Marches Husbandry: Beware of birds!

A monthly look at a husbandry book pt. 1: March

March is the month for sowing and ploughing the fields – Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry

Since it’s the first month of spring, let’s pick a husbandry book and see what advise they have to offer. In this first installment of ‘a monthly look at a husbandry book’ I’ve chosen for Thomas Tusser’s 1570 edition of A Hundreth Good Pointes of Husbandry, which contains the following rhyme:

Marche dust to be solde, woorth raunsomes of golde.

Got it? Neither do I.

Apparently, the line is a variation on a proverb first recorded in John Heywood’s Play of the Weather (1533): “One bushell of march dustis worth a kynges raunsome”. The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs offers the following explanation of the saying: “the month of March is traditionally wet and blustery”, wherefore dust must be a precious commodity. The ‘kynges raunsome’ is explained by Thomas Fuller, writer of the Worthies of England (1662), who refers to it as “the £100,000 raised in 1193–4 to pay for the release of King Richard I, who, on his way home from crusading in the Holy Land, was being held captive in Germany” (ODP). As Tusser omitted this part of the saying, the reference to King Richard I had probably become obsolete during Tusser’s lifetime.

I sense we could do with a little more information on the present month. Thankfully, the extended version of Tusser’s husbandry book from 1573 offers a whole chapter dedicated to the month of March, with some wonderful tips and tricks for household and farm. Interestingly, many points of advice have an avian character:

“Kepe corne from crowe, with arrow and bowe.” (Do not try this at home)

“Saue chickens poore buttocks, from pye, crowe and puttocks” (I love how Tusser desperately wanted to use the word ‘puttock’ for obvious rhyming possibilities, while he could just have used ‘buzzard’)

Sowing

“Away with yer, foul crows!” – Detail from the Luttrell Psalter – Additional MS 42130, f. 170v – Courtesy of The British Library

Lastly, the pinnacle of Tusser’s ornitophobic rhyming spree concludes his chapter on March:

“Kill crowe, pie, and cadow, rook, buzzard & raven,
Or els go desire them to seke a new haven.
In scaling [ascending] the youngest, to plucke of his beck,
Beware how ye climber, for breaking your neck.”

In all, Tusser’s advise for March seems to be: protect your chicks and seedlings by killing lots of hungry birds, but watch your own back when you’re destroying their nests if you want to make it until April.

Sources:
“A peck of March dust is worth a king’s ransom.” The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs. Eds. Simpson, John, and Jennifer Speake. (Oxford: University Press, 2008) via Oxford Reference.

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2 thoughts on “Marches Husbandry: Beware of birds!

  1. Pingback: Whewell’s Gazette: Vol. #40 | Whewell's Ghost

  2. Pingback: A Monthly Look at a Husbandry Book: Walter of Henley |

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