And with my spade
delfe my landys
...And with my spade I dig my lands
Labors of the Month
Mend and make tools; spread stockpiled manure and marl on fields; prune
grapes, trees, hedgerows; mend fences and clear ditches;
plant willow for wickerwork, wattle.
begins and lambing continues. Lambs and calves were
usually weaned when they were 4-6 weeks old; by then,
the meadows offered good
Labors of February from Early Calendars
Salzburg Labors of the
c. . 818 AD.
The letters FEBR
identify the month of this "labor," a warmly
dressed falconer with a goshawk perched on
his right hand, its jesses hanging just
below his palm. In his left hand he is
holding their catch: two ducks. He wears a short,
long-sleeved tunic, and is
draped in a long red mantle that wraps
around his neck, loops in the front to
below his waist before being passed over his
right shoulder where it is fastened. It
falls to below
his knees in the back. His legs are
covered in brown leggings, and he wears
the early 800s, the Salzburg manuscript (Codex 387
fol-90v) from which this figure comes is one of the oldest
calendars of its kind. It is now in Vienna's Austrian National Library.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.
The February figure from the Fulda
Sacramentary wears clothing reminiscent of classical
Roman dress -- knee-length yellow dalmatic or tunic,
with long sleeves and an embroidered hem. His
reddish cape or toga reaches to mid-calf, and
he has green
leggings. His shoes are a pale gray. In his right hand he holds a pruning
hook, and with his left he grips a vine
vertical stake. The uneven ground
beneath his feet is an earthy brown.
Calendar page from the Fulda Sacramentary fragment. In the center is Annus, the year.
In each corner is a season, and the twelve months
are in columns, six to the
left and six to the right. Day and night are in
the round medallions top and bottom. Image from
busy scene, the two laborers on the right use
billhooks to prune low-growing, leafy plants; a third
worker is seen at the
left with upraised pickaxe. The plants are usually
interpreted as being grapevines, but may well
a hedgerow, whose
short, thick trunks are topped by many small branches.
Each plant grows from the top of a raised dirt bank,
a key component of a boundary hedge.
British Library Cotton Tiberius B.V. Part 1,
Winchester, England, c. 1050 CE
c. 1135 CE
A bearded man wrapped in a warm
mantle warms his bare hands and feet before a fire in this
February "labor." He wears a soft cap with a
rolled brim, and a blue tunic with yellow trim
at the hem. His thick mantle is subtly striped
in shades of blue, cream, and green.
Probably made at the
nunnery at Shaftesbury, Dorset, this psalter,
with its prayers, psalms, and calendar,
is the oldest manuscript in the British
Library to have been made for a woman.
Dating to the early 1100s, its style,
Romanesque, became popular following the
first crusade. It uses vivid colors -- blue
from lapis lazuli, red from vermillion,
green from buckthorn berries -- and is
illuminated with gold throughout.
c. 1145 CE
At left, a man gathers wood to add to the bound bundle he
carries on his left shoulder. His hatchet rests
on his right shoulder. He wears a long-sleeved
garment with an ornamented neck placket. On his
right hip is what may be a strap to hold the
The lopped limbs on the adjacent tree suggests
he cut the wood, but in many forests live timber
was off limits; only dead wood could be gathered
for burning. But the straight rods he has
gathered will probably be used as stakes rather
than as fuel.
Zwiefalten calendar or monatsbilder, (Cod hist 2° 415, fol.17v)
shows the Zodiac figure and the labor for each
month, in concentric circles around a central
figure representing the year (see a larger image
here). This calendar is now in the collections of the
Wurttemberg State Library, Stuttgart, Germany.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.
British Library Harley 2895.
Two fish in
the left side of this roundel are the
astrological symbols for Pisces, signaling
that this is the February labor. A cowled,
clean-shaven man sits in a blue low-backed
chair. He holds out his bare hands to a
presumed fire, out of sight to the right. His
feet are bare as well, and has pulled his
warm brown garment to above his knees, to
warm his lower legs.
The Charité-sur-Loire Psalter (BL Harley 2895) was created in
central France c. 1175, CE. Now in the
collections of the British Library, this
psalter begins with a calendar whose
glowing labors of the months appear as
British Library, Royal 2 B II,
France, c. 1250 CE
on a wide blue bench, a warmly dressed man holds his shoe
over the fire to warm and perhaps dry it, his right, stockinged foot
resting on his lap. He wears a short
cape or balandre over a long red garment, with an
equally long under-tunic of blue. To
the right is a brick or stone wall with an
arched alcove whose shelves hold stacked dishes.
France in the first half of the 13th
century, this illuminated psalter has twelve
miniatures showing the labors of the months.
It was written for a nun, perhaps at Nantes.
It is now in the collections of the British
figure seated on the end of a bed is
examining a thigh-high stocking held up by a
helpful servant. His long gown has long
sleeves with orange cuffs at each wrist. To the right of the scene,
a fire blazes in the hooded fireplace. To
the left, an orange-robed figure gestures
with his left and touches the seated
figure with his right.
Pink flowers decorate each
corner of the scene's frame. These are
dianthus -- "flower of the
gods" -- a name that reflects the esteem in which it was
held. The Romans used these
flowers to weave floral crowns, corona,
which led to the plant being known as carnations.
In medieval times, dianthus were a symbol of
betrothal, and the putting on of socks or
shoes could be a sexual metaphor.
Dianthus petals were
added to wine to impart a spicy, clove-like
scent, giving them yet another of their medieval
names, clowe gilofre, clove
Queen Mary Psalter, British Library Royal
2 B VII,
made in London at Westminster
or in East
c. 1315 CE.
Psalter, British Library
Egerton 3277, England,
c. 1360 CE
Getting a head
start on his garden, this February farmer
uses a T-handled spade to turn the rich
black soil. He wears a farmer's short, dark
long-sleeved tunic, with a red cowl over his
head and shoulders, and a brimmed cap with
the brim rolled up in front, but left down
in back. He appears to be barelegged, but wears black
While the soil of larger fields were
turned with plows pulled by oxen (or
later by horses), smaller
fields were cultivated with spades. These
were made of wood, with the working tip covered with an iron "shoe" (this has rusted away on the
medieval spade seen at left). Then as now,
spades were used to dig in the ground, while
were used as scoops to lift material from
one place to another. Handles on both
shovels and spades could be short or long.
Psalter (Egerton 3277)) was probably made for
one of the Earls of Hereford in the late 1300s,
or for or for Mary de Bohun, who in 1380 married
Henry of Bolingbroke. Its calendar has a dozen
historiated Ks, each decorated with
the labor of that month.