On drinking and drunkenness

Housed in the Chapter Library are several volumes concerning drinking and alcohol, suggesting that the Deans and Canons of the past knew how to have a good time!

De generibus ebriosorum [SGC RBK D.59] is a sixteenth century account of contemporary drinking and drunkenness. Thought to have been written by students at the University of Erfurt in 1515, it contains cautionary tales of the effects of hard drinking on all classes of society, from students to priests, with descriptions of the types of drunkard and songs sung whilst under the influence. It also contains a mock classification of the breweries of Germany, with many descriptions of the different names given to German drinks.

Epistolae medicinales variis occasionibus conscriptae by Richard Carr (1691) [SGC RBK C.84] gives advice on whether it is healthful to be drunk once in a month, while Peri psychroposias, of drinking water is a small volume written in 1656 by Richard Short [SGC RBK S.339], with chapter titles such as “That wine is absolutely better than water”, and “The vertues of our English beer”.

Although amusing to today’s readers, in Short’s time there would have been serious health conditions brought on by contaminated water supplies, and drinking wine or beer would have been far safer. This situation was still the case well into the 19th century, as the many Chapter bills for ale for the Choristers attest. It wasn’t until the development of public sanitation and piped water supply that water became an acceptable alternative.

Eleanor Cracknell (Assistant Archivist)

The King's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.