Published: 30-07-2012, 12:17

Christmas in Medieval Europe: Famous English Christmas Feasts

Christmas in Medieval Europe

Christmas in Medieval Europe: Christmas Season

Christmas in Medieval Europe: Entertainments

Christmas in Medieval Europe: Christmas Feasts in Medieval Europe

Christmas in Medieval Europe: Adapting Pagan Customs

Christmas in Medieval Europe: Creating Christian Customs

Christmas in Medieval Europe: Surviving Medieval Customs

In the Middle Ages English monarchs sometimes threw Christmas feasts of legendary proportions. Often these feasts doubled as affairs of state, with the king hosting foreign dignitaries, local nobility, visiting knights, and other important guests. The assembled company might easily number well into the hundreds; some records declare the thousands. Moreover, this legion of hungry guests might stay for some or all of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Knowing the scale of these dinner parties helps to put some of the royal menus in perspective. For example, in 1213 King John of England (1167-1216) provided his guests with one of the largest and most sumptuous Christmas banquets on record. The shopping list for this gargantuan feast included 200 pigs, 1,000 hens, 15,000 herrings, 10,000 salt eels, scores of pheasants, partridges and other birds, 27 hogsheads of wine, 100 pounds of almonds, 50 pounds of pepper, and 2 pounds of saffron, as well as other spices. At some point in the preparations the cooks feared they were running short and sent for an additional 2,000 hens and 200 head of pork. King Henry III (1207-1272) is reported to have entertained 1,000 noblemen and knights at York one Christmas. His cooks slaughtered 600 oxen for the feasts, and accompanied the resulting roast beef with salmon pie, roast peacock, and wine.

Needless to say, with such long guest lists, royal cooks could prepare quite a wide variety of dishes for the Christmas feast. Although most of the surviving menus seem to focus on roast meat and fowl, King Henry V (1387-1422) treated his court one year to a diverse Christmas banquet featuring a wide variety of seafood in addition to the traditional brawn and mustard. The assembled company sampled herbed pike, powdered lamprey, jelly colored with flowers, salmon, bream, roach, conger, halibut, crayfish, sturgeon, lobster, whelks, porpoise, carp, tench, perch, turbot, and more. Altogether the king’s cooks prepared over forty species of freshwater fish. Afterwards the royal chefs presented the king’s guests with a dessert of marchpane (a forerunner of marzipan).