A Facebook post today from Middleham Castle reminded me of something that I think is often forgotten – that castles had gardens attached, both for produce and also for pleasure (as shown in this lovely picture from a French manuscript about 1490, as sourced by Middleham Castle).
The gardens at Middleham are featured from time to time in The Order of the White Boar, once at Easter, when a sloping lawn is used for the annual Easter egg roll…
“Then, after the solemn Good Friday unveiling of the Cross and the Easter vigil, we pages begged eggs from the kitchens’ stockpiles, stored since Ash Wednesday. We boiled them hard in onion-skin dyes to roll them down the slopes in the Duchess’s pleasure gardens.
The squires looked on, with good humour or disdain, too old now for such childish pastimes. But, to my surprise, and to the laughter of the ladies who gathered to watch us, not only Masters Lovell, Ratcliffe and Kendall, and various other gentlemen, but Duke Richard himself joined us.
Each of the gentlemen had brought his own egg, except it seemed the Duke.
For a moment, there was disappointment on his face. Sir Francis declared, ‘Then this year I have a chance of winning.’
But the Duke called Alys forward from where she was waiting with the other ladies.
Her dimples showing, she stepped up to him, bringing from behind her back a small casket. As she lifted the lid, there, nestled in black velvet, was the largest egg I had ever seen. It was intricately painted with swirls of red, blue, green, gold, putting our home-dyed hens’ eggs to shame.
‘The swans of Pontefract obliged me,’ said the Duke, picking it up with a flourish.
He beckoned to his son, who had been fidgeting next to me as the scene played out and now leapt forward with sparkling eyes.
‘Come, Ed – help me. It is such a fine egg – we shall roll it together.’
So the Duke and his son swept all before them, not only racing the smaller eggs to the bottom of the slope, but surviving without so much as a hair’s crack.”