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FOOD: Herrings

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Frederick The Monk
338413.  Sat May 17, 2008 4:11 am Reply with quote

Q: Can you tell me the tale of either the Battle of the Herrings or the Miracle of the Herrings?


A9: The Battle of the Herrings was a victory for England’s fish deliverymen over the French during the siege of Orleans and the Miracle of the Herrings involved neither miracles nor herrings but did help Thomas Aquinas on his way to sainthood.

Battle of the Herrings
The Battle of the Herrings took place on 12th February 1429 when Sir John Fastolf (who was one of the models for Shakespeare’s Falstaff) was on a mercy mission to relieve the English besiegers of Orléans. With Lent approaching the English army was in danger of starving not because there was any real food shortage but because eating meat was banned during that season. If the siege was to been maintained the soldiers would have to have another source of protein so Sir John and his men were valiantly battling towards Orléans with a supply column of herrings.

Just outside Rouvray the herrings found themselves in trouble however. To the southwest a much larger French and Scottish army had appeared and opened a ferocious canon bombardment that cut a swathe through both the English soldiers and their fish whilst staying out of range of English archers. Just as all seemed lost the French allies from Scotland made an error however and John Sewart of Darnley managed to seize defeat from the jaws of victory. Ignoring orders from his French superiors he told his men to dismount and attack the herring carts but as soon as they were in range of English longbowmen they were, not surprisingly cut to pieces. Desperate to regain the initiative the French commander then sent in his men-at-arms to support them and they too were hewn down, much as they had been at Agincourt. Fastolf, seeing an opening, then sent his small band of men-at-arms into the fray and sent the French and Scots into full retreat. Now unopposed he then marched on to the outskirts of Orléans where it was fish suppers all round.

This peculiar scrap between the English, Scots and French over a few barrels of herrings had unexpected ramifications however. On that same day that another French leader was begging the high command for a chance to attack the English at Orléans. They had until this point been reluctant as this particular commander was a bit unusual. Now with news of the defeat in the Battle of the Herrings drifting into camp, they decided to let them have a go and so Joan of Arc got her chance to raise the siege of Orléans which she did, in the process becoming one of France’s greatest heroines.

More Notes:
Miracle of the Herrings
In order to be beatified it used to be necessary to be credited with several miracles. After 1983 it became just one. Traditionally two miracles demonstrating 'the practice of virtues in the heroic degree' did the trick, three if you only had ordinary witnesses to attest to them and four if the miracles were only proven by hearsay.

The problem for those wanting to beatify Thomas Aquinas was that he had none. So they made one up. On his deathbed Thomas asked for herrings. As he was near the Mediterranean, where they don't have herrings, he was brought pilchards instead in the hope that he might not notice. Aquinas took the fraudulent fish and, knowingly, announced them to be the best herrings he had ever eaten. Pilchards, transmogrified into herrings - a miracle!

In Catholicism, beatification (from Latin beatus, blessed) is a recognition accorded by the church of a dead person's accession to Heaven and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name. Beatification is a locally restricted permission to venerate, while canonization is a universal precept to venerate.

By October 2004 Pope John Paul II had beatified 1,340 people, more than the sum of all of his predecessors since Pope Sixtus V (d. 1590).

Other Splendid Miracles:
St. Blane, a sixth century Scottish saint, whose monastery became the cathedral of Dunblane, was said to be able to light fires by passing small bolts of lightning between his fingers.

St. Brigid of Ireland, the sixth century abbess of Kildare, was noted for the miracle of transforming her used bathwater into beer for visiting clerics.

St. Denis, Patron Saint of France, was martyred by decapitation. Afterwards he walked for six miles across Paris carrying his severed head.

Miracle fruits are not sweet themselves, but after eating one, you can remove the sour effect of lemons.


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