Curfew, Netherlands, 1627. © Victoria and Albert Museum, no. M.5-1940. Used by permission.

Item ii cafuecs magnos ferri

Curfews, or cover-fires (Fr. couvre-feux) would have been common in medieval households, although they do not show up regularly in inventories. At the end of the day, a metal cover was placed over the fire in the hearth in order to keep the embers burning until morning. The two large iron curfews identified here were listed in the inventory of Johan Ricau, a self-styled "nobilis" from the city of Marseille who died in 1410. Curfews appear in at least four Massiliote inventories, and in those instances where the material was named, we find that curfews were invariably made of iron, unlike the fancy copper-alloy curfew displayed above.

One of the unusual features of curfews, at least in southern France, is that they were often named in the local dialect rather than in Latin. In Marseille, the words used include "cafuoc" and "cafuec," an abbreviation and elision of the Provençal or Occitan terms for "cache-feu."