Saturday 29 April 2023

A Coronation Quiche for Richard III and his Queen Consort Anne?

King Charles and Queen Camilla’s Coronation Quiche has been making headlines – as it happens, one of the dishes at Richard III and Anne’s coronation was probably somewhat similar, beneath its elaborate decoration.

BL MS Royal 20 D IV pt 2 f. 1 (early 14th century)

The list of dishes assembled for Richard and Anne's coronation feast survives in a manuscript that was created for Henry VIII’s household. It can now be found in the British Library (Additional Manuscript 45,716A ff. 71-8). When Anne Sutton and Peter Hammond published the extensive surviving records for this coronation in 1983 they included the details of this feast.[1]

The coronation banquet, at 4pm on Sunday 6th July 1483, was the culmination of three days of ritual. On the previous two days the food had been dominated by fish dishes  - the first because it was a Friday, and the second because it was the vigil of the Coronation. So, on arriving at the Tower on the Friday, Richard and Anne’s two course meal had included pike soup, tench cooked in broth, plaice, crab, conger, salmon, sole, perch, bass, roach, trout, crayfish and even roast porpoise, as well as a pottage of soft rice and prunes in orange. Dinner the next day included many of the same fish as well as fried marlin, whelks, gudgeon in parsley, and baked quinces. Saturday’s supper at Westminster Palace may have been more sumptuous. It began with ‘Mamorry riall’. Mamorry (or malmeny) was usually made of chicken, but presumably on this occasion it was fish, in spiced wine. What made it ‘riall’ (royal) is unclear, but it was perhaps the expense of the spices. The second course for this meal included more sweet dishes such as date compote and sweet custard tarts called doucettes.

On the Coronation Day the king and queen were expected to fast until after the rituals of the Coronation were complete. The banquet was then held in Westminster Hall and there were probably some 3,000 guests expected. After a herald had ‘proclaimed the feast’ the first course began with a couple of pottage-type dishes (venison frumenty and Tuscany broth), followed by‘Mamory riall’ (chicken in spiced wine) and ‘Viand comford riall’ which was minced meat, spiced, pressed, boiled and served in slices. After these smaller dishes, the more substantial meats arrived – beef, mutton, pheasant served with its tail feathers attached, roast crane, roast cygnet, fattened capons with lemons, and so on, and on.

The final dish of this course, as with every course of the Coronation banquet, was a subtlety, an elaborate confection that was probably made of sugar paste or marzipan, gilded and painted. These were always fashioned with political or religious messages. Unfortunately no description of the subtleties at Richard and Anne’s coronation survives. Henry V’s depicted his emblems of swans, an antelope and an eagle, each with chivalrous mottoes beneath them. His queen’s all related to her name saint, Katherine, and wove together the saint’s story with Katherine of Valois’s own. Henry VI’s celebrated his dual English and French descent.

The second course at Richard and Anne’s feast opened with a multi-coloured jelly that was also decorated ‘with a devise’ and this course included peacock cooked and replaced in its feathers, roe deer turned inside out and a range of roast fowl, as well as fritters flavoured with rose and jasmine. Despite the four o’ clock start, darkness had fallen before the final course could be served. In an age when the leftovers of noblemen and women’s tables were routinely passed immediately to the poor and needy, this was probably no bad thing. That course was to have included roast quails and egrets, baked oranges and ‘Rosettes florished’ which were perhaps sugar roses, painted or garnished with gold leaf. 

The ‘coronation quiche’ at Richard III and Anne’s banquet was the penultimate dish of the first course. Immediately before the subtlety, the king was presented with a ‘Custard Edward planted’. Custards, or croustardes, seem to have originated as any open topped tart in a pastry crust, but by the fifteenth-century they pretty much always included eggs in a custard-like form similar to that in quiches. One mid-fifteenth-century recipe for a custard that has been digitised by the British library provides instructions for straining together cream, eggs and parsley and pouring into a pastry case containing marrow, dates and prunes. Just like the coronation quiche, a dairy-free alternative is offered in the recipe book – ‘if it is in Lent, take cream of almonds and leave out the egg and the marrow’. This custard would have been quite sweet, arguably more like a modern custard tart, but most recipes were more savoury. Another British Library manuscript has a recipe in which milk was used instead of cream, this time with chicken and spices including saffron. Custards didn’t always include milk or cream - the eggs could be mixed with meat broth instead. One version of that included hyssop and summer savory with veal.[2] On occasion almond milk was used for custards even when eggs and meat were still included.

So what was a ‘Custard Edward planted’? ‘Planted’ simply meant decorated. Henry VI’s coronation feast had included a ‘Custade Rooial with a leparde of golde sittyng theryn’. 300 leaves of pure gold had been purchased for decorating the food at Richard III and Anne’s feast, as well as leaves of ‘partie gold’ (ie mixed with a cheaper ingredient), so some may have been used on this ‘Custard Edward’. It is likely that the Edward in question was Edward the Confessor, a popular figure in late medieval royal pageants who also featured on the first subtlety for Henry VI’s coronation banquet. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there was a 3D figure of the sainted king on this custard. Perhaps the dish had simply been given his name as an appropriate coronation dish since so much of the coronation regalia was also associated with him, or it may have been decorated with the coat of arms that more recent heralds had invented for him. We can’t be certain that it was a savoury dish, but most custards were, and the penultimate dish of the next course certainly was - it was a venison bake.

While everyone got to admire the ‘Custard Edward planted’ as it was brought through the hall, it was only those sat at the king’s table who got to eat it. A second menu ‘For the lords and the ladies in the hall the same day at dinner’ listed just two courses. Again each ended with a subtlety and the penultimate dish of the first course was a ‘Custard riall’. Meanwhile, all the rest of the guests had only one course. Like the king’s it began with venison frumenty (but not the other small dishes), this was followed by beef, mutton, roast capon, a jelly and, finally, yet again, ‘custard’.

There can be little doubt that the ‘Custard Edward planted’ at Richard III and Anne’s coronation banquet would have looked rather more splendid than most of the quiches at next weekend’s coronation Big Lunch will do. But the dish that the ordinary guests finished with was likely very similar and all were probably a savoury, egg-based dish in a pastry case. Many of the recent reports about the Coronation Quiche have described it as a dish with German origins, yet the original quiche Lorraine was cooked in bread dough, not pastry. The name may indeed be German, but the dish itself would look pretty familiar to the guests at an English medieval Coronation ‘Big Lunch’ too.

J.L. Laynesmith


[1] Anne F. Sutton and P.W. Hammond eds., The Coronation of Richard III. The Extant Documents, (Alan Sutton, 1983)

[2] Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books, EETS os 91 (1888), 74.