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. ]

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