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An historical royal banquet, from Earl Grey to grilled beaver tails

John Mulgrew


Cup of tea in a vintage rose cup and saucer with a pulled apart fresh pastry.

Cup of tea in a vintage rose cup and saucer with a pulled apart fresh pastry.

Getty Images

Cup of tea in a vintage rose cup and saucer with a pulled apart fresh pastry.

Royal palates and tastes have certainly evolved since the voracity of the old days of the Tudors and beyond.

Queen Elizabeth’s own proclivities tend to air on the side of the more conservative rather than the same level of extravagance of previous monarchs gone by.

She’s believed to be a fan of Earl Grey tea, fruit, and plans most of her meals in advance. Other food favourites are reported to include kippers, chocolate, game, fish and spinach, and sandwiches for lunch.

It’s also been said she doesn’t eat starchy foods, such as potatoes or pasta, on most occasions, instead opting for fish or chicken with a couple of types of vegetables.

Her late husband Prince Philip had his own interesting eating habits, and was said to insist on bringing his own electric glass-lidded frying pan with him on his travels, so he was able to do the cooking.

And while Elizabeth is reported to have her own culinary particularities — including avoiding garlic or anything with too many onions — you only have to turn back the clock a few centuries to get to some of the more garish and outlandish offerings.

Henry VIII’s appetite was known as an insatiable one. The history books and his portrayal on film and literature over the years often include heaving piles of carcasses, fruit, pies and alcohol.

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And amid some of those cluttered tables were dishes as enticing as grilled beaver tails. I’ve since discovered this is something still eaten in parts of the world.

Apparently, they were popular in Henry’s days on Fridays, when it was forbidden to eat meat (despite it being meat).

And while a plethora of spit-roasted meats were part and parcel of any good meal — from pig to venison — roast swan, egrets and peacocks were among the animals making their way to the table on special occasions.

Whale meat was something else which appeared on the menu from time to time — an item which would likely raise more than a few eyebrows now in 2022.

Some of the other meat variants would have included rabbit, badger, blackbirds and sparrows.

Of course, all of this richness has to get washed down with something. There’s been some speculation as to how much Henry would have spent on booze and each year, in today’s money.

Historians has estimated around 600,000 gallons of ale and 75,000 gallons of wine could have been consumed a year at Hampton Court Palace.

It was reported the alcohol bill could amount to as much as £6m, while meat could have totalled £3.5m.

This type of eating was very much for those within the confines of castles and like, and not for the likes of those outside them.

Grains such as oats and barley were more likely to eaten by others, while wheat was resigned for the governing classes.

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