I want to change tack completely today, and give you a glimpse into life in a grand household in the sixteenth century. My source is the Household Books of the third and fourth Earls of Derby, as published by The Chetham Society in 1853.
Henry Stanley was born in 1531 and inherited the title in 1572 on the death of his father, Edward, third Earl of Stanley. His household included 140 servants, plus a constant stream of visitors and guests, and there was also the obligation to feed the large number of “indigent dependants” who flocked to the hall to receive their dole of leftovers.
One the early introductory paragraphs about Earl Henry’s household gives a marvelous picture of what “self-sufficiency” really meant in the sixteenth century. The Chetham Society record says:
The extent of the Earl’s domain supplied him with most of these necessaries of life. His flocks and herds were the produce of his own lands, his park furnished his family with venison, and his warrens and fishponds readily supplied game and fish for the table. The malt was made in his own kilns, and the hops apparently grown on his own lands,‘ whilst the ale, in no stinted quantity, was brewed by experienced hands. The ordinary weekly consumption of the household was about one ox, a dozen calves, a score of sheep, fifteen hogsheads of ale, and plenty of bread, fish, and poultry. The low lands around Lathom furnished turves, and the lordly forests around Knowsley logs of wood for fires, whilst the capacious vaults of stone, called ovens, capable of containing more than an ox at one time, and seldom disused, were kept heated with this homely fuel of the country. Fossil coal abounded in the neighbourhood, but was apparently unknown. Candles of wax, but principally of tallow, proving that rushlights were not ordinarily used, were made by the household Chandler, whilst Carpenters and Rough casters were constantly employed in attending to the repairs and decorations of the massive half-timbered halls. Paneling of oak was little used at this time, and Arras men were engaged throughout the year in making tapestry and embroidering hangings for the superior rooms in the several houses of the Earl. Confectionaries, sweetmeats, and fruits, are not mentioned by name, and the produce of the Gardens might not be large, as only one Gardener is named in the Roll of Servants, landscape scenery and picturesque views, now so much cultivated, being at that time little regarded even by a person of Lord Bacon’s refined taste. It must, however, be admitted that Leicester’s gardens and pleasure grounds at Kenilworth, as described by Laneham in 1575, appear to have been extensive, ornamental, and laid out with much judgment5 Wine is also omitted in the accounts of Earl Henry, although in 1569 Gilbert Earl of Shrewsbury stated that two tuns in a month did not suffice for the consumption of his household, and it is an important item in the expenditure of Edward Earl of Derby a little earlier. In 1563 the Steward paid 61.[pounds] a tun for wine, whilst so great was the increase in the price of luxuries during the reign of Elizabeth, that in 1606 half a tun of wine for the use of the Earl of Cumberland’s household amounted to 81. 5s. No delicacies are specified, but these might be included under the general and somewhat comprehensive word Acates, and, like the ordinary fare, would be most abundantly supplied at a Christening,1 at the great festivals of the Church,2 and at large entertainments.
There are many other interesting insights in the records. An order was made, for example, that dogs not be allowed in the dining hall for they would steal from the alms tubs and annoy the guests with their barking and fighting. Elsewhere is a regulation that only a few people were allowed to be present when the Earl’s dinner was being dressed, to reduce the chance of poison being added. I sense some future posts from this wonderful source!
As the recipe for the day, I give you something from one of the few sixteenth century cookery books, The good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin (London 1594.)
To boyle a Mallard with Cabage.
TAke the Cabage and pick them cleane, and wash them, and parboile them in faire water: then put them in a colender, and let the water runne from them, then put them in a faire pot, and as much beefe broth as will couer them, and the Marie of three Mary bones whole. Then take a Mallard, and with your knife giue him a launce along vppon each side of the breast. Then take him of, and put him into your Cabage, and his dripping with him, for he must be roasted halfe ynough, and his dripping saued, and so let them stew the space of one hower. Then put in some pepper and a litle salt, & serue in your Mallard vpon sops, and the Cabage about him, and of the vppermost of the broth.