WHEN GOOD QUEEN BESS CAME TO STAY
By Ron Dale
Of all our monarchs, Queen Elizabeth I, or Good Queen Bess, as she was called by some, enjoyed taking her Court out on holiday from London each summer and visiting her subjects, especially those who were rich enough to feed and entertain her with her vast retinue of courtiers and servants. She is believed to have enjoyed over 25 of these Progresses as they were called (The Progresses & Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth, Vol. II, John Nichols, 1823) and I cannot say that I blame her. Being in London in the summer time in the 16th century was hazardous to health due to the high incidence of disease in the plague season. However I cannot help feeling sorry for her aristocracy who had large homes out of London as she was in the habit of not informing them of her intended visits until a few days before she called on them. Whenever they heard that the Queen had left London in Spring, they trembled in their boots in case a royal messenger arrived at their door. We don’t know exactly what these gentlemen called her then but it certainly would not be Good Queen Bess. She always took with her a large number of attendants and servants and all had to be housed and fed. The Queen did not just need feeding as she also expected entertaining with hired actors putting on a play and musicians and dancers provided. She also enjoyed a hunt, and all this took time to organize. Additionally few houses had sufficient cutlery and napery to cater for dozens of visitors and that is not considering the vast amounts of food and drink they consumed.
Queen Elizabeth considered she was bestowing a great honour on her hosts by visiting them and even though they dreaded her visits and the high cost to their pocket, they had to appear thankful that the Queen had condescended to visit. The food cost alone could be damaging, as for example at Gunnersbury House in 1577 the host had to pay nearly £600 for the food and drink consumed. And the Queen expected good service and was always ready to complain if she did not receive it. The following is a standard menu used by the Queen for just two of the three daily meals at her Court:
BREAKFAST: Ale, Beer, Wine. Mutton for the Pot, Long Bones, Loose Bones, Short Bones, Connys (Rabbits) Chines of Beef, Butter, Chines of Mutton.
2nd course: Lamb or Kid, Herons or Pheasants, Chickens, Pigeons, Larks, Eggs, Tarts, Butter, Fritters (SUPPER consisted of a similar selection of meats.
DINNER ON FISH DAY: 1st course: Ling, Pike, Salmon, Haddock or Plaice, Gurnard, Tench. 2nd course: Conger, Eels, Lampreys, Crevis (?) Tarts, Butter, Eggs.
Sometimes if the right food was not available the host had to send men across the Channel to Flanders to buy provisions such as sea fish if they were not available in England. Also they had to be very careful not to offend Her Majesty by signs of Catholicism. In one house she spotted an image of Our Lady and two weeks later the poor man was imprisoned and charged with being a Catholic after laying out a vast amount to feed the Queen’s retinue.
ITINERARY OF QUEEN ELIZABETH I PROGRESS 1571
Gunnersbury, Hendon (Edward Herbert), Hatfield House August 15-
Queen Elizabeth was again at Stanstead Bury on a progress in 1578.