|1500 Map of Europe|
I want to start with a map of Europe in the year 1500 because I will be referring to this map later. I want everyone to understand what I mean when I say "French controlled" areas because, as I've discovered, the shepherd's hut seems to be a French invention. I'll go into my theories as to why that is later but, for now, let's look at the map. (Yes, I will get to the shepherd's huts and all the pretty pictures, I promise). You may notice that France is pretty, well, PINK. You might also notice that that pink extends into a good chunk of Northern Italy and a piece of the kingdom of Naples.
In the early 16th Century, France and Spain were fighting over the Kingdom of Naples - Naples being a huge port city. Whoever controlled Naples also had good control over a lot of the imports from the Middle East to include Egypt. I won't go into all the reasons for the fighting but just know that the Italian Wars are a thing. They last from 1494 until 1559. This means that yes, that pink area north of Naples is the French controlled area. Sicily is under direct Spanish control. Pretty much the entire western half of the Mediterranean is being fought over between Spain and France.
Meanwhile, in England... Although it was over for 50 years almost by the time of this map, the Hundred Years War has profound affects on both English and French cultures. There is already a fabulous post on English History Authors that explains why English is the way it is today (or, at least, why it's so different from Chaucer to Shakespeare).
So, with war, there is also a culture exchange. Wars are typically thought of in terms of fighting and not in terms of the ideas they bring from other areas - of course, with very good reasons. Wars are fighting - horrible, bloody battles were people do die. However, those veterans of those wars also bring back trinkets, things they've learned, as well as the effects on language.
So what does all of this have to do with Shepherd's Huts? As I stated, I have good reason to believe they are a French invention. From France, they spread to parts of Italy under French control as well as to England. To explain further, here is a chart that gives the image or text of a shepherd's hut, where that image/text was believed to be created, and the year/s it is believed to be created in:
|Paris or Burgundy||1413~1419|
|England or Scotland||1596|
Please feel free to click on the images - it should take you to the origin page of where I found the images. I also have many more images in my pinterest board on shepherd's huts in the SCA period. Almost all of the Shepherd's huts images (and text!) I've found are from one of three places: France, England, or French controlled areas. The earliest one I've discovered, to date, is the one from Egerton MS 1894 F.2v:
It's dated to the 3rd quarter of the 14th Century. Even though that makes sense with the clothing depicted in the manuscript, I still had to read the date three or four times. I even did the "14th C still means 1300's, right?" thing we all do at some point. :-) This makes it very interesting because it gives credence to one of my theories as to why the shepherd's hut pops on to the scene so suddenly and becomes so quickly associated with shepherds. My theory is that the Black Plague killed so many people off - particularly in France- that there was suddenly a lot of "un used" land to roam without a safe shelter (one not plague ridden or in disrepair in later years). So, shepherds decided the best way to deal with needing a place to rest while tending their flocks was to just be out there with the flock in their own travel trailer. I realize that might sound a bit silly but hear me out.
If there is one thing still taught correctly, it's that the black plague was devastating. There is a very good article on the Black Death here which mentions half of Paris died and anywhere from 60 to 80% of France may have been killed by the plague. Only 20% of England suffered the same fate - thank goodness for water borders!
With such a huge amount of the population gone in a very short time, there would suddenly be a lot of land no longer occupied. This means more grazing territory but also means a huge labor shortage. Peasants suddenly had choices and could get better offers for their labor elsewhere With an increase in pay and larger grazing lands, what a better way to spend your new money than on an upgraded shelter that keeps you safe from the weather but also those annoyingly pesky sheep? A shelter that you can take with you while you are out in the fields and away from any sort of civilization?
This is where I believe the shepherd's hut enters in. If I find any depictions or mentions of the shepherd's hut before 1350, I'll have to come up with a new theory. However, for now, the black death works as a reason for the sudden rise of the Shepherd's hut.
As for why I think it's a French invention; the plague hit France way harder than it did England, as I mention above. The labor shortage would have been greater there but also the amount of suddenly available grazing land. Also, in French illuminations and stained glass windows the "roulotte de berger" is almost always present from the 15th Century onward. Even a famous window at Yorkminster in England with a depiction of a Shepherd's Hut originated in France or Flanders in the early 16th Century.
I wrote to Yorkminister cathedral and asked. Also, when my parents went, I sent them on a hunt for the window. According to them, the tour guides never had so much fun. :-) They actually managed to find one of the resident experts on the stained glass to talk to and he was excited that, finally, one of the tourists was actually looking at the windows beyond the "those are pretty". So, if even one of the few items to survive through the War of the Roses, Henry's Reformation, and the Commonwealth period is French, plus around 90% of all depictions of a shepherd's hut I've found are either from France or French controlled areas, the shepherd's hut is probably a French invention.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. I love talking about shepherd's huts and love sharing my knowledge of them. Please feel free to pin or share this entry with others. My hope is that this gets shared so widely, no one dares call a tiny house on wheels at an SCA event a vardo ever again. :-)