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 more ordinary people celebrated Christmas in their homes.
She presents 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 a 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 Christmas celebration.
The evening concludes with a festive reception with foods inspired by the Tudor period (see menu below).
Lloyd Stanger is a former manager of visitor education at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
HOLIDAY RECEPTION MENU
A Tudor Christmas Feast
A Royal Cheese Display
English Stilton and Sage Derby, St. André, and Gruyère with dried fruit, nuts, and quince paste, served with flatbreads and French-bread medallions
Petite Wild-Game Sandwiches
Roasted turkey with cranberry mayonnaise and ham and honey mustard sandwiches on brioche rolls
Honey Bourbon Meatballs
Beef and pork meatballs in a honey-sweetened bourbon sauce
Grilled Vegetable Tart
Grilled vegetables and herbed goat cheese on puff-pastry planks
Balsamic Roasted Brussel Sprouts
Caramelized fresh Brussels sprouts tossed in a balsamic glaze
Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Triangles of pumpkin-bread pudding with cinnamon and brown-sugar streusel topping and rum sauce
Holiday Cookie Platter
An assortment of chocolate-candy cane, cherry-almond, cranberry-orange, gingersnap, and shortbread cookies
The traditional English punch made with cider, sherry, and yuletide spices, served hot
Still and sparkling water