Hampton Court Palace is one of only two surviving palaces owned by King Henry VIII
Tudor monarchs certainly knew how to make the most of a holiday. The Twelve Days of Christmas provided the royal court with opportunities for midwinter merrymaking on a grand scale fit for a king (or queen). Tudor and Renaissance scholar Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger provides a colorful glimpse into how members of the Tudor dynasty and their courtiers marked the festive season—as well as how the rest of the country celebrated Christmas in their homes.
She describes the royal court over the holiday as a place where those wishing to catch the eye of the monarch dressed in their finest, feasted on Christmas pie and wassail, and participated in masques—all overseen by the Lord of Misrule. The finery of Christmas dress was matched by the extravagance of gifts offered to the monarch on New Year’s Day in hopes of making an impression or gaining favor.
Lloyd-Stanger examines the religious and social traditions of the seasonal celebrations, as well as its extravagant foods. Few non-royal kitchens could match the famed Christmas pie: turkey stuffed with goose stuffed with chicken stuffed with partridge stuffed with pigeon—all baked into a manger-shaped pastry case.
She also reveals how court intrigue continued to simmer beneath the holiday fun: Henry VIII struggled to keep a wife and girlfriend happy for three Christmas seasons as his divorce proceedings lingered on, and then a few years later he met new wife Anne of Cleves for the first time on New Year’s Day. Christmas once brought a chance of marriage for Elizabeth I, as her Lord of Misrule, Robert Dudley proposed to her during the celebration.
Lloyd-Stanger is former manager of visitor education at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Her book, The Tudors by the Numbers, was published this year.