Thursday, 6 June 2013

Feeding a Court

When Cardinal Wolsey "handed over" Hampton Court Palace to Henry VIII, considerable changes were made to the kitchens' function even though the look remained largely the same as when Cardinal Wolsey occupied the palace. The King was always surrounded by courtiers and they expected to dine with their monarch as well; just about six hundred people took their place at the dinner table - twice each day! This meant that the original kitchens were not nearly enough and thus they were expanded to the extent of spanning 50 rooms. When this remodelling was done in 1529 the kitchen-area was 3000 square metres. Such a large amount of courtier required a large amount of servants; 200 people would work in the kitchen. So what did they eat during a normal year?

Elizabeth I's court consumed 1240 oxen, 8200 sheep, 2330 deer, 760 calves, 1870 pigs and 53 wild boars! But the monarch's own dinner was not prepared with the rest since the risk of poisoning was too great - imagine how easy it would be to poison one of the many dishes leaving the kitchens.

The kitchen-complex (conveniently located to the north so it does not receive the full heat of the sun) shows that Henry VIII's court was actually aware of the importance of keeping some level of hygiene. This resulted in the construction of several smaller kitchens within the kitchen-complex itself and each of them served their own purpose. Let's take a look:

  • The Boiling Room: meat
  • The Pastry Room: pies and pasties
  • The Confectionery: sweets (this was normally preserved the richest)
To this came the three larders to contain the ingredients (without a refrigerator, of course) and the three cellars for the enormous amount of alcohol that went with every meal:
  • The Flesh Larder: meat
  • The Dry Larder: grain and nuts
  • The Wet Larder: fish
  • The Wine Cellar with 300 casks of wine
  • The Great Cellar where no less than 600.000 gallons of ale was stored
  • The Privy Cellar which was only for the monarch's drinks
This huge meal required through organization. You could only get to the kitchens by passing a gatehouse where the Offerer and his assistants - with the strange name of Clerks of the Greencloth - kept a close eye on everything that came into the royal palace - including the members of staff! Explore the different aspect of the kitchen-complex to find out what happened in each room.

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