When I signed up for the Summer Banquet Blog Hop some time ago, I had no idea what I might write about. But like most of my musings this post sprang from a snippet I heard recently on the radio about a showbiz wedding that cost a staggering $10,000,000 Not all of that would have been food of course, but it started me wondering. So here is my contribution to the
- With thanks to Maria Grace, who sent the invitation.
In the 16th and 17th centuries in Scotland (the period my historical novel series is set in) the aristocracy, and especially royals, were the nearest equivalents of modern-day celebrities. When James VI of Scotland brought his Danish bride home to Scotland the celebrations in Edinburgh to commemorate their wedding included the entertaining of her large Danish retinue and James was given 5,000 merks from the town treasury to pay for it. (This was however only a loan, but canny James wasn’t responsible for the repayment – that was to be by a tax on the local inhabitants! – Probably no more popular a measure then than it would be today if ordinary folk were expected to foot the bill for a celebrity wedding in their parish.
Records note that the food provided at a banquet for the Danish nobles was abundant, but plain – just bread and meat, with rather more emphasis on the drink, including 4 puncheons of wine – 288 gallons, as well as significant amounts of beer and ale. In total the Commissioners Convention in Stirling in 1589 note that ‘for the furtherance of James’ marriage’ there should be set aside 20 tun of wine – a whopping 4320 gallons – think 120 large barrels.
Funerals of the aristocracy were also big affairs. When Lord Lovat, who was noted for his liberal hospitality, died in 1631, 5000 folk attended his funeral. Whether they came to pay their respects, or for the food, I can’t say, but they certainly all had to be fed and well fed at that. To do anything less would not only have been an insult to those who attended, but much more importantly, would have suggested a lack of grief on the part of his surviving family.
While I didn’t find a record of the amount of food required or the cost of this particular ‘feeding of the 5000’, I did find some details of his annual household food consumption, including 2,184 bushels* of meal and malt and 70 beeves (oxen) as well as ‘abundant quantities’ of venison, fish, poultry, lamb, veal and ‘all manner of feathered game.’ Even allowing for the probable size of his household – he wasn’t short of a servant or two – clearly they ate rather well.
* a bushel = 4 stone
And he wasn’t alone. The accounts for 1590 of Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy, described as ‘a man of considerable means’ paint a strikingly similar, and very detailed picture of his annual household food consumption, including:
➢ 2,184 bushels* of oatmeal
➢ 1.242 bushels of malt
➢ 90 beeves
➢ 20 swine
➢ 200 sheep
➢ 424 salmon
➢ 15,000 herrings
➢ 360 ‘hard’ fish (perhaps cod?)
➢ 1805 ‘heads’ of cheese, total weight – 325 stone!
➢ 49 stone butter
➢ 312 loaves of wheaten bread
Several things stand out for me in these accounts – The numbers themselves are staggering, especially when scaled down to weekly figures – almost 2 cows, 4 sheep, ½ a pig, nearly 300 herring, almost 100 cheeses… perhaps just as well that Campbell received most of his rents in kind.
The fact that the exact number of salmon consumed is given, as compared to the rounded up (or down) figure for herring, is also fascinating, as well as the sheer numerical contrast between them.
It was certainly not that salmon were in short supply
– quite the contrary – but perhaps its abundance
was part of the reason it wasn’t highly regarded.
It was however an important Scottish export,
traded for wines, sugar and spices,
including saffron, mace, ginger and pepper.
The figure for wheaten bread – a mere 6 loaves per week – is surprisingly small, especially when set alongside the figures for butter and cheese, and is certainly in contrast to the bread of James’ banquet. – I can only suppose that in day to day living more basic bread, for example barley bread, was possibly the norm and wasn’t thought worth itemizing.
One thing is clear though, whether at a wedding, a funeral or in your own home – for 16th century ‘foodies’ it was fine to be rich. Not quite so good if you were poor, though. They might occasionally have had a little meat in a stew, but not spit-roasted – that was the privilege of the rich. And for a very practical as well as economic reason – for the poor everything had to be cooked in a cauldron or on a griddle over the open fire and this in itself restricted their diet. If anyone tried the ‘cabbage soup’ diet that was a craze some years ago, you will remember just how uninspiring it was, even for a week. Spare a thought then for the poor Scots whose staples all year round were porridge and oatcakes, barley broth, and kail (cabbage) or seaweed soup…
My giveaway for the blog tour is a paperback copy of my debut novel, Turn of the Tide – the story of a fictional family trapped I a 100 year old clan feud in 16th century Scotland. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Turn-Tide-Margaret-Skea/dp/1909305065/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1370217810&sr=1-1
Unfortunately due to postage costs I have to restrict this to the UK and Ireland. If you’d like to enter the giveaway, please leave a comment below, with your contact details.And If you’re from across the pond, please do say ‘hello’ – I’m really sorry that Amazon don’t have a system for gifting a Kindle version from UK to US or I would have added that in.
Please also visit the other authors on the Blog Hop –
- Random Bits of Fascination (Maria Grace)
- Pillings Writing Corner (David Pilling)
- Anna Belfrage
- Debra Brown
- Lauren Gilbert
- Gillian Bagwell
- Julie K. Rose
- Donna Russo Morin
- Regina Jeffers
- Shauna Roberts
- Tinney S. Heath
- Grace Elliot
- Diane Scott Lewis
- Ginger Myrick
- Helen Hollick
- Heather Domin
- Margaret Skea
- Yves Fey
- JL Oakley
- Shannon Winslow
- Evangeline Holland
- Cora Lee
- Laura Purcell
- P. O. Dixon
- E.M. Powell
- Sharon Lathan
- Sally Smith O’Rourke
- Allison Bruning
- Violet Bedford
- Sue Millard
- Kim Rendfeld