The Pomander has been known since at least the 14th century, although its form has changed considerably.
Originally the main ingredient was a nugget of the mysterious and exotic substance Ambergris, which was considered to have life-enhancing properties.
A wax-like substance produced in the intestines of the sperm-whale, (for reasons still not fully understood by zoologists) which, when first expelled by the whale is soft, almost black and has an unpleasant smell. Once it has been weathered by sea water, sun and air it becomes hard, grey and has a pleasant smell.
It is found floating in tropical seas, or washed up on tropical beaches. Rare and expensive, it was considered to give protection against infectious illness, especially The Plague. The name “ambergris” was derived from the French embre gris meaning “grey amber”.
The nugget of ambergris was contained in a small decorative perforated spherical case, made of either gold, silver, ivory, crystal, pottery, or some other precious material. The nugget of ambergris was also known as an “apple of amber” or pomme d’embre – which became corrupted to Pomander. It was an essential part of the ensemble of the well-dressed man-about-town. Worn around the neck, or hung from a waist belt, in addition to its protective powers its decorative purpose was to make a fashion and social statement about the wearer, in much the same way that, in later centuries a signet ring, cuff-links or a fob-watch might have done.
By Tudor times the contents of the decorative case had become a waxy blend of fats, herbs and spices – “Pomade”, which would one day be used for the hair and moustache, rather than carried for its supposed medicinal qualities.
Such Pomanders were of course only for the wealthy, and it is Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (c1475-1530) – who was also Archbishop of York, and Chancellor to Henry VIII – who is credited with inventing the ‘Poor Man’s Pomander’ or Comfort Apple. This consisted of a fresh orange, studied with cloves and rolled in cinnamon. He made them popular and is recorded as carrying one on State occasions. They soon became popular among the population at large giving a supposed protection against “evil airs”… There is nothing new in the general population aspiring to ape the habits of celebrities!
Next Post by Alan Page: How to make an Orange Pomander.