More on the archbishop’s enthronement feast

Posted: November 18, 2011 in George Nevill, Archbishop of York

From Joannis Lelandi Antiquarii de rebus britannicis collectanea, vol 6, John Leland (nd). Available at Google Books. (You’ll want to type a ‘2’ into the little box to get to the bit I’m going to talk about.)

This is the document that all of those eye-widening, artery-clogging, heart-stopping lists of food consumed at Archbishop Nevill’s enthronement feast come from. And it certainly was a lot of food! I’ve blogged about this before, but there are one or two more things I’d like to say.

Firstly, on the second day of the feast, part of the second course was a Dragon! Slain, single handedly, by the earl of Warwick, one presumes… (A suttletie, apparently, though I’ve never thought ‘subtle’ and ‘dragon’ much belong in the same sentence).

There’s a number of ‘suttleties’ on the menu. There’s a Great custard; Chestons ryall; Chambiet viander; A Dolphin in foyle; a Tart; Leche Damask; Sampion and ‘a suttletie of Saint William, with his coate armour betwixt his hands’.

I found this at enotes: “But a major source of entertainment at a medieval banquet was apt to be culinary in nature, at least in part. This was what was known in England as a subtlety, usually a creation of sugar, marzipan, or pastry depicting one or more birds, beasts, or people, brought out at the end of every course.”

I can’t find reference to a ‘cheston’, at least not culinary. ‘chambiet viander’ is a beautiful, though obscure, googlewhack. A ‘leche’ would appear to be a food that can be sliced, not quite a cake as we know such a thing now, but something heavier and denser, like gingerbread. Not sure what the ‘damask’ here refers to, but it may be a rose flavour. Sampion is a Slovenian soccer club, or the name of a juggling stripper (or a stripping juggler?), but when it comes to food, I am as clueless now as I was before I got sidetracked.

Much has been made of the supposed meat heavy mediaeval diet, but even the Supersizers allowed at least a glimpse of a vegetable or two! There’s fruit in various forms on the menus of the archbishop’s feast. Quinces are mentioned explicitly in the list of courses, but not in the list of food. A shopping list and menus would have been required for the meat &c, but when it came to fruit and vegetables, they would have been procured as and how they could. It’s been a long time since I lived in Scotland with my father’s massive vegetable garden, so I’ve forgotten what’s available for harvest in September – lots I should imagine. Whatever was would have been found and used.

Just before I move on from the food to the real reasons I’m blogging this, I’d like to say a couple of things about the document itself. It’s undated. The original (and from what I can gather, only copy) is in the Bodleian. Clearly printed and I’d say significantly postdating the feast itself, it was probably a copy of an older handwritten record. There’s no reason to doubt the authenticity of the information it contains.

A lot of writers of HF seem to want to backdate two crucial turning points in the Wars of the Roses and the years immediately preceding. They want to push the York, Salisbury, Warwick alliance back in time, having a character express surprise or disapproval that Salisbury and his son stood with the king at Dartford, not with the duke of York. There was no alliance then. I’m not even sure if there was one during York’s first protectorate, not a permanent, all-or-nothing alliance, anyway. I don’t think it was cemented until after the three left London late 1454, early 1455, almost on the road to the first battle of St Albans.

The second thing that’s often pushed back in time is the falling out between Warwick and Edward IV. Warwick wasn’t pleased with Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Wydeville, certainly, but in 1465 any cracks that might be starting to appear were tiny. Add this erroneous perception to the perception that Warwick used his wealth in a game of one-upmanship with Edward and you end up with an enthronement feast that was deliberately extravagant and deliberately provocative. As to the first, take a quick look at this: The Inthronization of William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury. (You’ll need to skip to page 21.) Being enthroned as an archbishop was a big thing. There were only two of them, after all! If there’s a comparison to be made with Edward’s coronation, then it’s a natural comparison. This was the biggest deal the church in England provided. Only two things were bigger and you had to go to Rome for those – poor George fell (was pushed over?) at the first hurdle! Had he been given a cardinal’s hat, I think he’d probably have taken a tilt at the papacy, just for the hell of it. This feast is extravagant if it’s placed in the category ‘feasts’. It’s not when placed in the subcategory ‘feasts celebrating really really big things’.

Edward didn’t attend the feast. I don’t think this was because he was snubbing the Nevills. I think it was more to do with him not wanting to get in the way, so to speak. With a king in attendance, there’d be someone with precedence over George. And George was the most important person there.

The document (called simply Out of an Old Roll) includes lists of who sat where. At the high table sat the archbishop, several bishops, the duke of Suffolk and the earls of Oxford and Worcester. Suffolk was the king’s brother-in-law. Oxford was the husband of George’s sister, Margaret, and Worcester had once been married to another sister, Cecily.

The Duchess of Suffolk (Edward IV’s sister) is at table with the Countess of Northumberland (Isobel Ingoldisthorpe), the duke of Gloucester (Edward IV’s brother) and Isobel and Anne Nevill. Clarence isn’t mentioned in this document, but I haven’t come across a secondary source that omits him. They usually put him at this table with his brother and sister.

Also missing from this list, and not mentioned in any of the sources I’ve read, is Anne, duchess of Exeter. I doubt she’d have been omitted on purpose. Perhaps she was indisposed. I don’t know when Anne and Thomas St Leger became lovers, but there are hints that it was some considerable time before her divorce and their marriage. If they were together in 1465, maybe Anne felt she couldn’t attend the feast if her Thomas couldn’t. I have no idea! Just letting my thoughts carry me down a probably erroneous path…

Margaret of York isn’t on the list either. Quite possibly, the king thought his brothers, sister Elizabeth, duchess of Suffolk, and brother-in-law were sufficient representatives of the royal family.

Three of George’s sisters were in attendance, with their husbands – Alice (lady Fitzhugh), Katheryn (lady Hastings) and Margaret (the countess of Oxford). Alianor wasn’t there, though her husband, Thomas lord Stanley was. I don’t have birthdates for her children, but imminent childbirth may have kept her at home. Alice would seem to have had her last child in 1465 and it’s doubtful that she’d travel if heavily pregnant, so at a guess, I’d say her daughter Elizabeth was safe at home in the Ravensworth nursery. The Hastingses had their first child in 1464/5, and again I’d hazard a guess that that child (a son, Richard) was already born before September. Maud Stanhope, Lady Willoughby, Thomas Nevill’s widow and already three or so years into her third marriage, didn’t attend, though her stepdaughter’s husband did.

Also in attendance were “Threscore and nyne worshipfull Esquires, wearyng the kynges lyvery”.

Two of the officers of the feast were closely connected with the King – Hastings and the sergeant of the king’s ewery (not named). A one-in-the-eye feast thrown by a man in the throes of falling out with his king, doesn’t get the king’s brothers, sister, brother-in-law, best friend, high ranking servant and 69 livery men as guests and/or officers. None of these would have been in attendance had Edward even hinted that he wasn’t happy about it all.

The other thing I found interesting and wanted to share was the very real role played at the feast by the officers listed, with one exception.

  • Warwick was steward
  • John Nevill was treasurer
  • William Hastings was comptroller (George, Warwick and John’s brother-in-law)
  • Lord Willoughby (Maud Stanhope’s stepson-in-law) was carver
  • Lord John of Buckingham was cupbearer
  • Richard Strangeways was sewer
  • Walter Worley was marshall
  • John Malybery (who I can’t identify) was panter
  • the sergeant of the king’s ewery was ewerer
  • Greystoke and Nevill (not sure which one) were keepers of the cupboard
  • John Brechnock (sp?) was surveyor in the hall

Apert from John, who got to sit down – presumably his job of doling out the dosh well over – none of these men are listed at any of the tables in the hall or any of the chambers. They were working, doing the real jobs of real stewards, carvers, cupbearers &c. They weren’t play acting, this was no Misrule feast. Warwick didn’t just bankroll his brother’s enthronement celebrations, he ran them. As steward, he oversaw the work of the other officers who, in their turn, oversaw the work of the ushers, grooms, cupbearers and waiters.

The more I delve into the lives of the Nevills, and Warwick’s in particular, the more sure I am that I was right to start this blog. He had plenty of faults and failings – they all did – but he is by no means the one dimensional, arrogant, extravagant, foul tempered villain as portrayed in a lot of historical fiction – and, indeed, in many works of scholarly non-fiction. There was a lot more to his brother’s enthronement feast, for instance, than outdoing the king with heedless wasteful extravagance. It was a demonstration of his pride in George’s elevation. A feast such as this was expected, and Warwick was the one who could afford to pay for it. One day, I’d like to read “How generous and kind of Warwick to do that for his brother!” in some book or other. It would make a refreshing change.

  1. Susan Higginbotham says:

    Great post. (I wonder if Isobel Ingoldisthorpe did her sexy dance?)

  2. anevillfeast says:

    Thanks, Susan! (With Hastings around??)

  3. anevillfeast says:

    Brain freeze! Has been thawed. I wonder who noticed?

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