COSHERING (Medieval Ireland)

Coshering, or coshery, was a late medieval Anglo-Irish term derived from the Irish word coisir. In the Old Irish period it was known as cae or coe. Some scholars think that, as it was applied in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, coshering/coisir may have been adapted from the French word causerie.

Coshering was a type of obligatory hospitality demanded by a lord of his subjects toward the maintenance of his retainers and followers. Usually it took the form of a banquet lasting two days and two nights held at or near the time of a major religious festival, particularly Christmas and Easter, but also Whitsuntide and Michaelmas. By the 1400s it was used in Anglo-Irish as well as Gaelic Irish territories. It bore certain similarities to coyne and livery, with which it was sometimes confused by observers, but unlike coyne it was levied exclusively on the wealthier subjects of a lordship—that is, on those rich enough to provide a proper feast.

Writing in the 1580s, the Dublin commentator Richard Stanihurst claimed coshering was an occasion of great merriment and celebration, and he wrote colorfully of the activities of the bards, harpers, jesters, professional gamblers, and storytellers who attended these feasts. However, it had its ugly side, too. Often a lord could be attended by as many as a hundred followers (not just armed retainers, but friends and allies), and his demands for food and drink could be burdensome to his host. The English government abolished the practice early in the seventeenth century.

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