Medieval gift giving at Christmas

Naughty or Nice

Our volunteer Mollie has very kindly written a few blog posts about how Christmas was celebrated in the time of Richard III. Here’s her first post, about gift giving, which feels very appropriate for these last weeks before the big day:

Gift giving during the medieval period was a time for social interaction, defining relationships between family, friends and allies. Artwork and manuscripts from this period show donations of money, food and clothing to the poor as examples of charitable behaviour.

Food, such as chickens, fowl and rabbits, was a popular gift with religious communities often donating generously. The monks of Christ Church Canterbury once gifted the Archbishop of Canterbury 785 hens at Christmas, which were then distributed between the community, including to hospitals.

Employers and lords would often reward those who worked for them with gifts of money. The king often gifted money, clothing, and art to the nobility as well. However, the gift of money wasn’t just given out of goodwill, it was a strong political bargaining tool. Money rewarded those who were loyal to you to keep them on your side, and helped gain the favour of those above you in status. Many of the gifts exchanged in courtly circles at this time reflect this interest.

Books were a valuable gift given by those who could afford to. This saw a surge in popularity after Richard’s reign, during the early years of Henry VII. Poetry, religious texts and stories were both written for the season and gifted. And if you would like to continue this medieval tradition yourself, our shop also sells a variety of books for all ages, both fiction and non-fiction. As well as that, our shop sells a variety of gifts perfect for Christmas, including a range of jewellery and Christmas decorations. My personal favourite is our new Leicester Guildhall decoration, which will make a fine addition to my already very busy family Christmas Tree!