Friday, May 13, 2011

The Song of Roland

It appears 'Blogger' crashed yesterday and deleted my latest post. I have therefore delved into my internet history and resurrected it below......

While trawling through various publications I came across a curious work entitled 'On farting - language and laughter in the Middle Ages' by Valerie Allen. This book devotes a section to one Berthold le Fartere (Roland the Farter) who held Hemingstone manor in Suffolk and 30 acres of land in return for his services as a jester for king Henry II. The 'Liber feodorum' or 'Book of fees' records that:

Seriantia que quondam fuit Rollandi le Pettour in Hemingeston in comitatu Suff ’, pro qua debuit facere die natali Domini singulis annis coram domino rege unum saltum et siffletum et unum bumbulum, que alienata fuit per particulas subscriptas.

'The serjeanty, which formerly was held by Roland the Farter in Hemingston in the county of Suffolk, for which he was obliged to perform every year on the birthday of our Lord before his master the king, one jump, and a whistle, and one fart, was alienated in accordance with these specific requirements.'

For me this historical curiosity pretty much speaks for itself; however Valerie Allen can't resist a bit of waffely post-modern analysis. She writes:

How then does the humble fart illuminate identity and social relation? If Roland’s caper seems only to vindicate the common myth that medievals farted without regulation, we should keep in mind that the singularity of his tenure attests to an awareness of the unseemliness of farting in public, not to mention in front of your sovereign. Medieval farts bear the same burden of anxiety, low humor, and indifferent necessity that they do today, yet they also open up the gap of cultural consciousness that yawns across seven centuries and more.

Er...right. Perhaps this is just overanalysing the issue and the story of Roland the Farter merely shows that toilet humor is one of the great continuities of human history. Take an early modern tract by the fictional Jack of Dover who, embarking on a “Privy Search for the veriest foole in England,” tells of a humorous knight in Cornwall who called together a great assembly of knights, squires, and gentlemen to hear his public speech. However:

He in a foolish manner (not without laughter) began to use a thousand jestures, turning his eyes this way, then that way, seeming alwayes as though he would have presently begun to speake: and at last, fetching a deepe sigh, with a grunt like hogge, he let a beastly loude fart, and tould them that the occasion of this calling of them together was to no other ende, but that so noble a fart might be honoured with so worthy a company as there was.

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chuff said...

Now that's a blast from the past.

Yogurt said...

So that's why they were so keen on developing matches!

Unknown said...

Very entertaining post. ;) Do you accept guest contributions to your blog? I've got an idea I think you might be interested in.

Hit me up at if you'd like.

- J

Melisende said...

Very interesting post - found thru - Historum

johnf said...

Reminds me of Le Petomane, Monsieur Pujol who performed at the Moulin Rouge at the end of the 19th Century and who could fart the tune of the Marseillaise amongst others.