Entre le boeuf et l’âne gris

Yes, I know it is July! And yet, I am sharing a Christmas song with you! But why?

Have a seat, I will tell you. Entre le boeuf et l’ane gris is one of the oldest songs in Europe, still sung today and it just happens to be a Christmas song. The title translates into: Between the ox and the grey donkey.

The song has been dated between the 13th and 16th century. This is, of course, quite a time gap, but there just happen to be different sources.

You can find the sheet music here.

Here, on You Tube, is my favourite version, but you will be able to find other versions as well.

Never stop singing!


Bad weather, failed harvest, illness or even death … In the middle ages and long after that people believed that witches and their demonic, magic powers were responsible for this.

At night, they would fly around on their brooms or on goats. To expel the witches they must be hunted, traced, tested, and if they were indeed proven to be witches, punished.

Many of the accused travelled to Oudewater, where you can find the world famous Witches’ Scale. What happened here and why is this scale so famous? Like many medieval towns, Oudewater was a market town. The Weigh house was rebuilt in 1595, by order of emperor Karel V; the first scales date back to 1482. Merchants would come to the Weigh house to weigh their merchandise after which they needed to pay tax. Hemp, flax, cheese and rope, and much more, was weighed here.

After some time, it was also people who were put on the scales! This strange change was a result of the 16th century witch hunts.

In those days, it wasn’t very difficult to accuse someone of witch craft. Not only could famine or disease be a ‘good’ reason, adultery or just disliking someone was enough oftentimes to be accused. And it wasn’t a light accusation! According to the church, users of witch craft have a pact with the devil. It was Satan who gave them their magic powers.

Before an accused could be prosecuted, evidence must be presented that proved the person really was witch.  How did they prove this? In the 16th century the most logical theory was that you had no weight, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to fly on your broomstick at night. Now, that makes sense, right? Based on these ‘characteristics’ it was possible to prove someone was indeed a user of black magic. The scales in Oudewater were used to weigh a person and because of its fame, even in the 16th century, people travelled from near and far to be weighed in Oudewater.  But why? What made Oudewater so special?

The witch hunters knew no mercy. The accused were tortured to force a confession. The weigh masters were often corrupt because they were prepared to accuse a person for money or goods. In total about 50.000 people were accused and executed in Europe between 1450-1700!

But Oudewater was an exception. In this Weigh house not a single witch (male or female) was ever proven guilty. The weighing process in Oudewater was remarkably honest, so much so that emperor Karel V heard about it.

It is for this reason that Oudewater was granted, by Karel V, a special ‘De Certificaet van Weginghe‘, a Weighing Certificate. People who were declared innocent could go home free with this certificate.

Men or women who were accused were put on the scale. The accused could be acquitted if their weight was considered normal for their age and height, and after that they would receive their Weighing Certificate that proved they weren’t light weights and therefore no witch.  After 1595, no witch was ever again accused in Oudewater.

Be Thou My Vision

Today, dearest traveller, I would like you to come sit by the fire because I have to tell you about this famous song, that you no doubt know. But do you know its history?

The text of “Be Thou My Vision”/”Rop tú mo Baile” reflects aspects of life in Early Christian Ireland (400-800CE). The original Old Irish text, “Rop tú mo Baile”, is often attributed to Saint Dallán Forgaill in the 6th century. However, scholars believe it was written later than that. Some date it to the 8th century; others putting it as late as the 10th or 11th century.

A 14th century manuscript attributed to Adhamh Ó Cianáin contains a handwritten copy of the poem in Middle Irish, and is held at the National Libray of Ireland. Here you can read a most excellent piece by Sheila Louise Wright! It includes the handwritten manuscript from Adhamh and has sheet music! Brilliant, right!!

The Irish version can be seen here on You Tube. Scroll down for a ‘regular’ version of this song in English.

A short list of names 1450-1459

Oh Traveller! Come sit! Because this… this is so important.

For a long time have I wanted to share with you what I know about names. Yes, names. Simple names, difficult names, long names, short names. Just: names. In this particular case: the names of women.

The book you see here is similar to a guild book. It is the book of Leiden Poorters, those citizens who were entitled to live & trade within the city walls. Some of them were women.

Book of Leiden Poorters

If you follow the link, you will find the list of women, who between 1450 and 1459 became poorters (similar to burghers) in the city of Leiden.

It is a work in progress and that is why it has its own page Anthroponymy, which you can visit here. Make sure you check it often and please send me your feedback.

I intend to study more cities, more periods and more people. But for now, let’s start with the Leiden women.

Costume book

Dear Traveller,

Have I got news for you! Please have seat, get warm by the fire and please read this guest post by renowned Dutch historical costumer Martine Teunissen. I am so very proud that she is here to tell you about her latest book AND that she is using my research! Read on!

Hello, I am Martine Teunissen, historian and owner of Beleef het Verleden.

I am the writer of ‘Representation of the Past in Public Spheres’ and together with Dorothee Olthof I wrote a book on Roman beauty secrets.

Would you like to sponsor a publication on historical costumes and help realise a beautifully illustrated book on historical costumes? 

Publication on historical costumes

Why this book?

Historical costumes and accessories are often kept in museum depots, that are not easily accessible for the general public. Archaeological textile finds are even less visible and more difficult to interpret, as it is more difficult to see what it used to be in the past. I would like to bring these finds into the spotlight with this publication. I would love to share with you my passion for the wondrous world of historical fashion, what women wore, at court, in high and lower societies and in the country side (16th-19th century).

Why is this book unique?

This book will take you on a discovery journey along archaeological finds, museum collections and paintings. Also I’ll show you my own creations and experiences with historical costumes. This knowledge is combined with information about inventories and bills with notes on costumes that were bought. This will show you what pieces of clothing women owned, how many, and what was the value of them. Also you will discover our journey of making replicas of archaeological finds. This includes a journey your very own Ava van Allecmere has made on the replica of a 16th century bodice

This publication will be in Dutch, but it will provide beautiful images and could also be of interest for the non-Dutch speaker. If you value the work I do, please donate to make this publication possible!

To donate without reward click here. It is the yellow button that says: kies een bedrag

You can choose different rewards for your donation, or give a donation without a reward. The English text follows right after the Dutch text in each category that is of interest abroad.
These rewards are:
1) get the book for € 50,- and please add another € 10,- to have it send to your home (price for Europe).
2) get the signed book for € 60, and please add another € 10,- to have it send to your home (price for Europe).
3) donate € 25,- and get a reduction coupon for the book of € 15,- + karma-points
4) donate € 35,– and get a reduction coupon for the book of € 15,- + karma-points + a mention as a sponsor on my website.

Thank you for your support!

May Giveaway!

Stop traveller! Have a seat by the fire and let me tell you all about this gift I made.

In the year 2007 a spectacular spur was excavated in Dorestad (modern day Wijk bij Duurstede). Though the owners will remain unknown, it is striking how many swords, horse harnesses, lances and spurs were excavated. Dorestad is believed to have been quite an affluent place!

What made this spur so incredibly interesting was the details, it is quite a unique piece! The gilded spur was decorated with dragons, and so these came to be known as the Dorestad Dragons.

I have used this design as inspiration for the May Giveaway. I wanted to make a gift that I could easily slip into an envelope and send to someone, but it also needed to be something the recipient could use at an event. In addition, I wanted it to be something from my country. And so, I decided to make a placemat….

The embroidery is in Bayeux Stitch and is done in wool and silk. The placemat is made of a double layer of linen.

And the winner is: Lady Branwen Scholastica

House from 1540

Here you see one of the oldest houses in Alkmaar, built in 1540, situated on Kanisstreet number 1.

A ‘kanis’ is a pedlar’s basket and because the house is situated near an old almshouse you may assume that pedlar’s went to the almshouse often to sell their items.

The façade is that of a typical medieval shop. The shutters at the bottom of the window could be used as a counter when opened. The porch roof kept customers dry in case of rain.

We are lucky the house was fully restored in 1985. Until recently it was used for a local arts club but it is now a private property.


1573 is the year my birth town Alkmaar was liberated from the Spanish oppression. The Eighty Years War, as it was also called, was the Dutch revolt against the Spanish monarch Philips II.

Because it is almost 500 years ago, I will not go into the politics of that time. Suffice it to say the Dutch just didn’t agree with Philips’ ideas…

I made an attempt at recreating the dress of a woman of those days, please read all about the process on the Alkmaar 1573 project pages. Check back often as there will be regular updates. Also, feel free to send me your questions or comments.