So, let’s start off with That Feast

Posted: March 19, 2010 in George Nevill, Archbishop of York, Richard Nevill, Earl of Warwick

Welcome to my very first Nevill blog.  I’m currently working on a novel (a Nevill novel) called Nevill (which makes me a Nevillist novellist, hopefuly), and as and when things come up in my research that I find interesting, I’ll share them.

The Great Nevill Feast was held at Cawood Castle near York to celebrate the enthronement of George Nevill as Archbishop of York in September 1465.

It lasted for days and they ate a whole lot of food – I won’t reproduce the list here, but someone took the time and trouble many years ago to jot down a comprehensive inventory of walking, flying, swimming and scuttling creatures all sacrificed to the glory of God (or Nevill, which I’m pretty sure came to the same thing at the time).

And that is more or less all that anyone out there in the interscape knows or cares about.  It is my mission to set this straight.

A couple of vegetarian websites* even use it to suggest that mediaeval households were bereft of vegetables.  This isn’t true.  Even if there were no veggies or fruit on the list, doesn’t mean there were none on the tables.  Most would have come from Nevill farms – and there were plenty of them.  Rather than writing out a shopping list, the chefs and stewards would simply have ordered up everything that was available at the time of year and used whatever arrived in the kitchens.

(*quick disclaimer – I have no beef with vegetarians, we are each entitled to eat what we will (only no-one’s allowed to eat swans anymore except the queen (even sick swans in the Orkneys.)))

A Boke of Gode Cookery certainly contains plenty of fruit and vegetable recipes.

The feast is used again and again in historical fiction to illustrate the excesses of the Nevills.  Ok, so there was some oneupmanship going on here – a point seems to have been made to hold a feast bigger and grander than Edward IV’s coronation feast.  George’s brother, Richard earl of Warwick, was definitely trying to make a point – he had more money than the king.  Actually, he had more money than God, but I’ve found nothing in my research to suggest there was any kind of tension between Warwick and the Almighty.

But it was also very much a family thing.  There were more than two thousand people in attendance and not all of them were related, but a significant number were.  All the important roles were played by either Nevills or their close adherents.

It wasn’t so much of a slap in the face for Edward IV that he prevented his brothers, sisters, brother in law and closest friend from attending.  The king and his siblings were Nevills through their mother, after all, so a family event of this nature and magnitude was always going to include them.  All of Warwick’s surviving sisters were there with their husbands as was their mother’s erstwhile stepmother, the dowager duchess of Suffolk.

Getting back to the list of proteins… (an out of context list can be found here.)

Divide all that by 2000 people, then divide by a further 6 days – possibly 7 (some days there would have been 2 meals, others probably only one) and you get a far more manageable amount of food.  Ok, so everyone got 2 rabbits, half a sheep and a goose, but only one third of a fish, a quarter of a partridge and 1 hot custard.  Begins to sound a little less excessive and a bit more like generous hospitality.

All leftovers would have been put into alms vessels and distributed.

And, as I said, the man had more money than anyone in the known universe – all he was doing was funneling it back into the economy…

What would you do if your brother was enthroned as Archbishop of York?  A congratulatory twitter would probably be a bit mean spirited – the least you could do is shout him dinner at the local Chinese.

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