Medieval Banqueting & Royal Coronations
The grandest banquets were those given at royal coronations at which incredible amounts of exquisite foods were served.
Medieval Banqueting Guidelines
Most of the information we have about the preparation and consumption of food comes from the end the 14th and 15th centuries (known as the Middle Ages), and from the upper classes. Little is known, however, about the lower classes but we can assume they too indulged in festive foods during Easter Christmas, and other festive occasions.
The grandest and most spectacular banquets were those given at royal coronations, installations of bishops and weddings.
How Medieval Banquet foods were served
For medieval diners, the fundamental virtues were courtesy, cleanliness, moderation and sharing. Images of ravenous and gluttonous knights guzzling down their food, and spitting out bones onto the floor, are only seen in films. Indeed, the Medieval knights aspired to more elegant ways: they would be expected to offer the best joints to their companion. The etymology of the word companion derives from the latin: com: together with, and panis: bread. In Old French the word was compaignon: one who breaks bread with another.
Guests shared the food they were served and the person of lower rank would help a person of higher rank. Medieval diners would also share food with the poor through the almoner, a person whose duty it was to collect the leftovers and hand them out as alms to the less fortunate.
Cutlery, too, was shared by the guests, especially the drinking cup. The drinking cup was passed to each guest in such a way that the next person would not drink from the same spot on the cup. Courtesy dictated that men served women first before they helped themselves. Moreover, women were even expected to look disinterested in food.
As both host and guests valued cleanliness and hygiene, diners were instructed to make sure their seats were clean before sitting down and more importantly, to keep their hands clean before, during, and after the meal. As most of the food was still handled with hands, (forks were used in the kitchen but had not yet made their way onto European dining tables), clean hands were imperative.
Using a trencher in medieval times was commonplace: a flat round stale piece of bread, used as an edible plate.
For most of the Middle Ages, only the lord and his distinguished guest would be given a knife. All the other diners were expected to bring their own knives to the banquet, one's constant companion and invaluable possession, functioning as both an eating tool and defensive weapon. The host would supply the spoons. Knives were to be used at the table for handling food alone. All other activities such as picking teeth or cleaning nails were not tolerated. To ensure diners did not steal their host's cutlery (those made of precious metals such as silver or gold, along with cups), the households would count their flatware before dinner guests were allowed to leave. With oral hygieneat its worst and, thus, bad breath a problem, blowing on food was frowned upon, as was belching too close to one's neighbour.
Banquets usually took place in the Medieval banqueting halls - known as the great hall - which had a raised platform called the dais at one end and a musician’s gallery at the other. The lord and lady as well as important guests and close family members would dine on the dais, which was often adorned with beautiful tapestries.
As the great hall was used for many different functions other than banquets, tables were rarely permanent. Instead, trestles and boards were used that were easily assembled and dismantled once the meal was over. Most diners sat on benches with only the highest-ranking member being given a chair of his own at the high table. Trestle tables were adorned with tablecloth, made with the finest linen and snow white tablecloths which covered the table generously. The tables would be arranged in an angular U shape. The food would be served from the inside of the U, while the diners sat on the outside only. The quality of tablecloth, food and drink diminished the farther away a table was from the dais, and so did the status of the guests seated there.
Medieval Banquet Foods & Drink
King Richard II gave a banquet for the Duke of Lancaster which featured venison, frumenty, and a meat potage first, then an assortment of roasted meats from boars heads to pigs and swans, followed by a sweet custard, and a surprise dish (sotelty). The second course comprised a jelly and white dish, wild and domestic birds, rabbits, fish, and tarts, and concluded with another sotelty. A potage, stew, and more meat dishes, including quails and larks, together with a jelly, sweet curd, and egg fritters formed the third course that again concluded with a sotelty.
The preferred drink at medieval banquets was wine, drunk either pure or diluted with water. Famous wine regions in the Middle Ages were Beaune near Dijon, and Bordeaux, the Rhine and Moselle region, as well as Alsace, Rivoglio, and Sicily.
The First Course
Veneson with Frumenty – Venison with a thick, sweet porridge of wheat
A pottage called viaundbruse – A Stew Of Soft Meat
Hedes of Bores – Boars Heads (traditional at nearly every feast)
Grete Flessh – Great Flesh (Roast Oxen)
Swannes roasted – Roast Swan
Pigges roasted – Roast Pigs
Crustarde lumbard in paste – Sweet Pastry Custards Of Wine, Dates & Honey
And a Sotelte – And A Subtlety
The Second Course
A pottage called Gele – A Stew called Jelly
A pottage de blandesore – A White Soup
Pigges Roasted – Roast Pigs
Cranes roasted – Roast Cranes
Fesauntes roasted – Roast Pheasants
Herons roasted – Roast Herons
Chekens endored – Chickens Glazed
Breme – Bream
Tartes – Tarts
Broke braune – Jellied Brawn Of A Deer
Conyngges roasted – Roast Rabbits
And a sotelte – And A Subtlety
The Third Course
Potage. Bruete of Almonds – Sweet Stew Of Almonds, Honey & Eggs
Stwde lumbarde – Sweet Syrup Of Honey, Dates & Wine
Venyson roasted – Roast Venison
Chekenes Roasted – Roast Chickens
Rabettes Roasted – Roast Rabbits
Partrich Roasted – Roast Partridge
Peions roasted – Roast Pigeons
Quailes roasted – Roast Quail
Larkes roasted – Roasted Larks
Payne puff – Pan Puff
A dissh of Gely – A Dish Of Jelly
Longe Frutours – Long Fritters
And a sotelte – And A Subtlety