendar image of reaping the wheat. One man with an oxcart and team of oxen has brought a load of wheat to be threshed. It’s been cut and left to dry before being loaded into the wagon. You see him standing next to the oxen with the goad he used to guide them. Inside the barn you see two men with jointed flails beating the dried stalk to loosen the grain from the stems of wheat. A jointed flail consists of a long handle with a short piece of wood attached with a hinged joint at the business end of the flail; this allows the short piece of wood to beat the ears of grain more effectively.

A third man with a rake shifts and turns the stalks so that they are all accessible to the men with flails, and the kernels are not beaten so much that the grain is unusable. The doors of the barn are open for several reasons; light and air, the reduction of dust, and it allows some of the chaff, the inedible straw and broken husks coating individual grains of wheat, to be blown away in a first approximation of winnowing the chaff from the wheat.
You’ll see threshing as the labor of August in the Da Costa Hours as well.

 

August from the Da Costa Hours

The August calendar image from the Da Costa Hours, Morgan Library showing peasants harvesting wheat
Detail from The Da Costa Hours for August Morgan Library MS M.399, fol. 9v Image: The Morgan Library

 

This is a lovely but also fairly traditional book of hours calendar image for August from The Morgan Library’s MS M.399, fol. 9v The Da Costa Hours, showing the customary labor of August, threshing grain, as well as the last reaping of grain. In the front on the left, a woman is finding the cut wheat into sheaves for drying. Front and center a double-flail wielding man is beating the ripened grains from the stocks. To his right another man with a sickle is reaping the ripe grain. In the middle distance on the left a cart drawn by two horses (one with a rider) is hauling away a load of sheaves of grain, perhaps destined for a threshing barn. In the distance beyond the cart is what looks like a man reaping on the side of a hill.

Detail from Morgan Library MS M.399, fol. 9v The Da Costa Hours showing flowers growing between stalks of wheat
Detail from Morgan Library MS M.399, fol. 9v The Da Costa Hours Image credit: The Morgan Library

In the foreground, where the one men is threshing and his neighbor is wielding a sickle, the standing wheat and the bundles on the ground both have small brightly colored flowers of some sort. I can’t help but wonder if some of the flowers are Cornflowers, Centaurea cyanus (Bachelor buttons in North America). Cornflowers take their name from their European habitat; they tended to grow in fields of grain, or “corn” in British English, including wheat, rye and oats. Cornflower blossoms are most commonly blue in color, but purple and pink blossoms are also possible. Other possible candidates  for the flowers include the Corn Poppy (Papaver rhoeas), Corncockle (Agrostemma Githago). These meadow and field flowers are often featured in the borders of books of hours, particularly those from Flemish workshops.

August from the Très Riches Heures de Jean Duc de Berry

The conventional seasonal labor for August is wheat threshing; that’s when the wheat reaped in July, briefly dried in the field then stacked in small bundles or sheaves, before being gathered into larger shocks, tied, and brought to a barn (sometimes a dedicated three-walls-and-a-roof threshing barn) where it was beaten with a flail to force the dried wheat grains off the stems. Grain had to be dry before being stored or milled; damp wheat often resulted in fungus, even the dreaded ergot. Threshing was sometimes continued into the autumn and even winter, when working inside was a convenient escape, and thereby allowed summer’s harvest to continue without interruption.

In this detail from the Trés Riches Heures of Jean Duc de Berry calendar page for August (Musée Conde MS 65 F. 8v) you can see the Duke’s Château d’Étampes in the background; the tall tower in the center is still extant. Below the château you can see a wagon being loaded with shocks as one peasant bundles sheaves to form the upright-shocks. On the right, another peasant bundles sheaves into shocks while a third swings his short-handled sickle to cut down the last of the wheat.

In the lower half of the detail an aristocratic hawking party is in progress. In the front the falconer, on foot, with two birds on his wrist, and a lure tied to his belt. The lure, made of a pair of birds’ wings that a choice tidbit could be tied to, was used to train birds to return to the hand. Once the bird brings down live prey, the lure is used to “lure” her back to the end, and dogs (see the two in the image above) retrieve and bring the prey back to the hawking party.

Falconry, or hawking, originally was a way to procure meat for the table; over time, it became an aristocratic sport. Dame Juliana Berners (c.1388–) wrote a treatise covering the various kinds of hawks and falcons, who could own them (aristocracy had dibs on the larger birds of prey; commoners were restricted to kestrels and the like), how they should be kept, trained, and fed. The Boke of St. Albans1)More fully identified as Book of hawking, hunting and blasing of arms., produced some time in 1486 or thereafter was the first book printed in England to feature colored images.

References   [ + ]

1. More fully identified as Book of hawking, hunting and blasing of arms.