Although this may seem like quite a bit of food to us, historian Eric Ives tells us in The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn that at a feast held at the 1532 Field of the Cloth of Gold celebrated by Elizabeth's father, Henry VIII, there were 170 dishes. As can be seen by the regularly increasing size of Henry's armor (his waist measured 52" at the end of his reign!) these dishes were not only presented to display his wealth but were regularly indulged in. Elizabeth, on the other hand, wore her small rings clear through to the end of her reign.
She cared, too, that her friends ate well for their health. Toward the end of his life, the queen teased her favorite Robert Dudley about his girth. Author Anne Somerset, in her biography, Elizabeth I, says the queen "chaffed him that he should cut his daily meat consumption to 'two ounces of flesh ... and for his drink the twentieth part of a pint of wine.'"
Elizabeth's sparse eating habits likely contributed to her long life, but her sweet tooth may have brought about her end. Biographer Alison Plowden says, "The immediate physical cause of the queen's last illness seems to have been a streptococcal throat infection, possibly connected with dental sepsis."
Spencer says, "Elizabeth was keen to bolster the fishing industry by making sure that people consumed fish in Lent and on fast days, because her fleet partly depended on the availability of the fisherman and their craft." According to author Richard Balkwill in Food and Feasts in Tudor Times, the fish the queen ate so often of would have been kept fresh by being wrapped in cool seaweed and stored in a wet larder at Hampton Court Palace. England's first sushi?
|Hampton Court Kitchens|
By the end of the Tudor era, food choices for all were not so much predicated by religious calendars and royal decree as by the wealth of the individual. Author Spencer writes, "It was now becoming possible for individuals to rise in the world, and if you had money, you flaunted it." Sumptuary laws were flouted, and "nothing could stop the gentry from flaunting their riches in food and clothing." Which meant, of course, black teeth properly earned for the well-to-do of any rank.
To learn more about Sandra's Tudor Series, Ladies in Waiting, please visit her website by clicking here.