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All the King's Cooks
The Tudor Kitchens of King Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace
By Peter Brears
Souvenir PressCopyright © 2011 Peter Brears
All rights reserved.
The Counting House
The Hub of the Enterprise
Today it can be difficult to comprehend the wide range of practical problems involved in operating a Tudor royal household. First, there was its great size – up to around twelve hundred people in winter and about eight hundred in summer. Then there was its importance – it was a major centre of government, the focus of international, national and personal ambitions, and our most visible national status symbol, constantly observed by ambassadors and other visitors from throughout Christendom. It was also a remarkably mobile institution, moving from palace to palace every few weeks during the winter, going on extended progresses from great house to great house in summer. To efficiently feed and manage such a complex organisation required real skill and experience, especially at a time when only carts, packhorses and barges were available for transport, roads were largely unmade, and food preservation restricted to drying and salting.
Good hospitality has always been seen as a significant indicator of a monarch's power and status. Edward IV's Black Book (1472) of royal household regulations traced its origins back to the legendary King Lud, who ensured that every day his tables were loaded with excellent, if basic foods from eight in the morning till seven in the evening, and to King Cassibellan, who supposedly organised one great feast that necessitated the slaughter of 40,000 cattle, 100,000 sheep and 30,000 deer and involved 'many disguisings, plais, minstralsye and sportes'. On somewhat safer ground, the Black Book went on to describe Henry I as a great meat-giver, Edward II as the king who could feed all his court from the beef and mutton bred in his parks, and Edward III as a great reformer of the royal household. His was 'the house of very policy, the flower of England; [he was] the first setter of certainty among his domestics upon a grounded rule'. The Black Book's comprehensive regulations, or 'ordinances', were extended by Cardinal Wolsey at the palace of Eltham in 1526 and subsequently by Thomas Cromwell in 1540, each with the aim of improving the control of the household's provisions and expenditure.
Although the royal household was a complex organisation, it was basically divided into four units. The Privy Chamber served the King's personal needs, the Great Chamber those of the leading nobles and household officers, the Queen's Side served the Queen and her household, and the former Lord Steward's department provided all the provisions, equipment, fuel and major financial and catering services for most of the court. With the exception of a few separate departments, such as the Chapel Royal, the Jewel House, the Tents and Revels, the Works, the Ordnance and the Stables, which were directly responsible to the King, in 1540 the household was placed under the control of a Lord Great Master. Here we shall see how he and his staff administered the former Lord Steward's department at just one of Henry VIII's palaces, Hampton Court.
When you approach the long Tudor west front of Hampton Court Palace, you see the façade of Wolsey's Base Court lodgings flanked by two projecting wings. The one on the right was the Great House of Ease, or latrine block, while the one on the left was the Back Gate, the entrance to the main kitchen buildings. Here, on the first floor above the gate passage, was the Counting House, the administrative centre of the royal household. In the Black Book its purpose had been defined as the maintenance of
worship and welfare of the hoole household ... in whyche the corrections and judgements be gevyn; in whome ys taken the audyte of all thinges of thys courte, beying of the [Treasurer's] charge, as principal hedde of all other officers in whom every officer of the household takyth hys charge on hys knee, promissing trouthe and obedyance to the King, and to the rules of thys office; for at the green-cloth ys alwey represented the Kinges power touching matters of thys household.
To stress this power, the Counting House bore its own coat of arms – a key and a white rod arranged as a diagonal cross, indicating its right to open, close, and administer justice to all household offices. These devices were set on a green background to represent the 'greencloth', the table covered in green baize which stood in the centre of the counting house, around which all the chief officers sat when transacting their business. This is how its component parts are described in the building accounts:
A pair of timbers for a table in the newe counting house ... for an iron trestle for the same table ... for 2 locks for the cupboard in the same table ... for 6 heart rings [handles] for the tills [drawers] in the same table.
As head of the entire household, the Lord Great Master presided at the greencloth. This important post was first held by Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, from 1540 to 1545, and then by William Paulet, Lord St John. These nobles were directly responsible to the King for regulating every aspect of his household, enforcing and introducing appropriate financial and management regulations, defining the duties of all their officers, reducing waste, ensuring efficiency, and disciplining those who infringed the numerous rules.
Second in command came the Treasurer of the Household, Sir Thomas Cheney. He was similarly responsible for the regulation and supply of the household, the Black Book describing how on taking up his appointment he should make a full inventory of all the goods placed in his care, oversee the acquisition of food, forage, fuel, wines and so on, make sure that everything in his office was efficiently controlled and run, as well as administering justice over his household staff – 'cheryssing the good officer, and punishing the evyll doer' as necessary.
In third place, Sir John Gage served the Treasurer as Comptroller of the Household. It was his job to keep detailed accounts 'as of every pewter dysshe, cup of tree [wood], pottes of leather or earth, as of othyr many small and infinite spyces and other thinges', such as foodstuffs, gold and silver. He also managed the Treasurer's finances, agreed the specifications and prices of goods supplied to the household, ordered the payment of accounts from the various domestic offices, audited their returns, reported on their performance, and listed the items remaining in them when the court moved on to another property.
Each of these great officers held his position by the direct authority of the King as represented by a white staff of office – hence their combined title of the White Sticks. In practice, they supervised the overall management of the household, at least one of the three having to be present at the greencloth in the counting house between eight and nine each morning to inspect its financial records, uncover any unreasonable wastage, and punish those responsible for incurring it. The White Sticks also determined the remuneration of all the household staff. Senior staff, such as the cofferer, were paid an annual sum, in his case £50 a year, while the junior staff, such as sergeants and clerks, or yeomen, grooms and pages, received a daily rate of 16d and 6d respectively when on duty, and 'board wages' (a subsistence allowance) of 6d and 4d respectively, if they were sick. Of greater importance, however, was the granting of 'bouche of court' – the right to receive food and other necessaries from the court. Those entitled to this privilege were listed in an 'ordinary' prepared by the officers of the Greencloth – this was a document stating precisely what each person should receive according to his rank. A duke, for example, received:
every of them for their Bouche of Court in the morning one chett lofe [brown loaf], one manchett [small white loaf], one gallon of ale; for the afternoone, one manchett, one gallon of ale; and after supper, one chet lofe, one manchet, one gallon of ale, one pitcher of wyne, and from the last day of October unto the first day of April, one torch, one pricket [candle], two sises [small candles], one pound of white lights, ten talshides [timbers for fuel], eight faggots and ... from the last day of March unto the first day of November, to have moyety [half] of the said waxe, white lights, wood and coals, which doth amount in money by the year to the summe of £39 13s 4d.
At the other end of the scale, ordinary officers of the household received:
For their Bouche after supper, everie of them being lodged within the court, dim' [half] chet lofe, dim' gallon of ale; and from the last day of October unto the first day of Aprill, by the day, two sises, one pound white lights, two talhides, two faggots; and from the last day of March unto the first day of November, to have the moyety of the said waxe, white lights, wood and coals, amounting to the sum of £4 7s 5d.
The ordinary also listed those entitled to have both bouche of court and their dinners and suppers (to be either consumed in the King's Chamber or in the Queen's Side, or with the remainder of the household), and those who were entitled only to their food and wages. The details of each individual's menu were minutely specified, with regard both to content and to cost, the King's and Queen's costing a massive £3 5s 0d daily, while that of a servant or porter cost about 2/d. Just how much it could cost to feed the entire court for a year is given in an ordinary of the 1540s, which details an expenditure of £16,327 5s 5d on food alone, and a further £4,445 2s 6d on the transport costs, fuel and equipment required for its acquisition and preparation.
To control these sums efficiently the White Sticks were assisted by the cofferer, the most senior professional officer, who was the effective working head of the administration. If the Lord Great Master could be called the chairman of the board, the cofferer was the chief executive, directly responsible for obtaining the necessary funding through such bodies as the Courts of Augmentation, First Fruits and Tenths, Woods and Liveries, and also for annually submitting the book of accounts, along with the 'book of comptrolment', to the Exchequer, the office to which he was ultimately accountable for the administration of the household. The White Sticks were also advised by three clerks of the greencloth, three clerks comptroller and four masters of the household – two for the King's Chamber and two for the Queen's Side. In order to ensure that the household staff were 'less pestered' and to ease the problems of lodging large numbers of officers at court, only two of the masters of the household, one clerk of the kitchen and one clerk of the spicery were on duty at any one time; these worked in six-week rotating shifts, and were paid board wages for the time spent away from the court.
In order to provision the household, the clerk of the kitchen drew up lists of what would be required over the coming week in the kitchen offices, which included the Kitchens themselves, the Buttery, the Cellar, the Pantry, the Poultry, the Pastry and the Saucery, the Scullery and the Woodyard. Similarly the clerk of the spicery prepared lists of provisions for the Spicery, the Chandlery, the Confectionary, the Ewery, the Wafery and the Laundry once every month. These lists were submitted to the Greencloth for inspection, and then passed to the cofferer, who issued them to the 'purveyors', the purchasing officers of each individual office. The cofferer also provided the purveyors with an 'imprest', or advance of money, so that they could acquire the items specified. The provision of all the beef, mutton, veal and pork, and the fresh, sea and salt-fish which made up the bulk of the household's diet, was the task of a separate office, the Acatery. As with other commodities, the prices to be paid were first agreed with the officers of the greencloth, usually at below market prices. Bearing the King's commission to compulsorily purchase the required supplies, the sergeant of the acatery, accompanied by a clerk comptroller, attended fairs and markets with the ready money provided by the cofferer, so as to buy his livestock at the most advantageous price. Also, they both travelled to the coast every year to arrange the purchase of all their ling (a kind of cod), ordinary cod, and other fish. Here it became more convenient and economical to enter into a contract with an individual supplier, as when Thomas Hewyt of Hythe in Kent agreed to provide the household with a whole range of fish at previously agreed prices.
As the various goods arrived at the palace, they would be checked for value, quality and quantity by the clerks comptroller. To ensure that they could perform this task accurately, the Black Book had given them the responsibility of checking the measures of all the vessels used, from the hefty tuns, vats, butts, pipes, hogsheads, rundlets (casks) and barrels down to the smallest measures such as pots of wine and all sorts of other vessels such as bottles, bushels, half-bushels and pecks. Similarly, all the wheat arriving at the bakehouse, the wax, the linen, the fruit and so on arriving at the spicery, the wine, beer and ale delivered to the cellars, and every other commodity too, was either accepted as satisfactory for use or rejected – in which case the purveyor would be penalised appropriately. The clerks comptroller then entered details of every incoming item in their book of records. This they would bring to the greencloth, so that the accounts could be passed for payment and the fresh deliveries compared with the 'briefs' which recorded the daily consumption. As a further control, each purveyor provided the clerk of his particular office with a complete list, or 'parcel' of the purchases he had made during the previous month, which was then passed to the clerk comptroller, via the clerk of the greencloth, for checking and entering in a book of foot of parcels. Here the word 'foot' referred to what was written at the foot of the accounts, the sum or total from each parcel, from which the annual expenditure was calculated. In addition, the clerk of the kitchen submitted his yearly accounts to the greencloth within two months of the year's end, including details of outstanding creditors and any petitions for the reimbursement of any additional items of expenditure incurred during the year.
By all these means a reasonably close control of the household's expenditure could be maintained. But this represented only one part of the Greencloth's responsibilities. It was also in charge of the distribution and use of all provisions, which entailed keeping wastage and pilfering to a minimum – essential at a time when cooks were notorious for their prodigal personal consumption and willingness to feed their cronies at their master's expense. According to one observer writing in 1509:
These fools revelling in their master's cost
Spare no expence, not caring his damage,
But they as caitifs often thus them boast
In their gluttony, with dissolute language:
'Be merry, companions, and lusty of courage,
We have our pleasure in dainty meat and drink,
On which things we always muse and think.'
'Eat we and drink we therefore without all care,
With revel without measure, as long as we may.
It is a royal thing thus lustily to fare
With others meat, thus revel we alway,
Spare not the pot, another shall it pay.
When that is done, spare not for more to call.
He merely sleeps, the which shall pay for all.'
The great deceit, guile and uncleanliness
Of any scullion, or any bawdy cook,
His lord abusing for his unthriftiness.
Some for the nonce their meat lewdly dress,
Giving it a taste too sweet, too salt, or strong,
Because the servants would eat it them among ...
And with what meats soever the lord shall fare,
If it be in the kitchen before it comes to the hall,
The cook and scullion must taste it first of all.
In every dish the caitifs have their hands,
Gaping as it were dogs for a bone.
When nature is content, few of them understands,
In so much that, as I trow, of them is none
That dye for age, but by gluttony each one.
The main way of preventing such abuses was to prepare detailed briefs of what had been used by the household every single day. By eight in the morning the clerk of the kitchen had to be at the greencloth with the briefs for the Kitchen, the Buttery, the Cellar, the Poultry, the Scullery and the Woodyard, the Pastry and the Saucery, and the clerk of the spicery had to be there with those of the Spicery, Chandlery, Confectionary, Ewery, Wafery and Laundry. Similarly, the acatery clerk brought in his itemised accounts for the meats and so on that had been used on the previous day. Before 9 a.m. these briefs had been inspected by the clerk of the greencloth and clerk comptroller, after which the former, in the presence of the cofferer, had to engross them – that is, transcribe a summary of each one into a parchment main docket (the main record of the household's daily consumption) – before dinner was served at ten.
Excerpted from All the King's Cooks by Peter Brears. Copyright © 2011 Peter Brears. Excerpted by permission of Souvenir Press.
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Table of Contents
1 The Counting House: The Hub of the Enterprise,
2 Serving the Court: Numbers, Quantities, Costs,
3 The Outer Court: Poultry, Bakehouse, Woodyard,
4 The Greencloth Yard: Jewel House, Spicery, Chandlery,
5 The Pastry Yard: Saucery, Confectionary, Pastry,
6 The Paved Passage: Larders, Boiling House, Workhouses,
7 The Hall-place and Lord's-side Kitchens: Boiling, Broiling, Roasting,
8 The Privy Kitchen: Food for the King,
9 Preparing for Dinner: Pantry and Cellars,
10 Serving the King: a Royal Ceremony,
11 Dining in Chamber and Hall: Etiquette and Ritual,
12 The Recipes: A Practical Approach to Tudor Food,