Henry VIII, who ruled England from 1509 until his death in 1547, was known for his voracious appetite. Portraits of Henry show a man almost as wide as he was tall. When he wasn't marrying, divorcing, or beheading his wives (he was on his sixth marriage when he died at age 58), this medieval ruler dined like a glutton.
He enjoyed banquets so much that he extended the kitchen of Hampton Court Palace to fill 55 rooms. The 200 members of the kitchen staff provided meals of up to 14 courses for the 600 people in the king's court. Here are some dishes served at a typical feast.
1. Spit-Roasted Meat
Spit-roasted meat -- usually a pig or boar -- was eaten at every meal. It was an expression of extreme wealth because only the rich could afford fresh meat year-round; only the very rich could afford to roast it, since this required much more fuel than boiling; and only the super wealthy could pay a "spit boy" to turn the spit all day. In a typical year, the royal kitchen served 1,240 oxen, 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 760 calves, 1,870 pigs, and 53 wild boar. That's more than 14,000 large animals, meaning each member of the court was consuming about 23 animals every year.
2. Grilled Beavers' Tails
These tasty morsels were particularly popular on Fridays, when according to Christian tradition, it was forbidden to eat meat. Rather conveniently, medieval people classified beavers as fish.
3. Whale Meat
Another popular dish for Fridays, whale meat was fairly common and cheap, due to the plentiful supply of whales in the North Sea, each of which could feed hundreds of people. It was typically served boiled or very well roasted.
4. Whole Roasted Peacock
This delicacy was served dressed in its own iridescent blue feathers (which were plucked, then replaced after the bird had been cooked), with its beak gilded in gold leaf.
5. Internal Organs
If you're squeamish, stop reading now. Medieval cooks didn't believe in wasting any part of an animal, and in fact, internal organs were often regarded as delicacies. Beef lungs, spleen, and even udders were considered fit for a king and were usually preserved in brine or vinegar.
On the next page, our list of items at a feast of Henry VIII continues with Black Pudding.