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 The Head of the Table

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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Re: The Head of the Table   Thu 12 May 2016, 16:31

I’m afraid I've rather turned this discussion into a bit of a monologue - I do apologise - but it has piqued my interest and prompted me to delve down some of the rather more obscure back-alleys of historic food, feast and fast. And I’ll admit that I was right chuffed when I found out the exact date and the names of all those bishops at the "John of Gaunt dining with King John of Portugal" feast (pictured above and on the dish-of-the day for 9 May 1385). But I do sometimes ask myself, as Temp once also wondered: is there not something slightly odd about getting excited by putting names to faces in an old painting or written seating plan; of trying to work out the exact date; what exactly is being depicted; working out who sat next to who; and wondering whatever were they were all talking about? Perhaps I am a bit odd.

But anyway, putting aside my deliberations on the dish-of-the-day thread about exactly who sat where when John of Gaunt dined with King John of Portugal in 1385, ... just to bore you all further, I’ve now discovered this account of the feast at the 1421 coronation of Catherine of Valois, Queen of Henry V. 

The account comes from Fabyan’s Chronicle (published in 1516, three years after his death) and although I have previously accused him of making up the detail about Henry I dying from "a surfeit" of lampreys, I suspect he’s more reliable when describing events much closer to his own time. Like nearly all other coronation banquets this was held in Westminster Hall. It took place on 24 Feb 1421 which was St Matthew’s Day. The seating, as recounted by Fabyan, was as follows,

"The Queen, at table, had the Archbishop of Canterbury on her right, and Henry Cardinal of Winchester on her left. ….. The Barons of the Cinque Ports were at the head of the table on the right of the Queen, towards St. Stephen's Chapel, and the Bowchiers* of the Chancery were below them at the same table: at a table on the Queen's left sat the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of London. The Bishops were at the head of the table next to that at which the Barons of the Cinque Ports sat, and the Ladies had a table next to the Lord Mayor's table."

(*Bowchiers were, I think, a particular high rank of Chancery lawyer).

Attending Her Majesty at the top table were:
Sir Richard Neville as Carver.
The brother of the Earl of Suffolk as Cup-bearer,
Sir John Stewart as Sewer,
Lord Clifford as Panterer,
Lord Grey of Ruthyn as Naperer.

….. But where were all the other peers of the realm? Where indeed was her husband, King Henry V, who didn't leave England for France (to continue the military campaign) until June? Or did 15th century protocol make a queen’s coronation banquet (and of course she became queen by marriage some years after Henry's accession to the throne) primarily a civic and ecclesiastical do – was "The City" the traditional host for such an event? Any ideas?

The "Bill of Fare", ie the menu, is interesting too. As it was St Matthew’s Day it was an obligatory fast day, and so the feast was entirely of fish, or at least non-meat, "with the exception of Brawn with Mustard in the first Course."

"The Feast, as usual, was of three Courses, which were of the same character. Whale was served in the first Course: in the second was a Leche damask* with the king's motto flourished on it, which was Vne sanz plus**; meaning of course the Queen. In the third Course was Porpoise, and in this Course was a subtlety of a Tiger looking into a Mirror, with a man on horseback fully armed, grasping a Tiger's whelp."

*Leches were tarts usually made principally with cheese, dried fruit and egg yolk, enclosed in a rich butter pastry ... but as this was a fast day feast, those served were probably very clever fake tarts, made with dried fruit, almond milk coloured yellow with saffron, flavoured with spices and damask rose water, and all enclosed in an oil-based pastry.
**Vne sanz plus, could be translated as  'One without peer'. Catherine was said to be very attractive and Henry was apparently quite smitten by her. I just hope she liked the cetacean-rich meal given in her honour.

....... But that subtlety is far too subtle for me. I wonder what meaning it was intended to portray. Again, any ideas?
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: The Head of the Table   Fri 13 May 2016, 14:10

MM wrote:
I’m afraid I've rather turned this discussion into a bit of a monologue - I do apologise - but it has piqued my interest and prompted me to delve down some of the rather more obscure back-alleys of historic food, feast and fast. And I’ll admit that I was right chuffed when I found out the exact date and the names of all those bishops at the "John of Gaunt dining with King John of Portugal" feast (pictured above and on the dish-of-the day for 9 May 1385). But I do sometimes ask myself, as Temp once also wondered: is there not something slightly odd about getting excited by putting names to faces in an old painting or written seating plan; of trying to work out the exact date; what exactly is being depicted; working out who sat next to who; and wondering whatever were they were all talking about? Perhaps I am a bit odd.



Lord, MM, long may your "monologues", as you call your interesting posts, continue - here and on Dish of the Day.

I did not mean you were odd!! Or rather I was suggesting that if you are, I am just as odd, if not odder. I too am fascinated by details such as who sat next to whom and why. I'd like to have a transcript of the conversations of all these dead people too, as they chatted politely to their dining companions. This obsession with historical characters continues - it's a huge part of my life. Is that sad rather than odd? I don't think so.

I've consulted the only two books I have about food: Food and Feast in Medieval England by P.W. Hammond, and Food and Feast in Tudor England by Alison Sim. I found a tiny reference to the Knight with Tiger cub subtlety in both. The message intended wasn't very subtle, apparently. I bet it seriously miffed the French!

Here's Hammond:

"...(and the third subtlety) showed a heraldic tiger looking in a mirror, with a man riding away carrying a tiger's whelp and throwing down mirrors behind him. In medieval legend the tiger could not resist looking in a mirror, thus to give her one was the only way to rob her of her young - an allusion to the marriage."

Sims elaborates:

"...the messages at Henry V's wedding feast were certainly to the point. Henry had of course taken France by force and his marriage to the French princess, Katherine de Valois, was intended to seal his hold on the country. One of the subtleties, which showed an armed man on horseback carrying off a tiger cub, bore the motto, in French, 'By force, without cunning I have taken this beast.' "

However, another of the subtleties presented was perhaps a little more conciliatory. It showed Saint Katherine, surrounded by angels, holding a motto which read, again in French: "It is written, as is heard and seen, that by a sacred marriage, war shall be terminated."

Mmm. The French no doubt exclaimed politely at the cleverness of the cooks, but their thoughts were probably far from polite. No wonder they gloated like mad by the time the English were finally kicked out of France. Ironic that Henry's son, Henri numero six, was such dead loss - Daft Harry, as the country so unkindly called him. I have no idea what the French name for the unfortunate lad was.
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PostSubject: Re: The Head of the Table   Fri 13 May 2016, 16:55

Ah ha! So it would seem they were actually very unsubtle subtleties under Henry V ... although frankly I'm not surprised as I've always thought he came over as a bit of a boorish git, and that's even with Shakespeare writing his speeches and doing his propaganda. But young Henry VI, ah yes, ... Fabyan's chronicle gives details of his coronation banquet too (you'll gather that I'm warming to old Fabyan despite his occasional exaggerations). Henry the Sixth's coronation feast (held on 6 Nov 1429, when the lad was not quite eight years old) was like the others, held in Westminster Hall and was also of three courses.

Fabyan says that in the first course was a "Viande royale planted with lozenges of gold",  and a "Custard Royal with a leopard of gold sitting thereon". In the second course there was a "Peacock enhackled", and in the third was "a Baked Meat like a shield, quartered red and white, and set with gilt lozenges and borage flowers". There was a subtlety both before and after the third course, the last one "representing the Virgin and Child, with St. George and St. Denis kneeling on either side and presenting to the Queen a figure of Henry, with the following ballad in his hand", (I wonder if the 8-year-old Henry cringed when the sycophantic motto was read outloud?):

"O blessyd Lady, Cristes moder dere,
And thou, seynt George! that called art her knyght;
Holy seynt Denys, O marter most entere,
The sixt Henry here present in your syght,
Shedyth, of your grace, on him your heuenly lyght:
His tender youth with vertue doth auaunce,
Borne by discent, and by tytle of ryght,
Iustly to reygne in Englande and in Fraunce."


The Viande royale could be anything really: a boar's head, venison, sturgeon, swan, a great pie perhaps, but certainly something very showy ... similary the Custard royal was probably decorated with lots of real gold leaf. The peacock enhackled means that it had had its skin, head and feathers put back on after roasting, so that it looked like a real live bird ... and sometimes, using lint soaked in alcohol and dusted with saltpeter and sulphur, and then stuffed tightly down the bird's throat, it could even be made so that the peacock appeared to be breathing fire! All very showy but a disaster in terms of food hygiene.
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PostSubject: Re: The Head of the Table   Sun 15 May 2016, 14:48

@Meles meles wrote:
But where were all the other peers of the realm? Where indeed was her husband, King Henry V, who didn't leave England for France (to continue the military campaign) until June? Or did 15th century protocol make a queen’s coronation banquet (and of course she became queen by marriage some years after Henry's accession to the throne) primarily a civic and ecclesiastical do – was "The City" the traditional host for such an event? Any ideas?

This is indeed puzzling.

There probably is some strait-forward answer to do with church and/or corporation of London prerogative with regard to the coronation of a queen consort when it occurs separately and subsequently to that of an already crowned king. The only thing is that I haven't been able to find any evidence confirming this. It certainly is the case that the corporation of London took a lead role in the coronation of Elizabeth Woodville 44 years later and also in that of Anne Boleyn 68 years after that. But maybe London and the church were the obvious milch cows for any monarch wishing to put on a public pageant in the capital.

That doesn't, however, answer the question regarding Henry's apparent absence from Catherine's coronation banquet. I'm going to suggest that Harry was sick. So seriously sick was he, that the senior peers of the realm also felt obliged to forgo the banquet to either attend upon him or else discuss matters relating to regency and succession etc. That Henry died of 'dysentery' only 18 months later raises an eyebrow. A strong 35-year-old, for example, could put up a lengthy fight against something like bowel cancer. Such a person could come in and out of strength for quite a period of time before finally succumbing.
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