We have talked much and often about ‘banquets’ in previous posts, and have touched on the wonderful phenomenon of ‘banqueting houses.’ In times past, when a banquet was a final course of fruits and sweetmeats, this course was usually taken in another room – and sometimes a separate building altogether – the banqueting house.
In 1529, the third earl of Atholl took this concept of a separate banqueting house an unbelievable amount further. He built a huge hunting and feasting ‘palace’ in the woodlands for the purposes of entertaining his king – and had it burned down as soon as the visit was over.
I give you some details of this amazing event, cobbled together from several sources.
In 1529 John, third earl of Atholl, a great feudal magnate with vast dominions, gave King James, Margaret the Queen Mother, the papal nuncio and ‘a numerous train of followers,’ a magnificent entertainment in the shape of a hunt, at which the king was ‘as well served and eased, with all things necessary to his Estate, as if he had been in his own palace in Edinburgh’; the earl had a special woodland palace constructed of green timber, the floor strewn with rushes and flowers, and the walls hung with tapestry and arrases of silk, with actual glass in the windows. The banquet held within this rustic folly, twenty miles from any dwelling, (and which was destroyed when the banquet was finished, according to Highland custom,) included ale, beer, wine, both white and claret and aqua vitae, and for food, every kind of meat from beef, mutton, and venison to swan and peacock, fish including salmon, pike and eels, and even gingerbread.
A thousand men were employed to herd deer to the hunting grounds, for His Majesty’s pleasure.
There was killed ‘thirty score hart and hynd, with other small beasts, as roe, wolf, fox and wild cats’.
The king remained in this wilderness the space of three days and three nights.
The whole entertainment was supposed to have cost Atholl ₤1000 a day, and the nuncio summed up his reaction in outspoken terms: he thought it a ‘great marvel that such a thing could be in Scotland, considering it was named the arse of the world in other countries.’
No sooner did the royal visitant take his departure, than Atholl caused his highlandmen to set fire to the palace and huts which had been reared for the occasion, “that the king and the ambassador might see them on fire. Then the ambassador said to the king, “I marvel sir, that you should thole your fair palace to be burnt, that your grace has been so well lodged int” – then the king answered the ambassador and said, “it is the use of our highlandmen, though they never be so well lodged, to burn their lodgings when they depart.
Alas! I cannot give you a sixteenth century Scottish game recipe. I feel sure that cooks have always been clever with leftover venison, however, so give you a nice recipe for venison hash from the wonderful Scottish woman, Mrs Dalgairns.
For a gravy, boil a part of the bone and trimmings of the cold haunch in a little water; season with a few peppercorns and some salt; strain and thicken it with a bit of butter rolled in flour, add a glass of port wine, and a tablespoonful of mushroom catsup, and one of currant jelly. When hot, add the venison cut into thin slices, heat it thoroughly, and serve with sippets of toasted bread.
The Practice of Cookery in Everyday Life, (1830) by Mrs. Dalgairns.