Christmas under Henry VII, complete with “foot sheets”. . .!
I was browsing, and came upon the following interesting details about how Henry VII celebrated Christmas and Twelfth Night. It is from Christmas: Its Origin and Associations by William Francis Dawson, which I found in Google Books.
The following extract has been tweaked a little by me, to create more paragraphs and thus make it more legible. Huge paragraphs can become a strain to follow. In my opinion, anyway. The illustrations are my additions. Here goes. . .with my comments at the end:-
. . . Christmases . . . “were kept by Henry VII. at Westminster Hall with great hospitality, the King wearing his crown, and feasting numerous guests, loading the banquet-table with peacocks, swans, herons, conger, sturgeon, brawn, and all the delicacies of the period.
At his ninth Christmas festival the Mayor and Aldermen of London were feasted with great splendour in the great hall, the King showing them various sports on the night following in the great hall, which was richly hung with tapestry: ‘which sports being ended in the morning, the king, queen, and court sat down at a table of stone, to 120 dishes, placed by as many knights and esquires, while the Mayor was served with twenty-four dishes and abundance of wine.
And finally the King and Queen being conveyed with great lights into the palace, the Mayor, with his company in barges, returned to London by break of the next day.
“From the ancient records of the Royal Household it appears that on the morning of New Year’s Day, the King ‘sitting in his foot-sheet’, received according to prescribed ceremony a new year’s gift from the queen, duly rewarding the various officers and messengers, according to their rank. The Queen also ‘sat in her foot-sheet’, and received gifts in the same manner, paying a less reward.
“And on this day, as well as on Christmas Day, the King wore his kirtle, his surcoat and his pane of arms; and he walked, having his hat of estate on his head, his sword borne before him, with the chamberlain, steward, treasurer, comptroller, preceding the sword and the ushers; before whom must walk all the other lords except those who wore robes, who must follow the king. The highest nobleman in rank, or the King’s brother, if present, to lead the Queen; another of the King’s brothers, or else the Prince, to walk with the King’s train-bearer.
“On Twelfth Day the King was to go ‘crowned, in his royal robes, kirtle, and surcoat, his furred hood about his neck, and his ermines upon his arms, of gold set full of rich stones with balasses, sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and pearls’. This ornament was considered so sacred , that ‘no temporal man’ (none of the laity) but the King was to presume to touch it; an esquire of the body was to bring it in a fair handkerchief, and the King was to put it on with his own hands; he must also have his sceptre in his right hand, the ball with cross in his left hand, and must offer at the altar gold, silver, and incense, which offering the Dean of the Chapel was to send to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and this was to entitle the Dean to the next vacant benefice. The King was to change his mantle when going to mean, ansd to take off his hood and lay it about his neck, ‘clasping it before with a rich owche [brooch].’
“The King and queen on Twelfth Night were to take the void (evening repast) in the hall; as for the wassail, the steward and treasurer were to go for it, bearing their staves; the chapel choir to stand on the side of the hall, and when the steward entered at the hall door, he was to cry three times, ‘Wassail! Wassail! Wassail!’ and the chapel to answer with a good song; and when all was done the King and queen retired to their chamber.
“Among the special features of the banquets of this period with the devices for the table called subtleties, made of paste, jelly or blanc-mange, placed in the middle of the board, with labels describing them; various shapes of animals were frequent; and on a saint’s day, angels, prophets, and patriarchs were set upon the table in plenty.
“Certain dishes were also directed as proper for different degrees of persons; as ‘conies parboiled, or else rabbits, for they are better for a lord’; and ‘for a great lord take squirrels, for they are better than conies’; a whole chicken for a lord; and ‘seven mackerel in a dish, with a dragge of fine sugar’, was also a dish for a lord.
“But the most famous dish was ‘the peacock enkakyll, which is foremost in the procession to the king’s table’. Here is the recipe for this royal dish: Take and flay off the skin with the feathers, tail, and the neck and head thereon; then take the skin, and all the feathers, and lay it on the table abroad, and strew thereon ground cinnamon; then take the peacock and roast him, and baste him with raw yolks of eggs; and when he is roasted, take him off, and let him cool awhile, and take him and sew him in his skin, and gild his comb, and so serve him with the last course.”
Me: It all sounds very grand. . .and incredibly stilted. Can they really have enjoyed the occasion? All those rules of precedence, etc. I can only suppose that Richard III must have endured the same?
And speaking of Richard, what, exactly, were the ermines that adorned Henry’s arms? They had to be basically fur, I suppose, and laden with so many jewels they must have felt heavy. Were they made especially for Henry? Or were they among the “crown jewels”, and therefore had been worn by Richard before him, and Edward IV, etc. I have never heard of ermine being donned separately on the arm. Maybe it was a Tudor innovation, to emphasise Henry’s right to the throne. Well, the right he usurped. My lack of knowledge does not mean much, for I am constantly faced with new things of which I have never heard before.
The same applies to “foot sheets”. What were they? In modern parlance they appear to be akin to plasters that are applied to the bottom of the feet. Hmm. I cannot imagine that if Henry and Elizabeth wore such items, it would warrant such particular mention. So, what were foot sheets? It was winter, so were they something to ensure the royal feet did not get too cold?
If anyone knows more, pray enlighten me! To learn a little more about medieval Christmases, go to:- https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/medieval-christmas-how-was-it-celebrated/
And finally, I wish you all the compliments of the season!