Monday, February 23, 2015

A Coronation Feast, 23 April, 1685

by Margaret Porter

James II in 1685
Wikimedia Commons
 At about noontime on 6 February, 1685,  King Charles II breathed his last and his brother instantly succeeded him as King James II. In the midst of royal mourning and the many necessary changes within the royal household, thoughts quickly turned towards the planning of a coronation. The chosen date was 23 April, the Feast of St. George, England’s patron saint. Ten days after James's accession, the clerk of the Great Wardrobe was making lists of the “Necessaries” for such an event and researching earlier coronations.

 Officers of the Board of Greencloth were ordered to present to the Council “a particular account of the Dinner kept in Westminster-Hall at the Coronation of His Late Majesty King Charles the Second, and also that provided at the Coronation of his Royal Father, together with the whole Expense and Charge of each of the said Dinners.” They returned with the requested information, including the fact that Charles II's coronation dinner cost £1209 15s 7 ½d. But all records for Charles I’s coronation had been “lost in the Great War.”

Francis Sandford 1630-1694
By George Vertue
© National Portrait Gallery, London
We know every detail of James II's coronation day from Francis Sandford, the Lancaster Herald of Arms, whose very thorough, fully illustrated account of the proceedings was commissioned by the King. The planning, the pronouncements, the order of the service, its participants, what they wore, what they did and said . . . he recorded it all.

On the appointed day, the coronation began with a procession from Westminster Hall to the Collegiate Church of St. Peter—commonly known as Westminster Abbey.

The event was plagued by ill-omens: the staves of the royal canopy broke, and it nearly collapsed over the King as he entered the abbey. His newly-minted crown didn't quite fit and almost fell off as soon as it was placed upon his head. And, in a preview of conflicts to come, James—a convert to Roman Catholicism—refused to take communion by Anglican rite as required in the coronation ritual.
Diarist John Evelyn reported, “. . . to the greate sorrow of the people, no Sacrament, as ought to have ben . . . . Having ben present at the late King's Coronation, I was not ambitious of seeing this ceremonie.” Hard to say whether this reluctance was indicative of his opinion of James, or of his experience twenty-five years previously of a day-long event that stretched well into evening.

By five o’clock that day James and his consort Mary Beatrice had been crowned, and they processed out of the Abbey beneath their separate canopies. Wearing their purple velvet robes, carrying their regalia, accompanied by trumpeters, and hailed by the cheering populace, they returned to Westminster Hall for the grand feast.

Within the vast and ancient  hall the tables had been arranged and were already covered by all the banquet dishes that didn’t contain hot food—99 of them on the King and Queen’s table. These consisted of cold meat (flesh and fish) “excellently well Dressed and Ordered all manner of ways. In three very great Chargers and 14 large Basins, Dryed sweet-meats, and Plates of all sorts of Jellyes, Bla-mange etc., with Sallads of all kinds . . . Void places were left for the Hot Meat.” Sandford’s book shows each table and the placement of each dish—numbered, with a corresponding numbered list to indicate what was served and where.

The King and Queen occupied the high table and there were six additional tables, three on either side of the hall. On the west side was the First Table, for court officers and significant coronation participants, and the highest orders of the nobility from dukes and duchesses down to some of the earls and countesses. At the Second Table sat the remainder of the earls and countesses with the viscounts and viscountesses, The lowest table on that side was for barons and baronesses. On the east side was a table for the Lords Spiritual, judges, barons of the Cinque Ports, with a second table for sergeants of law, clerks and masters of Chancery, the Lord Mayor and Aldermen. And the lowest table was occupied by Kings’ Heralds (Francis Sandford was one of them) and Pursuivants of Arms. The King and Queen each had a carver and a cup-bearer, and every member of the nobility “had a servant of their own to wait upon them.” Quite a crowd, as evidenced by the illustration.

 The metrics of the feast are mind-boggling. The King and Queen had 145 dishes as a first course, with 30 more dishes of hot meat served in the second course, for a total of 175 dishes at the royal table. Each of the peers’ and peeresses’ tables had 213 dishes. A total of 1445 dishes was served!

What exactly were these dishes? Thanks to Sandford’s meticulous account, we know every single one of them. Here's a sampling of the more interesting or curious foods served to the King and Queen (period spelling preserved):

pistachio cream in glasses
lamb stones
cocks combs, hot
marrow patie
stags tongues
sweet breads
patty pidgeon,  hot
cray fish, cold
bolonia sausages, cold
collops and eggs
frigase chicken, hot
rabbets ragou
oysters pickled
portugal eggs
Dutch beef
mushrooms, hot
hogs tongues
cheese cakes
ciprus birds
tansy, hot
asparagus, hot
ragou of oysters, cold
scallops, cold
3 dozen glasses of Lemon jelly
5 neats tongues, cold
a whole salmon, cold
8 pheasants, cold
9 small pidgeon pyes, cold
24 fat chickens, hot
12 crabs, cold
24 partridges, hot
a dish of tarts
soles marinetted
4 fawns, hot
12 quails
10 oyster pyes, hot
Beef  a la Royal, hot
bacon gammon
three pigs, hot
almond puff
a square pyramide rising from 4 large dishes on the angles and 4 lesser dishes on the sides, containing several fruits in season and all manner of sweet meats
4 dozen egg pyes, cold
A very large circular pyramide in the middle of the table rising from 12 dishes in the circumference, 6 of which were large and the other 6 less, containing several fruits in season and
all manner of sweet meats
6 mullets large souc’d
8 godwits
18 mincd pyes, cold
8 wild ducks marinated, hot
24 puffins, cold
4 dozen of petit paties, hot
5 carps, cold
8 Ortelans
5 partridge pyes
12 lobsters, cold
12 leverets, hot
sturgeon, cold
24 ducklings, larded, hot
8 capons
8 geese 3 larded, hot
soucd’d trout, cold
cabbadge pudding
french beans
trotter pye
taffata tarts
whitings, marinated
3 dozen glasses of bla-mange, cold

After a 5-hour coronation ceremony, the diners must have been starving—but perhaps also too exhausted to do justice to such a feast. And the day's pageantry wasn't yet over.

During the interval between the first and second courses, the King’s Champion, Sir Charles Dymoke, rode into the hall on a “goodly white horse” with attendants. He declared to all present, “If any person, of what degree soever, shall deny or gainsay our Sovereign Lord, King James II . . . here is his Champion, who say that he lieth and is a false Traitor, being ready in person to combat with him.” The champion threw down the gauntlet, and after a respectable pause, it was returned to him by the herald, at which point he and his horse advanced further into the hall, repeating the challenge and throwing the gauntlet once more. And then again. When this spectacle concluded, the second course was served.

By virtue of his title of Baron of the Cinque Port of Sandwich, Samuel Pepys had marched beside the King in the coronation procession. As gourmand and convivial fellow he must have enjoyed the meats and fish served at his table, the first on the east side—and doubtless ate one of the 36 cheesecakes on the board.

At the conclusion of the feast, the amply-fed King and Queen processed out of the hall, with their regalia. The scheduled fireworks display on the River Thames at Whitehall Palace was postponed until the following night, “by the reason of the great fatigue of the day.” And when it did take place, the results were disastrous—a rocket misfired, an explosion ruined the illuminations, boats carrying spectators overturned, many were drowned.  Still more ill-omens clinging to the unfortunate King James II.

Francis Sandford’s book about the coronation day was so exhaustive that it took fully two years to compose and produce. It was not published until 1687, the year before James was denounced by his people and Parliament, de-throned by his son-in-law William of Orange, and sent into exile in France.



Sandford, Francis, The history of the coronation of the most high, most mighty, and most excellent monarch, James II by the grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, defender of the faith, &c. and of his royal consort Queen Mary: solemnized in the collegiate church of St. Peter in the city of Westminster, on Thursday the 23 of April, being the festival of St. George, in the year of our Lord 1685; with an exact account of the several preparations in order thereunto, Their Majesties most splendid processions, and their royal and magnificent feast in Westminster-Hall; the whole work illustrated with sculptures; by His Majesties especial command/ by Francis Sandford Esq; Lancaster herald of arms, The British Library.

Tomalin, Claire, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self.

The Diary of John Evelyn.

Margaret Porter is the award-winning and bestselling author of several historical fiction genres, and is also published in nonfiction and poetry. Various characters in her novel A Pledge of Better Times (April 2015) participate in James II's coronation. Margaret studied British history in the UK and the US. As historian, her areas of speciality are social, theatrical, and garden history of the 17th and 18th centuries, royal courts, and portraiture. A former actress, she gave up the stage and screen to devote herself to fiction writing, travel, and her rose gardens.


  1. Poor James. He created enough troubles for himself—he didn't need the extra ones that weren't even his own fault.

  2. I got heartburn just reading the list! My goodness. The excess is something else. Hope the leftovers were given out to the needy.

  3. Yes, Donna, so do I! I'm certain there was plenty of food left over.

  4. I have the Mary of Modena 1685 Medal up for sale so I wanted to read up on the Coronation............feel more informed now.

    1. So glad this was useful! What a great relic, hope it brings in a packet! Cheers!


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