The story of the disappearance (and presumed murder) of the royal princes in the Tower of London in the fifteenth century has spawned a lot of books and movies, and in almost all of them the evil-doer was their uncle and Protector, the Duke of Gloucester who then became Richard III. One of the writers who contributed to Richard getting the rap (there are significant doubts that he was actually the perpetrator) was no less than William Shakespeare, in his play Richard III. He has Richard (still at this point the Duke of Gloucester) casually ask the Bishop of Ely for some of the fine strawberries from the Bishop’s gardens, while he is planning his dastardly deed.
My lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn,
I saw good strawberries in your garden there;
I do beseech you, send for some of them!
Ely: Marry, I will, my lord, with all my heart."
Shakespeare, like many other dramatists of his time, used the Chronicles of Raphael Holinshed [1529 – 1580 approx.] as a resource. The Chronicles were also written long after the events, but if Holinshead was correct, the strawberry dialogue actually took place on this day in 1483. Holinshead says:
“On the Friday (being the 13th of June, 1483) many lords were assembled in the Tower, and there sat in council, devising the honourable solemnity of the king's [12 year old Edward V] coronation, of which the time appointed then so near approached, that the pageants and subtleties were in making day and night at Westminster, and much victuals killed therefore, that afterwards was cast away. These lords so sitting together, communing of this matter, the Protector came in amongst them, just about nine of the clock, saluting them courteously, and excusing himself that he had been from them so long, saying merrily that he had been a sleeper that day. After a little talking with them, he said unto the Bishop of Ely, 'My lord, you have very good strawberries at your garden in Holborn; I require you let us have a mess of them.' 'Gladly, my lord,' quoth he. 'Would God I had some better thing as ready to your pleasure as that.' And therewithal, in all haste, he sent his servant for a mess of strawberries.”
So how would Shakespeare’s contemporaries have enjoyed strawberries? Perhaps like this:
Tarte of Strawberies.
Seson your Strawberyes with sugar, a very little Sinamon, a little ginger, and so cover them with a cover, and you must lay upon the cover a morsell of sweet Butter, Rosewater and Sugar, you may Ice the cover if you will, you must make your Ice with the white of an egge beaten, and Rosewater and Sugar.
[From: A Boke of Cookrye, published in 1591]
Tomorrow’s Story …
The Fourteenth Guest.
Quotation for the Day …
The strawberry grows underneath the nettle;
And wholesome berries thrive and ripen best
Neighbour'd by fruit of baser quality.
Shakespeare; King Henry V. Act I. Scene 1.
“...as Dr. Boteler said of strawberries: ‘Doubtless God would have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did’.”
- from The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton (1593-1683)
I wonder if strawberries have changed much in flavour since those days. I love them now but as with most things, I imagine the flavour to have diminished somewhat over time what with spraying, monoculture farming, et alia.
What an utterly fascinating post. There's a very good novel, a sort of detective novel, examining Richard's role in the disappearance of the children. It's by Josephine Tey, and is called The Daughter of Time.
I studied Richard III when I was at school, but don't remember the strawberry lines ... perhaps they'd been bowdlerised out on the grounds that they'd cause a food riot in my somewhat austere 1960s convent boarding school!
Hi Paul - I suspect that strawberry flavour has been sacrificed for size and robustness, to facilitate transport and holding ability - but I guess we'll never know. I love them though.
Joanna - I read Daughter of Time years ago, and I know I have a copy of it somewhere. As I wrote this post I remembered it, and your comment has made me determined to find it and re-read it. I think there is a Richard III society that has a lot of links and so on - I'll try to find it.
This is so interesting - not to mention how tasty the simple, pure preparation of the strawberries seems. I have a little book on Shakespeare's quotations on food, which I will try and locate to share with you.
Hello T.W - I'd love to see/hear Shakespeare's foodie bits - I had no idea there was a book with all his food quotations collected together. Then I will try to find an Elizabethan recipe to match each one .... So many projects, so little time ....
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