The Labors of November

The feast day of St. Martin of Tours or Martinmas is celebrated on November 11th. Martinmas is closely associated with the new wine from the previous harvest of grapes, and with the end-of-harvest feasting associated with butchering.

In terms of the most common labors depicted in books of hours for the month of November, November is the month of swine. The Middle English lyric describing the labors of the months has this for November:

At Martynesmasse I kylle my swine (Oxford, BL Digby 88 (SC1689), 1450 CE)

Image from the University of Reading' book of hours showing a peasant using a stick to knock down nuts for pigs on the ground under the tree.

November calendar image; University of Reading MS 2087.

The calendar pages of books of hours for November feature frequent scenes of hog-butchering, or of pigs being lead to the butcher, or sometimes, an ox or bull being slaughtered, but perhaps even more common are scenes of pigs browsing under trees for fallen nuts, especially ripe acorns, with men nearby ready to wield or wielding sticks to knock down the nuts (beechnuts, hazelnuts and hawthorn hawes were  also popular pig food). The November image from The Très Riches Heures is a good example of typical November images of pigs, men with sticks, and acorns.

The practice of pannage, feeding pigs on mast (nuts and acorns), is still practiced as the last stage of raising pigs for food today.

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