Resurrecting Richard III

Prix Fixe Menu for Richard III

SEDE1306-menu-mezIn Medieval Europe, social classes largely determined people’s diet. The wealthy enjoyed freshly killed meat and river fish, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables. Cooked dishes were seasoned with valuable spices such as caraway, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger and pepper. Cane sugar, almonds, and dried fruits were commonly used as well. On the other hand, it was hard for the peasants to obtain fresh meat or fish. Most of them ate preserved foods that had been salted or pickled. Both rich and poor consumed a thick soup containing meat, vegetables, or bran. Bread was the staple for all classes.

In this episode, Resurrecting Richard III, we have learned that the isotopes in Richard’s femur bone show that for most of his adult life, he had an average diet for a high status individual in medieval society. But the chemicals in his ribs indicate that Richard was eating an extremely lavish diet when he was King. He was possibly eating pigs and wild fowl fresh water fish, most of which were real delicacies in the late medieval period.

Based on his love of feasting, this is what we think a daily meal in the life of Richard III looked like.

Drink: An entire bottle of Wine (or Two?)
Based on data from the king’s rib, a bone that renews itself every two to five years, researchers said they believe Richard III’s diet increased in opulence in later years, corresponding with a “significant increase in feasting and wine consumption.” That included drinking an estimated full bottle of wine daily for the last three years of his life, the Telegraph reported — meaning Richard III possibly consumed up to three liters of alcohol each day.

A matron shows how to treat wine and conserve it properly. British Library, London. Scanned from Maggie Black's "Den medeltida kokboken", Swedish translation of The Medieval Cookbook

A matron shows how to treat wine and conserve it properly. British Library, London

Appetizer: Assorted Cooked Fruit
All fruit and vegetables were cooked – it was believed that raw fruit and vegetables caused disease.

First Course: Meat Stew (or pottage)
Most medieval meals began with a stew of some sort. For those of the high society, this often included meat. This was accompanied by wheat bread, which was reserved for the governing classes.

A medieval baker with his apprentice. The Bodleian Library, Oxford

A medieval baker with his apprentice. The Bodleian Library, Oxford

Second Course: Roasted swan with Chaudon Sauce
Swans and peafowl were domesticated to some extent, but were only eaten by the social elite, and more praised for their fine appearance as stunning entertainment dishes — known as entremets — than for their meat.

Illustration from an edition of The Decameron, Flanders, 1432

Illustration from an edition of The Decameron, Flanders, 1432

Third Course: Roasted Crane
A long-legged migratory bird, crane was thought to be more easily digestible than peacock. It was often hunted then cooked in an assortment of aromatic spices.

Fourth Course: Salt Whale
“Fish” to the medieval person was also a general name for anything not considered a proper land-living animal, including marine mammals such as whales and porpoises. Also included were the beaver, due to its scaly tail and considerable time spent in water, and barnacle geese, due to the belief that they developed underwater in the form of barnacles. Such foods were also considered appropriate for fast days.

Kitchen with tiled stove

Kitchen with tiled stove

Dessert: An assortment of jellies, custards and fritters
The term “dessert” comes from the Old French desservir, “to clear a table,” literally “to un-serve,” and originated during the Middle Ages. It would typically consist of dragées and mulled wine accompanied by aged cheese, and by the Late Middle Ages could also include fresh fruit covered in sugar, honey or syrup and boiled-down fruit pastes. Sugar, from its first appearance in Europe, was viewed as much as a drug as a sweetener; its long-lived medieval reputation as an exotic luxury encouraged its appearance in elite contexts accompanying meats and other dishes that to modern taste are more naturally savory.