I wede my corne
...I weed my grain well enough
Scythe, 850 CE
Sickle, 1125 CE
Labors of the Month
plow fallow fields for the second time; shear sheep.
Haymaking began on St.
Barnabas’ Day, June 11. Then as now, putting by a good
supply of hay was essential if livestock was to survive
through the winter. Hay was cut in meadows (pastures were
grazed) that were often communal property, and
harvesting them was a shared endeavor.
Scythes with long
(handles), like the one shown at left, were used to cut the tall grass; teams of men
could cut about an acre of hay a day. During the
following days, women and children would turn the hay
with pitchforks or rakes, leaving it in long parallel windrows to dry,
before it was gathered up and piled into haystacks. Once
meadows were then grazed, but no sooner
than a month after the grass had been cut so that it had time to
Plowing was also an early summer labor, for the
second plowing of fallow (unplanted) fields was often
done at this time, to keep
weeds at bay. Stock was allowed
to graze the fallow field before and after plowing, and
in the process would manure the ground.
Sheep shearing was typically delayed until June, so that the
sheep and lambs could regrow their warm coats before cold
weather arrived in the fall.
Labors of June from Early Calendars
Salzburg Labors of the
St. Peter's Abbey, Austria
c. . 818 AD
Medieval cattle were
much smaller than
modern breeds, as seen here in this June labor from
the Salzburg calendar. These two small oxen pull an ard plow with no
coulter or moldboard. An ard plow cut a slit in the
soil to receive the seed, but did not turn the sod
over, as would have been done
with a moldboard plow. The oxen wear collars, to
which are fastened the plow's traces.
plowman grasps his plow on either arm of its broad,
Y-shaped handle. He wears a long-sleeved,
knee-length brown tunic that is belted at the waist.
Its neckline is notched and stitched. On his legs
are leggings secured by bindings, and he
wears black shoes.
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.
Rather than weeding with a hoe, this medieval farmer from
the Fulda Sacramentary uses a
crotch (a long stick with a Y-shaped end) and
sickle (a long stick with a small, sharp sickle
blade fastened to the end). His
blue cloak hangs on a hook to his right; he wears a
knee-length brown tunic and green leggings and shoes.
The weed he is cutting down is a flowering a thistle.
At right is the calendar page from the Fulda
Sacramentary. 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 Wikimedia Commons.
Standing on a small
outcrop at the left of this busy scene from the
Anglo-Saxon Calendar, a
well-dressed man is sounding a horn. At his feet, a
team of seven fieldworkers labor to bring the
harvest home. Leading the way, three reapers cut
handfuls of grain with their short-handled sickles. A fourth man
in a yellow tunic binds the grain; just behind him,
a grey-clad worker clutching a finished stook
(a bundle of stalks of grain) is
climbing onto the tongue of a round-wheeled,
high-sided wagon. Another man has just surrendered
his stook to the two-tined wooden pitchfork of a man
standing at the back of the wagon.
British Library Cotton
England [Winchester?], c. 1050
British Library Lansdowne 383,
c. 1135 CE
The Shaftesbury Psalter
presents for June a three-man scything
team working its way across a tall-grass meadow.
Shirtless in the warm June sunlight, the men each wear
long, baggy trousers, rolled at the waist and the
ankles. They are barefoot; the laborer in the
foreground has strangely green hair; the man in
the middle is bearded; and the open-mouthed worker
at the back appears
to be breathing hard with exertion.
Probably made at the
nunnery at Shaftesbury, Dorset, this psalter, with
its prayers, psalms, and calendar,
the oldest manuscript in the British Library to have
been made for a woman. Dating to the early 1100s,
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.
June, from the
of Our Lady
of Amiens, France
c. 1250 CE
As seen on the west facade of the cathedral of
Amiens, the blade
of this reaper's scythe nestles in a curve of the
quatrefoil, making it harder to see, but this
laborer is indeed cutting hay. He too
is bare-chested, and wears baggy trousers that have
been pulled up to tuck beneath his belt. He is
barefoot, but wears a cap on his head. At the end of
the snaithe, or handle, of his scythe is a triangular
attachment of unknown function.
Amiens cathedral, the largest surviving Gothic
cathedral in France, was begun in 1220 and
completed fifty years later. The
labors of the month appear in two sets of
quatrefoil rows on its west facade. The
upper rows in each set are images from the
Zodiac; the lower rows contain the labors of
the months. This image is from Wikimedia
c. 1145 CE
A plowman carries a small
plow over his shoulder in this June labor from
the Zwiefalten calendar. The parts of the
plow are clearly visible. On the left half of
the plow beam, the coulter, whose blade cuts into the soil
ahead of the plowshare, extends knife-like through the full
thickness of the beam. Just to the right of the coulter is the sharp point of the
The plowman holds something in his right hand, perhaps the
traces, rolled into a tight coil, that will be
used to attach the plow to the collars on the
oxen that pull it.
left hand, he grips the plow just below its Y-shaped
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 who represents 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.
c. 1170 CE
men use crotches and sickles to weed corn poppies.
Both wear long tunics, belted at the waist. The man
on the left wears a broad-brimmed hat, red
stockings, and soft brown boots. The worker on the
right has no hat; his green tunic has red trim at
the neck, and appears to be lined with red fabric as
The Y-shaped crotch and
the sickle used to cut weeds
The late 12th century Hunterian Psalter (Glasgow
University MS Hunter U.3.2 ), AKA the York
Psalter, contains Romanesque illustrations of
the labors of the months. It may have
originated at Canterbury or
at York. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
British Library Harley 2895,
c. 1175 CE
creature at the left of this laborer is a crab --
clearly something the artist had never seen -- which is the Zodiac
sign for Cancer. The reaper to the right uses a
scythe. He is shirtless, wears baggy braies on
top of red leggings that are rolled at the ankle,
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 illuminated roundels.
Psalter, British Library,
Royal 2 B II, France,
c. 1250 CE
A white-capped mower gracefully swings his scythe in this
illumination from the psalter of Royal 2 B II. He wears
a knee-length red tunic that belts at the waist and is split
in front to permit easy movement. His baggy braies, are
white, and he has red stockings and black shoes.
France in the first half of the 13th century, the illuminated psalter
of Royal 2 B II 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 Library.
this scene from the
Queen Mary Psalter, Three
mowers working in the short grass of a meadow, and
in rather close proximity, considering the reach of
their scythes. The men to the left and right have
tucked the hems of their long tunics into their
belts to make it easier to work. The mower in the
center wears a shorter red tunic, and has a scarf
around his neck. It appears that all three are
barelegged, and of the feet we can see, all are
shod. Two of the men have caps; all three are
wearing long sleeves. The man in the center appears
to be catching his breath as he leans wearily on his scythe.
Queen Mary Psalter, British Library Royal
2 B VII, made in London at Westminster
or in East
c. 1315 CE.
British Library Egerton 3277,
England, c. 1360 CE
This elegantly attired gardener from the Bohun Psalter wears a loose,
half-sleeved red surcoat
over a blue long-sleeved under-tunic. He wields a crotch in one hand and a sickle in the other to weed his garden. On his
head is a hat whose broad brim has been turned up in the
back, and under that a red scarf. He wears blue leggings, and
soft brown boots.
The Bohun Psalter (Egerton 3277) was
probably made for one of the Earls of Hereford in the late
1300s, or for Mary de Bohun, who in 1380 married Henry of
Bolingbroke. Its calendar has a dozen historiated
Ks (seen here to the left of the gardener) that are decorated with
the labors of the months.
uncropped Bohun Psalter's historiated initial for
the month of June.
Labors of the Months
By thys fyre
I warme my handys
And with my spade
I delfe my landys
Here I sette
my thinge to sprynge
And here I here
the fowlis synge
I am as lyght
as byrde in bowe
And I wede my corne
With my sythe
my mede I mawe
And here I shere
my corne full lowe
With my flayll
I erne my brede
And here I sawe
my whete so rede
I kylle my swyne
And at Christes masse
I drynke redde wyne
Oxford, BL Digby 88 (SC1689),