Charles I: King and Collector

Erin Griffey recently presented a paper on ‘Her Majesty’s Pictures’: Henrietta Maria’s taste, patronage and display of pictures at the Stuart Court’ at the Charles I: King and Collector conference organised by the Royal Academy and the Paul Mellon Centre on 12 April 2018. 

Recorded and published by the Mellon Centre, you can watch the lecture here:

Banqueting in Elizabethan England

I am not a food historian, but I have become increasingly interested in the political significance attached to the provision, display, and consumption of food in the early modern period. Since the medieval period, food has functioned as an indicator of wealth and social position. For royals, the ability to provide an excess of food for the household and any important guests was absolutely essential, as was the provision of suitable tableware and appropriate waiters and servers. For the diners, their favour and influence was signalled by their position in the room and the number of dishes they were given. In this situation, the more dishes received the better, and close proximity to the monarch (if present) and high-ranking members of court was the primary aim. This hierarchy of foodstuffs and table arrangements was repeated in elite households too.

Lambeth MS 647 2 copy.jpg

A document held in Lambeth Palace Library (MS 647) is illuminating in many of these respects. Coming across it in one of my paleography classes at the Institute of Historical Research, London, it details the expenditure incurred at Gorhambury during the visit of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) for five days from 18 to 22 May 1577 (a reproduction of a detail from one of the folios is provided above). Judging from the date and the location, Elizabeth must have been hosted by Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal (1510-1579) who had built Gorhambury House just outside St Albans in Hertfordshire between 1563 and 1568. The document is written in secretary hand and the scribe has taken care to note both the quantity of the required item and its associated cost. Most entries relate to foodstuffs, but there are also charges for transport, wages, and rewards. The total amount is staggering, running in excess of £570 at a time when the average knight earned between £200 and £400 a year.

What is really interesting is both the diversity of the goods and the quantities, although it is unknown how many meals these provisions were to cover, or how many people were to be in attendance. In comparison to current western tastes, the Tudors ate a staggering array of birds. While we rarely stretch beyond chicken, turkey, quail, and duck, the types of fowl that graced the early modern English table seems almost limitless, and some of them may cause a little horror. For Elizabeth’s visit, Bacon made sure he was equipped with the following: capons, pullets, chickens, geese, herons, bitterns, ducklings, pigeons, godwits, dotterels, shovelers, pheasants, partridges, quails, mallard and teal ducks, larks, and curlews.

Furthermore, the numbers in which these were ordered, is rather eye-watering. The most common bird was the chicken, which numbered 256 and was closely followed by 238 pigeonsand 206 capons (castrated cock). There were a further152 herons, 120 geese, and 106 bitterns. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the small birds also occur in vast quantities: 201 quails, 144 ducklings, 223 so-called “birds of the nest”, which I presume is some type of chick, and 204 “Mayechickes”, which maybe refer to birds hatched in May [ie. the same month of the banquet, and therefore very small]. The grand total for all these birds was £105.7s.11d., which was the largest subsection, but it only accounts for just over a fifth of the total cost.

Of course, this wasn’t a banquet only furnished by birdlife. 501 rabbits were supplied, along with 26 whole pigs, 55 sheep, 34 lambs, 10 kid goats, 18 calves, and a lone hare. The odder, or more exotic, is to be found in entries for sheep tongue, dried tongue (of an unspecified animal), cow udder, and calf feet, but it is unfortunately unclear as how these items were presented at the table. There is also little information given about the fish, breads, pastries, cakes, alcohol, spices, and vegetables that were provided in the banquet. Beer, ale, and “all kyndes of wyne” were on offer, and a huge £47.12s.6d. was spent on wheat for “the pantry & pastrye,” presumably in the baking of savoury and sweet loaves, cakes, and pastries, while £25.19d. was disbursed for “herbes, fflowers & artichockes.” While the document leaves many things unanswered, it does provide a fascinating insight into some of the types of foodstuffs considered appropriate for royal consumption, the range animals and birds that were consumed, and the relative costs of food in Elizabethan England.

Practice as Research: Classes at The School of Historical Dress

The concept of "practice as research" or "performance as research" (PaR) has been coming up a lot in my personal and online conversations lately, and I wanted to write a little about its significance and my experience of the method as an art historian. In essence, rather than analysing static historical objects (for example, the manuscript of Ben Jonson's Masque of Blackness, or the seventeenth-century jacket in the Victoria and Albert Museum that once belonged to Margaret Layton), this method calls for researchers to engage in some form of historically-accurate recreation. In doing so, the researcher not only gains a comprehensive idea of how the item/object was constructed, but, more importantly, focusses on how it was seen, understood, and experienced by contemporaries, which places an emphasis on more ephemeral aspects such as light, colour, space, sound, smell, and gesture.

In the humanities, as seems often to be the case, early modern literary scholars (broadly defined) have been early adopters of PaR, with a brilliant example being Staging of the Henrician Court. While this was a huge project staffed by senior scholars, many arts disciplines (music, creative writing, film, and drama) run workshops where students are encouraged to learn about their historical art form by doing. Recently, I decided to use this method to increase my knowledge of one of my most cherished areas of research: historical dress. With no practical training in this area, I was very fortunate to spend a week at the School of Historical Dress in London.

Run by Jenny Tiramani (read our interview with her here), The School offers small classes on a wide variety of topics as befitting the expertise of the School's tutors (including embroidery, ruffs, leather goods, felt goods, smocks and shirts, lace, and stays). In each class, an object is made by the participants - bags, cuffs, hats, embroidery samples - using historically accurate methods and materials. The School has a small but impressive collection of garments and fabrics, not to mention a great library and the Janet Arnold Archive, all of which are made available to the participants to help facilitate their learning. I was the only one in my classes with no experience with a needle, but all that really meant was that my stitches were not as small or as neat as my class-mates. I still completed an embroidery sampler, made a cuff, stitched some stays, and spent a wonderful week enriching my passion for dress!

 Freshly starched ruffs (made by my class with two examples from The School's collection) drying in the oven at The School of Historical Dress 

Freshly starched ruffs (made by my class with two examples from The School's collection) drying in the oven at The School of Historical Dress 

I have studied seventeenth-century English dress for a number of years, but these classes dramatically increased my understanding of historical fabrics, types of stitches, cuts and construction methods, relative costs, and how to distinguish between bobbin and needle lace. I am now much better equipped to connect a description of a garment in an inventory, or account, with the physical object, or to ascertain the garment, fabric, and form/s of decoration seen in a painted portrait. I also have an increased appreciation of the practicalities around washing, starching, and setting garments; how different garments shape the way one someone stands; the huge variance in the colour and weave of linens; and the different roles and methods of tailors and seamstresses.

 A woman's sleeve, 1610-20, flowered cloth of silver camlet or tinsel with a brocaded polychrome flower motif. Collection of The School of Historical Dress.

A woman's sleeve, 1610-20, flowered cloth of silver camlet or tinsel with a brocaded polychrome flower motif. Collection of The School of Historical Dress.

It has been, without a doubt, the most informative, engaging, and inspirational experience of my time in London to date. I cannot recommend it highly enough, and I strongly encourage anybody who has the opportunity to undertake a class (or several) at The School of Historical Dress! I also suggest checking out their book series Patterns of Fashion (four volumes available and volume five is in progress).

On a slightly different note, an example of my approach to the history of dress using archival material can be found in an article I published with Costume in March 2017 on the wardrobe goods of Anna of Denmark.

 Experiencing the different weights and textures of pieces of historical lace at The School of Historical Dress.

Experiencing the different weights and textures of pieces of historical lace at The School of Historical Dress.

 A sampler showing several different Jacobean embroidery stitches by Claire Thornton, tutor at The School for Historical Dress.

A sampler showing several different Jacobean embroidery stitches by Claire Thornton, tutor at The School for Historical Dress.

 A beautiful piece from the collection of The School of Historical Dress: a recreated early modern stomacher.

A beautiful piece from the collection of The School of Historical Dress: a recreated early modern stomacher.

The Vernacular Scots language

I am currently transcribing a host of Scots courts records relating to Anna of Denmark’s Scottish period (1588 - 1603) in the Scottish National Archives in Edinburgh, Scotland. Having married King James VI of Scotland in 1588, she spent some 13 years in the country before moving south to England when James’s cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, passed away without issue, and he took up the crown. Having spent almost all my archival life working on early seventeenth-century English documents, I have had a couple of very interesting learning curves in the last few weeks that I think are noteworthy.

Scots really is its own language. The use of phonetic spelling and grammar has preserved some of the idiosyncrasies of spoken Scots from the period, which presents words that can seem completely bewildering to a modern English reader. Perhaps for many this is a very obvious point to make, but as an English historian working on a time period when the question of union became particularly pertinent, the distinctive differences between England Scotland isn’t something that gets mentioned or discussed enough. All too often, Scotland seems to be subsumed into the history of “Great Britain” or the “British Kingdom”, tacked on as an adjunct to its larger, richer, and more powerful neighbour (and periodic ruler) England. There are, of course, some excellent Scots historians, but it’s worth underscoring that Scotland is a country with its own linguistic, cultural, political and religious traditions and history. Even now, polls show that the vast majority of people living in Scotland do not identify as “British” but as Scottish. 

 

 

Some interesting Scots words with their English equivalent:

Lug:

Ear 

Ressavit:

Receaved

Turquassie:

Turquoise 

Sowmes:

Sums

Quhyt:

White

Quaiff:

Coif (as in the close fitting cap)

Weyand:

Weighing

Anamalit

Enamelled

Creillis

Basket

Hoill

Whole

Hingar; hyngar; hingaris:

this doesn’t have a direct translation in English and can mean a variety of things. It is essentially a device to hang things on, so it can be an earring, a pendant, or even a belt for hanging a sword.

Imerodis:

Emeralds


Unique Dates

Secondly, the Scots have a unique way of writing the year. This is illustrated in the document image above. What this tells us is that the year is 1593.

Signed by Anna R. (Queen Anna), the bottom line reads:  “day of [blank] the yeir of god Jaj vc fourscoir threttene yeiris.”

Jaj’ is a corruption of ‘im’ meaning 1000

v’ is the roman numeral for 5

c’ is an abbreviation of the Latin ‘centum’ meaning 100

fourscore’ is literally 4 times 20, so 80 and with an added 13 years, the whole comes to 1593.

 

For anyone wanting to delve into some of the surprsing delights of the vernacular Scots, I highly recommend using this free online dictionary