The Feast of the Translation of St Edward the Confessor

The burial of King Edward, as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry.

This feast day, which honours King Edward (canonised as St Edward the Confessor in 1161), falls on 13 October, which this year happily coincides with the High Sheriff’s Justice Service. I say ‘happily’ because it provides an excuse to recall the task laid upon the shoulders of Henry de Helegton, sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire 1251–3, who may well have found planning for the feast day in 1252 particularly onerous.

King Edward (during whose reign lived the first recorded sheriff of Essex, Leofcild) died in 1066, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey, the building of which he himself had initiated. Over the years his remains were moved about or ‘translated’ within the Abbey: on 13 October 1163 and, finally, on the same date in 1269. King Henry III was responsible for the final translation, and he particularly venerated St Edward, making the feast day one of great festivity (which is the original meaning of the word) and banqueting (which it has come to mean).

Peacock on the menu in the 15th century.

This placed considerable demands upon the counties within reasonable distance of Westminster, and therefore upon their sheriffs. In 1252, orders were sent to the sheriffs of Buckinghamshire, Kent, Sussex, Essex, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire, Berkshire, Wiltshire and London to send up to Westminster, by the Wednesday before the Feast of the Translation of St Edward, a total of 76 boars, 60 swans, 72 peacocks, 1,700 partridges, 500 hares, 600 rabbits, 4,200 fowls, 200 pheasants, 1,600 larks, 700 geese, 60 bitterns, and 16,000 eggs.

It is apparently not recorded how the sheriffs divided this responsibility amongst themselves. How did they ensure that King Henry did not receive, say, 160,000 eggs and no boars? Did Norfolk say to Essex, I’ll take care of the bitterns if you supply the larks? Or did they each simply come up with a tenth of the total? Either way, it must have been quite a stressful time for Henry de Helegton and his colleagues.

[Helen Cam, The Hundred and the Hundred Rolls (1930), pp. 99–100]

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