Monday, March 30, 2015

Subtleties&Stuffe Cavendish's Account I

George Cavendish's Account of Subtleties at Cardinal Wosley's Hampton Court

In anticipation of the U.S. television premiere of Wolf Hall**, based on Hilary Mantel's acclaimed and award winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, the mind has wandered a bit off the topic of sugar boiling and heights of sugar stages to think about subtleties and the court of Henry VIII.

For those into historical cookery and the Tudor Court who don’t already have a copy, I highly recommend purchasing a copy of All the King’s Cooks. The Tudor Kitchens of King Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace by food historian Peter Brears. Originally published in hardback in the 1990s, it’s available now through Amazon in a paperback edition or even for your Kindle. All of Peter Brears’ works are worth reading. His Cooking and Dining in Medieval England won the British Glenfiddich Award for excellence in food and drink books, and the forthcoming Cooking & Dining in Tudor & Early Stuart England (June 2015) is much anticipated.

It turns out Hilary Mantel and Peter Brears used a common historical source that mentions subtleties. This is George Cavendish’s Thomas Wolsey, Late Cardinall, his Lyffe and Deathe. (The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey). Cavendish (1494- c1562) was a gentleman usher of the Cardinal and served in his household. Following the Cardinal's death in 1530, Cavendish refused a position at court and retired to Suffolk. Sometime in the 1550s, he wrote his account of Wolsey's life. His work was circulated in manuscripts for several decades before being published in the mid-seventeenth century. In 1810 and again in 1825, it was re-edited from contemporary manuscripts. (Even to this day, some thirty of these manuscripts survive.) It's been published and included in a number of editions since the nineteenth century and is acclaimed as being the first major English biography.

And it mentions subtleties!

What Cavendish describes at length in one part is a visit to Hampton Court by a corps of French diplomats in 1527. Part of the account reads:

“The purveyors brought and sent in such plenty of costly provision as ye would wonder at the same. The cooks wrought both night and day in divers subtleties and many crafty devices; where lacked neither gold, silver nor any other costly thing meet for the purpose.”

This passage is on page 69. See
[The work may be found online at a variety of sites, including a 1905 edition up at Google Books. Or see also:
Mantel talks about theCavendish's work here:

**Wolf Hall premieres on PBS stations on 5 April 2015. ]

Subtleties&Stuffe Cavendish's Account II

Mentions of Subtleties from George Cavendish's Thomas Wolsey, Late Cardinall, his Lyffe and Deathe


[The visiting diplomats have been hunting and have returned to Hampton Court for a banquet.]

"Now was all things in a readiness and supper time at hand, My lord's officers caused the trumpets to blow to warn to supper and the said officers went right discreetly in due order and conducted these noble personages from their chambers unto the chamber of presence where they should sup. And they, being there, caused them to sit down their service was brought up in such order and abundance, both costly and full of subtleties, with such a pleasant noise of divers instruments of music, that the Frenchmen, as it seemed, were rapt into an heavenly paradise."

"Ye must understand that my lord was not there nor yet but they being merry and pleasant with their fare, devising and wondering upon the subtleties before the second course, my Lord Cardinal came in among them, booted and spurred, all suddenly and bade them proface; at whose coming they have risen and given place with much joy. Whom my lord commanded to sit still, and keep their rooms; and straightway, being not shifted of his riding apparel, called for a chair, sat himself down in the midst of the table, laughing and being as merry as ever I saw him in all my life. Anon came up second course, with so many dishes, subtleties, and curious devices, which were above a hundred in number, of so goodly proportion and costly, that I suppose the Frenchmen never saw like. The wonder was no less than it was worthy in deed."

"There were castles with images in the same; Paul's church and in steeple, proportion for the quantity as well counterfeited as painter should have painted it upon a cloth or wall. There were beasts, birds, fowls of divers kinds, and personages, most lively made and counterfeit in dishes; some fighting, as it were with swords, some with guns and crossbows, some vaulting and leaping; some dancing with ladies, some in complete harness justing with spears, and with many more devices than I am able with my wit to describe. Among all, one I noted: there was a chess board subtilely made of spiced plate, with men to the same; and for the good proportion, because that Frenchmen be very expert in that play, my lord gave the same to a gentleman of France commanding that a case should be made for the same in all haste, to preserve it from perishing in the conveyance thereof into his country. Then my lord took a bowl of gold which was esteemed of the value of five hundred marks, and filled with hypocras, as whereof there was plenty, putting off his cap, said: ‘I drink to the king my sovereign lord and master, and to the king your master’ and therewith drank a good draught. And when he had done, he desired the Grand Master to pledge him cup and all, the which cup he gave him, and so caused all the other lords and gentlemen in other cups to pledge these two royal princes.”

This passage is on page 70-72. See
The work may be found online at a variety of sites, including a 1905 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Subtleties&Stuffe Giles Rose Additional Advice

Additional Advice on Sugar

Giles Rose concludes his section “Le Confiturier Royal: Or, The Royal Confectioner” in the 1682 A Perfect School of Instructions for the Officers of the Mouth with a chapter titled “Here follow some few Necessary Advices to the Reader, concerning all that is already said.” He writes that he knows readers may complain that the given instructions are “not so clear and plain as to be understood by all….” and notes also “without practice, I dare avouch, none shall ever attain to the perfection of what is here to be learn’d.” [p278-279] To the end of making things a bit clearer, includes some additional advice for the Reader. On Sugar he writes:

And first, when I speak of the several boilings of Sugar, for where as I say sometimes you should boil your Sugar a lisse gros, which is great, and sometimes a lisse minu, which is less or not so high, and sometimes a perle gris, and by and by a perle minu, these terms may seem strange and ridiculous, or be counted High Dutch to those that never saw nor tried the Experiment of what is here said; therefore to give you the full explanation of the words, I think it not too hard to conceive, that by the gros or minu, is meant least or most boil’d either in lisse or perle, insomuch that lisse gros is meant most, and minu least boil’d of either lisse or perle, which is in English, to the best of my small judgment, but rough and smooth, for lisse is smooth, and perle is rough; and as for gros and minu, the gros is highest, and minu is not so high, or not so much boil’d; and as concerning the tearms of the boilings to their several heights, as English confectioner may inform you better; as it is out of my Element to do it, therefore I proceed to say,

That when I speak of Sugar boil’d to a Jelly, I say, or at leastwise mean, that which is boil’d with the decoction or juice of fruit; ….[p 279-280] 

Rose then offers additional and practical advice for good success then on a variety of sweets, urging for example that candies be kept in a dry place, and that pastes of fruits are best kept in wooden boxes between papers. “Be careful that your Preserving pan or Skillet be always very clear and clean, and always made of red copper, and made for that purpose, and that your Spoon and Scummer be of the same mettle, or else of Silver, as it very requisite it should be so.” He notes “the weights of France and England are much alike, yet the measures are not…Receipts in French, where it is said a pint only, and I say in English about a quart, it is because the Paris pint is an English quart, within a very little.” He concludes with a note that he has left certain words in the French because there is no English equivalent, including a fruit known as the Ballofine which is unknown in England. [p288]