Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A Visit to the Georgian Court at Hampton Court Palace

The Georgians have arrived!
It is nearly 300 years since an obscure German prince, acceded to the English throne. As part of a raft of events to celebrate the start of this fascinating period in history, the clever people at Hampton Court Palace, have re-created what it was like to visit the Georgian court. 

I was thrilled to be invited by the Historic Royal Palaces (the guardians of HCP) to preview the rooms, before they open to the public this Easter weekend. Within the Georgian court there were too many interesting stories to cover in one post, so let me start this week, with a tour of the rooms.

Let's pretend you are a wealthy aristocrat, seeking to petition the King on a matter of personal importance. King George is in residence at Hampton Court Palace, so that's where you must go. As part of the court circle you are allowed into the palace, but where is the king? You are told he is in the Queen's Royal Apartments, so off you go to seek an audience. 
The Georgians, it seems, had a sense of humour.
A smiling yeoman guard ornaments the fireplace in the
Queen's Guard Chamber.
Note the 'GR' on his livery.
The portal to the royal apartments is the Queen's Guard Chamber. You knock on the door and because of your wealth and status, the Yeoman Guard allow you admittance. You enter a large room, filled with courtiers who all have the same goal, of seeing the king. 
The fireplace in the Queen's Guard Chamber
Fortunately, you are selected to pass deeper into the apartments and are escorted into the Queen's Presence Chamber. This is another large room, this time lined with impressive portraits, including one of King George in his coronation gown, a strong reminder of his sovereign power. 
The Queen's Presence Chamber
You have arrived a short time before the king dines in public, and so you are escorted through the Dining Room. The table is set for one person - the King- and the barriers already erected to keep those watching him eat, at a distance from the royal person. 
The Dining Room - set for one - the King!
You are ushered through the dining area into the inner Privy Chambers. The room is packed with courtiers dressed in their finest clothes. The decor is spectacular, the paintings on the ceiling and walls designed to emphasise the new king's legitimate claim to the throne, and reinforce his stately power.

The Privy Chamber - the King would receive petitioners whilst seated
in one of the chairs to the left of the picture.
However, your petition is of a more personal nature and so you are one of the favoured few who transit into the Drawing Room. This is a more intimate place, where the royal family can relax and play cards, or gamble, with their favourite courtiers. 
The Drawing Room - set with tables at which guests could play
card games
But today, the King is not in the Drawing Room, but next door in the State Bedchamber. This is where the monarch, whilst he is being ritually dressed, receives visitors and starts the business of the day.
The State Bedchamber -
The bed is hung with original drapery
But you are sent beyond the State Bedchamber, into the private rooms and beyond into the Gallery.On wet days, should the King wish to exercise, he can promenade, or play sports, in this long gallery. You catch up with the King here, and he is in a generous mood, and suggests you speak to one of his retinue who can be found in the private chambers. 
The Gallery - a lovely place to promenade and take exercise on a wet day.
Your mission continues as you visit the room belonging to the Women of the Queen's Bedchamber,  and pass on into the Queen's Bedchamber itself. Since King George's wife is absent (that's a whole new story) pass through and into her Dressing Room, then into her private Oratory
The Queen's Private Bedchamber -
where she sought a little privacy.
Hey ho, the man you needed to speak to is not there, so you are escorted back out into the corridor, and find  you have travelled full circle.
Next door to the Queen's Bedchamber is the room where she
takes her bath.. 
Hey ho! It seems you have had a wasted trip, but at least you saw the sights on the way round.
If you would like to visit the Georgian Chambers at Hampton Court Palace - just click the links.

Next week: Dining: Henry VIII vs George I

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Mary, Queen of Scots, and her Dogs

Mary, Queen of Scots
Mary, Queen of Scots, was born in 1542, during the reign of King Henry VIII. She led a turbulent life of which the most constant factor was her loves of dogs, specifically Maltese terriers. These small, white dogs were her constant companions from infancy to the scaffold and this is their story.
As a 5 year old child, Mary was betrothed to French dauphin, Francis, and sent to live with him abroad. Uprooted, disorientated, and unable to speak French, Mary would only talk to her Scottish governess or one of the twenty-two dogs at Francis’s court. Mary confided in those dogs, a collection of pugs, spaniels and Maltese terriers, and in turn, Francis used them to teach his bride the French language. Her early love of dogs was established.
Francis, with Mary. King and Queen of France.
When she was just 18, Francis died, leaving Mary a widow in a foreign country. Devastated by the loss of the husband she had grown to love, she returned to Scotland to reclaim her throne.  She took with her some of her favorite Maltese dogs. 
But things were very different from when she left as a child. Scotland had become a Protestant country, and Mary was a devote Catholic. Queen Elizabeth I sat on the English throne and was deeply suspicious of her cousin, Mary’s motives. Added to that Mary unwisely married another Tudor, her cousin, Lord Darnley, which put further pressure on Elizabeth to recognize Mary as successor to the English throne.
Mary and Darnley
Darnley, however, turned out to be a brute, and Mary feared for her life. When he died under suspicious circumstances the finger was pointed at Mary and her lover, the Earl of Bothwell. This murder enraged the Scottish nobility and population in general, and Mary was forced to abdicate in favor of her baby son with Darnley, James (later James I of England).
Mary eventually fled over the border to seek the protection of her English cousin, Elizabeth. But Queen Elizabeth could not ignore the scandal dogging Mary’s heels and imprisoned her. It was politically expedient to keep the former queen safely under lock and key, and for 18 years Elizabeth kept Mary a prisoner.
A Maltese Terrier
Whilst in prison, Mary was not allowed contact with friends or relatives, for fear of her plotting against the queen. Her only companions and source of comfort were her Maltese lapdogs. Her jailor, Bess of Hardwick, reported her charge spending hours talking to these dogs; about her estranged son, James, and religion. Mary even sent a portrait of one of her favorite dogs to James – but the picture was intercepted and never reached him.
Things went from bad to worse for Mary, when she was charged with being an accomplice in the 1586 plot to murder Queen Elizabeth, (Mary would have been next in line for the throne.) Mary was moved to Fotheringhay Castle and brought to trial. She was found guilty and sentenced to death by beheading. Fotheringhay was a damp, dark, miserable place and her only comfort were her lapdogs – after she appealed directly to Elizabeth in order to keep them with her.
Mary walking to the scaffold.
As Mary took her final walk to the scaffold, she moved slowly in order to keep pace with a small white dog concealed beneath her skirts and petticoats. No one realized the dog was there, until after Mary’s death when the executioner, Mr Bull, was removing the body. The dog refused to leave the corpse and had to be forcibly removed, where upon he ran back and settled between the severed head and shoulders.
Mr Bull had orders to wash or burn anything that was soiled with Mary’s blood, “for fear someone might dip a piece of linen in it…who keep it as a relic of this act [execution], to incite to vengeance those concerned for the death of the dead person.”

The white dog was now covered in blood, but Mr Bull acted kindly and had him washed clean. The dog was then given to a French princess, on the condition that he left the country.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Guest Author, Regan Walker : The Ship's Cat

The Ship’s Cat
by Regan Walker

What’s a ship without a ship’s cat, right? So, of course, my latest Regency WIND RAVEN, a pirate adventure set on a schooner (and other places) in 1817, had to have a cat. And it had to be a special cat.

It probably seems fundamental that a cat could be, and was, a valued member of the crew, particularly for ridding a ship of mice and rats. In addition to cats, sailors in the 18th and 19th centuries kept a plethora of animals as pets, anything they took a fancy to and could buy in any foreign port they happened to visit. No doubt such pets offered the seamen who were away from their homes for long periods a companionship the longed for. Of course, some of these pets ended up dying from lack of their normal diets, but that didn't stop the sailors from bringing them aboard. And there were other problems. Back then, no one spayed or neutered cats so a female cat might produce a litter from a shore leave liaison. Then, too, a shipboard tomcat would be inclined to spray urine, which probably added to the general scent belowdecks. That is one reason the cat in my story is a female!

Cats being cats, there were probably ship's cats that were aloof and half-feral, and then there were other ship's cats that were social lap-cats. The cat in WIND RAVEN is somewhere in between. Named “Dutch Sam’ for the English boxer Samuel Elias, who died the year before my story begins, and who was known as having the deadliest fists of any boxer in London, my ship’s cat has two huge white paws (with extra toes, don’t you know!). The crew of the Wind Raven thought it a fitting tribute to name their unusual after the boxer they revered.

Did you know that sailors believed that cats had an influence on the weather? Some believed these cats could start storms through magic stored in their tails. If a ship's cat fell or was thrown overboard, it was thought that it would summon a terrible storm to sink the ship and that if the ship was able to survive, it would be cursed with nine years of bad luck. Other beliefs included: if a cat licked its fur against the grain, it meant a hailstorm was coming; if it sneezed it meant rain; and if it was frisky it meant wind. Some of these beliefs are rooted in reality. Cats are able to detect slight changes in the weather as a result of their very sensitive inner ears, the same characteristic that allows them to land upright when falling. Low atmospheric pressure, a common precursor of stormy weather, often makes cats nervous and restless.

Traditionally the ship's cat was allowed to come and go at will when the ship was in port. If the cat was not aboard when the ship sailed, it might be there the next time the ship was back in port. After all, there are always plenty of rodents and garbage along the waterfront for the cats to survive in between ships. For an independent cat like Dutch Sam, the arrangement was perfect, and she promptly attached herself to the Captain Nicholas Powell, the hero in my story, following him back to his ship when it was in port in St. Thomas. Of course, during the story, her attachment to the heroine grows and she begins to take naps in the heroine’s cabin.

There are many famous ship’s cats, but perhaps my favorite is Blackie and that’s because of the man he impressed enough to set aside the cares of a world war to greet him. A man who impressed me enough to name my son after him. Blackie was the ship’s cat on the HMS Prince of Wales during the Second World War when the ship carried Prime Minister Winston Churchill across the Atlantic to Newfoundland in 1941, where he secretly met with the American President. As Churchill prepared to step off the Prince of Wales, Blackie (obviously recognizing a man worthy of his attention) approached Churchill. And, Churchill (obviously recognizing a discerning cat) stooped to bid the cat farewell. The moment was captured on camera and reported around the world.

In honor of the encounter, Blackie’s name was changed to “Churchill.’ Churchill was known to love cats and kept a succession of them at Chartwell, his home. His best-known cat during the war years was a big gray cat named “Nelson’ after England’s famous admiral. How wonderful is that?
Click for link
 Ordered by the Prince Regent into the Caribbean, English sea captain and former privateer Jean Nicholas Powell has no time for women onboard the Wind Raven, especially not Tara McConnell. The impudent American forced herself aboard, and so she’ll get more than she bargained for: Instead of a direct sail to Baltimore, she’ll join their quest to investigate a rampaging pirate, the infamous Roberto Cofresi.
But the hoyden thinks she can crew with his men, and though he bans her from the rigging, Nick is captivated watching her lithe, luscious movements on deck. Facing high seas, storms, cutthroats and the endless unknown, he must protect his ship, his passenger, his crew. But on this voyage, with this woman, there is a greater danger: to his heart.

Excerpt – WIND RAVEN – The Storm begins

“You wished to speak to me, Captain?” Tara tried to remain calm, but being alone with the man who had kissed her twice was, to say the least, disconcerting. She tried not to look at his bed. He leaned against his desk, crossing one booted foot over the other. The sight of his black hair tousled by the wind and his golden eyes framed by his dark eyebrows scattered her thoughts.

“I want you below decks and in your cabin when the storm hits, Miss McConnell. You might even want to tie yourself to the bed so you’re not tossed to the deck. It’s going to be rough.”

“This isn’t my first storm, Captain.” Surely the man must know by now that she could pull her own weight with the crew.

“Perhaps not, but it’s your first storm aboard my ship, and I’ll not be taking any chances with your safety. Is that clear?”

“Perfectly.” He was staring at her as if he wanted to say something more but then shrugged and pushed away from his desk. A sudden lurch of the ship brought her careening into his chest. He steadied her with his hands on her upper arms and, for a moment, stared into her eyes, then at her lips.

Instead of letting her go, he drew her more tightly against his chest, his golden eyes boring into hers. “I don’t seem to be able to resist you this close, Miss McConnell.” She felt the heat between them as he bent his head and kissed her, a kiss as fierce as the storm she knew was fast approaching. Her body seemed to come alive as his arms held her. His lips lifted from hers.

“I wish I had time to show you more, but right now my ship requires my attention.” He set her away from him and, reaching for a chart from his desk, swept up the rolled document and strode from the cabin as if the ship wasn’t rolling beneath his feet.

Tara gripped the edge of his desk to steady herself, and not just because of the swells that had the ship constantly dipping and lunging. Damn the unmitigated gall of the man! What made him think he could kiss her whenever he wanted? More troublesome still, why had she let him?

Wind Raven - Amazon

You can find out more about Regan and her wonderful books here:
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Twitter: @RegansReview (

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Florence Nightingale and a Dog Called Cap

How did a sheepdog influence Florence Nightingale’s career?
Florence Nightingale as a young woman
Born in 1820, Florence Nightingale was an extraordinary woman who defied her parents’ wishes and became a nurse. Her work overseeing disease control and hygiene in hospitals was ground-breaking and laid the foundations of modern nursing.  Amongst the soldiers she cared for during the Crimean War she became affectionately known as ‘the Lady of the Lamp.’ After the war, Florence returned to England and established a school of nursing at St. Thomas’ Hospital, London. Such were her contributions to medicine that in 1907 she was awarded the British Order of Merit – the first woman to be so honoured.  Yet all this may not have happened had it not been for a chance meeting with a sheepdog.
Florence doing ward rounds at night.
The Lady of the Lamp
Florence came from a well to do family with homes in both Derbyshire and London. She lived at a time when women from wealthy families were expected marry and have children, and most certainly not work for a living. However, an encounter with a sheepdog called Cap, triggered a series of events that led to Florence defying convention.
Portrait of Florence Nightingale - approx 1854
When Florence was 17 she went for an afternoon ride with a clergyman companion, in the countryside near Matlock, Derbyshire. Florence liked dogs and often stopped at the cottage of a local farmer to fuss his sheepdog, Cap. However, on this occasion Florence discovered all was not well.

Earlier in the day Cap had been asleep on the cottage doorstep when some young lads happened past. For whatever reason, heaven only knows why, they threw stones at the dog. One rock hit his front leg and hurt the dog such that he couldn’t walk on the leg. The farmer, Roger, was a poor man and whilst he needed a working dog he could not afford to feed a pet. Florence was horrified to learn that Roger assumed the leg was broken and intended, later in the day, to put Cap out of his pain and hang him.

Florence’s companion convinced the farmer to let him examine the dog’s leg. He realized that instead of the bone being broken it was severely bruised. The clergyman instructed Florence on how to apply a poultice and bandage the limb, and she convinced Roger to let her return the next to change the dressing.
Happily, just two days later Florence encountered Roger and his flock on a hill, with an excited and only slightly lame Cap at his side. This was the first patient Florence nursed back to health. The following night she had a dream in which she believed God was calling her to devote her life to healing the sick. This became her life’s mission – even if it was nearly a decade before she realized that dream and trained as a nurse.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

King James I - Dogs, Hunting and the Nation's Discontent

Much has been written about the English Civil War and ordinary people rising up against the monarchy. King Charles I believed in his divine right to rule and his unilateral power to set religious practices for his kingdom. But it is Charles’ father, King James I who is the subject of today’s blog post. The reason? James’ attitude to dogs and hunting shows how out of touch the monarch was with his subjects and how the seeds of rebellion were sown.
Medieval hunts were confined to royal estates or private land
Prior to James I hunting was a well regulated pastime. The hunt took place in a royal park or on land owned by a nobleman. The huntsmen stood on wooden platforms or ‘pavilions’ and beaters forced animals forced through a narrow channel for hunters to shoot. Whatever the ethics of this activity the effect on local farming was minimal and the nobleman who arranged the hunt bore the expense.
However, with James I’s accession to the throne all this changed.
King James I- physically unprepossessing he liked
the presence that being in the saddle gave him.
James asserted, as William the Conqueror had, “a royal prerogative” to hunt. To this end it was expected all the subjects of his realm, from noblemen to peasants, would facilitate this sport. In practice this meant he was free to roam across any land he wished – and do tremendous damage in the process.
James wanted to hunt in the French style – which involved mounted huntsmen tearing across the countryside on horses. To this end he imported French hounds and fifty red deer from a forest in Fontainebleau. James’ detractors went so far as to say he spent his life in the saddle and in common with many country squires, hunting was all he seemed to care about.
“Does all go well with you? In all your letters I find not one word of horse, hawk or hound?”
Letter to James I
The royal hunt was allowed to ride over any land it desired.
In keeping with the French way of hunting with James placing restrictions on land owners and farmers. If the hunt was to pass their way he forbade the ploughing of land (furrows being a hazard to galloping horses) and ordered pigs to be confined (so their rooting didn’t create dangerous holes) Worse still, locals were commanded to take down any fences, walls or hedges that might obstruct His Majesty’s ride.
During the hunt itself mounted huntsmen and packs of hounds caused considerable damage – often trampling crops, damaging fences, destroying gardens and scattering flocks or herds of animals. But the disruption didn’t end there. Local common folk were ordered to provide workers to assist the hunt, taking them away from their work – if it was harvest time.
No thought was given to the damage to crops, livestock or land
In addition, a farmer was expected to provide food and fodder for all the royal party – which could easily amount to a hundred or so people. Attempts to appeal to the king to recoup their expenses fell on deaf ears. Indeed, during one hunt, a local hit on an ingenious way of getting the king’s attention – by kidnapping his favorite dog, Jowler.
Jowler went missing and reappeared later with a message tied to his collar which read:
“Good Mr Jowler, we pray you speak to the King, for he hears you every day, and he does not hear us. Ask that His Majesty be pleased to go back to London, or else this countryside will be undone. All our provisions are used up already and we are not able to entertain him any longer.”
Instead of taking note, James laughed the matter off and carried on hunting.
Farmers were expected to give the royal hunt free access to fields -
and might have his own dogs confiscated by way of thanks.
To add insult, the manner in which James acquired his hounds also caused distress. In 1616 he commissioned Henry Mynours, Master of the Otterhounds, to:
“Take for us and in our name [The King] in all places within this realm of England…such and so many hounds, beagles, spaniels and mongrels, as well as dogs and bitches fit for hunting the otter as the said Henry Mynours shall think fit.”
For an animal loving nation this was a step too far – especially as James seized some pet dogs to take part in another ‘sport’ he supported – bull and bear-baiting. To ensure there was no argument James appointed Edward Alleyn as “Chief master, ruler and overseer of all and singular games, of bears and bulls and mastiff dogs and mastiff bitches”. This gave Alleyn unlimited authority to seize whatever dogs he saw fit in order to send them into the ring.
Charles I - son of James I - following in his father's footsteps
People began to rebel. The officials whose job it was to enforce the dog levies, were increasingly opposed, some were even attacked and beaten. The local magistrates who were supposed to sentence the offenders, refused to put them on trial – the common man had had enough.
Another faction started to voice their discontent – that of the Puritans. They believed hunting was a sin. They referred James to the Old Testament and how God condemned King Nimrod – described as a mighty hunter. The Puritans argued that animals were provided by God for sustenance and to improve the world, and not to be treated cruelly and abused. As a concession to public pressure, James prohibited animal baiting on Sundays – but nothing else changed.

This brings us to Charles I and the English Civil War. When James I died and his son, Charles, acceded to the throne, just as his father before him Charles was inflexible when it came to matters of popular opinion. He believed in his divine right to rule as he saw fit and upheld unpopular policies such as dog confiscation that went to fuel the nation’s negative feelings and resentment toward the monarchy…

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Samuel Pepys : Drunk and Disorderly?

Thence Jenings and I into London (it being through heat of the sun a great thaw and dirty) to show our bills of return, and coming back drank a pint of wine at the Star in Cheapside.
Samuel Pepys diary.
Samuel Pepys, famed diarist -
recording everyday life in the second half of the 17th century.
When Pepys casually mentions drinking a pint of wine in the same sentence as the thaw and the pub, it makes me smile. Apparently, Pepys didn't think imbibing such a quantity of alcohol was anything out of the ordinary, which arguably it wasn't.

In the modern age the majority of people reading this post will have access to clean, sanitised drinking water - but this wasn't the case in the 17th century world. Although germ theory (disease is caused by micro-organisms) wasn't discovered until the late 19th century, instinct must have warned people that drinking dirty water led to awful stomach upsets. As such, alcohol was consumed more widely, by everyone from children and servants, to labourers and royalty, and perceived as being safer to drink than water.
Cheapside in Victorian times - a couple of centuries after Pepys' day
Even though people didn't understand why, they perhaps recognised the result that the brewing process made water safer to drink.  Of course we now know that boiling water, fermenting and the alcohol itself have disinfectant properties on some water-borne bugs.

Was the Population Permanently Drunk?
However, 17th century alcohol wasn't as strong as the modern equivalent. One reason for this was that the yeasts weren't as hardy as our modern varieties, and less tolerant of the alcohol produced during fermentation. This meant that the brews were naturally limited in strength, because once they reached a certain level of alcohol, the yeast died and the process stopped. Incidentally, these yeasts made for a cloudy drink, rather than the clear ales and wines of today, but the cloudiness was disguised by metal tankards or frosted glass.

As an aside, the small beer or wine produced was much sweeter than modern brews. Again, this was because the yeast died before all the sugar was converted to alcohol. Also, it is interesting to reflect that grain stores were vulnerable to spoilage by rodents -so the safest way to protect your harvest was to convert it to beer, which preserved the sugar and calorie content! (Don't forget, sugar was hideously expensive commodity.)
Apologies - couldn't resist this one! 
So was the population permanently drunk? Perhaps. But one knock on effect for Pepys could be that the quantity of alcohol he consumed contributed to the formation of his bladder stones.

And finally:
In this excerpt we learn that Pepys drank at the Star in Cheapside. Amongst the general population literacy rates were low and people liked places that were easily identifiable with a picture. Hence pubs, such as the Star, Bull or Bell, denoted with a painting on their sign were popular.
Pub signs, such as this one for 'The Boot' were pictorial
at a time when literacy rates were low.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Tudor Kitchen at Hampton Court Palace

In February I visited the rediscovered Chocolate Kitchen at Hampton Court Palace and whilst there, I took the opportunity to investigate HCP's magnificent Tudor kitchens.

My current WIP (work in progress) is set in a Georgian kitchen (pssst, just for you - a sneak peek at the cover) and so I was keen to soak up the sounds, smells and sights of the kitchens at Hampton Court Palace.
Due for release - summer 2014
"The usual daily consumption is 80 - 100 sheep and the sheep are very big and fat - a dozen fat beef, a dozen and a half calves, without mentioning poultry, game, deer, boars and great numbers of rabbits."
A Spanish visitor to the English Court, in 1554

Hampton Court Palace is a place synonymous with King Henry VIII. When he held court there he was joined by a small army of courtiers who brought their servants with them - all of whom needed feeding. This involved storing and cooking huge amounts of meat, fish and vegetables, and each item of food was stored in a designated store: The Flesh Larder for meat, The Wet Larder for fish and the Dry Larder for less perishable goods. It was down to a kitchen staff of around 200 people to prepare the meals in the Great Kitchen and once cooked, the finished dishes were garnished in the Serving Place.

In 1526 around 600 courtiers were entitled to take their meals in the Great Hall or common dining room ( the King ate in his private apartments). Those of people of lower status such as general court servants, grooms and guards dined at 10am and 4pm, and the most senior man at the table served the food (a bit like doling out school dinners!) 

Higher status courtiers ate next door in the Great Watching Chamber, which was more akin to a restaurant with finer dishes and more variety. In addition, around 230 domestic servants were entitled to rations, but not allocated a place to eat and so most likely took their food to their work station or lodgings. 

"God may send a man goode meate, but the devyll may sende an evylle cooke to dystrue it."
Andrew Boorde (1490 - 1549)

As you can imagine to prepare such quantities of food took a lot of organisation. Indeed, food production was just that, a kind of factory like process. As an example take the making of a pie: pastry cooks made the case, butchers prepared the meat filling, which was then cook by the boiling house staff. The cases were then filled and baked in the pastry ovens and cooked, sent to the servery for garnishing then taken to the diners. 

A large part of the diet was made up of meat, which was prepared in a variety of ways from roasting, boiling and stewing, to griddling (similar to barbecuing). Roasting was relatively expensive since it required a lot of fuel to heat the huge open fires, plus a man to turn the spit to make sure the meat cooked evenly. 
And finally, the food consumed needed to be washed down with something and this frequently took the form of beer. The average annual consumption of beer for the Tudor court was 600,000 gallons!