Recently a friend spent a few weeks in England and paid a visit to Hampton Court – the complex built by Thomas Wolsey (Archbishop of York) that served as King Henry VIII’s palace from the 1520s on. As a gift from her trip, she brought me a tea towel that documented the food eaten in a year in the Tudor court in the years when the Tudors held reign there. The tea towel refers to 8,200 sheep, 2,300 deer, 1,870 pigs, 1,240 oxen, 760 calves, 53 boar, 600,000 gallons of ale and 300 barrels of wine to name a few of the fresh ingredients that were regularly stocked in the royal larder.
If you think about those numbers, you can quickly calculate that this equates to 22 sheep, 6 deer, 5 pigs, 3 oxen, 2 calves, 1/8 of a wild boar, 1,643 gallons of ale and almost a barrel of wine each and every day! These numbers seemed astounding to me but I really couldn’t tell without knowing how many people were fed so I did a little research of my own.
It didn’t take long to find that 200 people staffed the kitchen at Hampton Court and they produced 1200 meals per day (two per day per person) for the 600 people who visited, worked at or resided in the Royal Court on a daily basis. Now I was able to put it into context and the meat consumption didn’t sound so high after all. The wine consumption seemed reasonable as well; that’s only one bottle of wine for every three people or so. Not bad. But the beer…holy smokes!…that equates to almost 30 bottles of beer per person per day!! And, before you remind me that they drank beer back then because it was safer than water, take a moment to consider when was the last time you drank 30 bottles of water in a day. It is a tremendous amount of fluids to down in 24 hours! Consider too that it isn’t likely that the lowly tea towel user got to take part in that much ale consumption. After all, the Hampton Court ale cellar had two locks with two separate keys so two different staff persons had to be present just to open the door. That is some serious security for the time to keep out the riff raff!
Curious how these numbers stack up against modern-day cruise ship consumption, I again went in search of some facts. Looking over the statistics for ships comparable in size to King Henry’s court, the meat and wine consumption is pretty similar. Things haven’t changed much in 500 years…except for that ale number. Fortunately, we modern-day travelers don’t come anywhere near putting away enough beer to come anywhere close to that ale statistic.
Life in a Tudor Court must have been a perpetual buzz. I just can’t fathom how anything got done!
Next time you are in London, England, pay a visit to Hampton Court. Between the palace, the kitchens, the gardens, the maze and more, you can easily spend the day. The court kitchens and cellars are no longer in use to serve you but there are a few restaurants on the grounds and you can always bring a picnic. Just avoid trying to put back five six-packs of ale while you visit. That’s no longer fashionable at Hampton Court!