Robinson Crusoe Quote

"He preferred, however, "gourmandization," was an idolater of a certain decent, commodious fish, called a turtle, and worshipped the culinary image wherever he nozed it put up."
---The Contradiction (1796)

Monday, 23 May 2011

Regicidal Delights

I found this in the British Library a little while ago, and I haven't yet decided what to make of it.

“A True Bill of Fare for the Calves Head Feast, 1710”

For Bread, Beer and Ale- 3.10.0
For Fifty Calves Heads- 5.5.0
For bacon- 1.10.0
For 6 chickens and 2 capons- 1.00.0
For three joints of Veal- 1.18.0
For butter and flower- 0.15.00
For Oranges, Lemmons, Vinegar and spices- 1.0.0.
For anchovies capers and samphire- 0.5.0
For oysters and sausages- 0.15.0
For sorril, sage, paresely, sweet herbs, and onions- 0.05.0
For the use of pewter and linen- 1.0.0.
For firing in the kitchen- 0.15.0
For firing in the parlour- 0.3.0
For boat hire and porterage- 0.05.0
For cook’s wages- 0.15.0
For garnishing and stewing- 0.05.0

Total 18.6.0

That's all that's on the page, save for this additional note:

That a sett of men were wicked enough to meet and feast according to this bill of fare in the year of our Lord 1710, and that this was truly the bill of their eatables, besides drink, was attested to me by one of honour and reputation, and in a considerable publick post, who had the bill at first hand.
This I do attest,
A. Campbell, London, 1711

Fifty calves heads?  What kind of party was this?  Well, turns out it was a very anti-monarchical one indeed.
More bovine or goat-like?

The Calves Head Club was ostensibly founded in celebration of the beheading of the incompetent and unlucky monarch Charles I in 1649.  The members apparently got together every January 30th (the anniversary of his execution) to drink wine out of calves heads with the brains scooped out.

Jonathan Swift summed it up most poetically (and pretty succinctly):

"The meat shall represent the TYRANT'S head
The Wine, his blood, our Predecessors shed"

I always thought King Charles' quintessential Van-Dyke beard looked rather goat-like, but a calf?  Ehh.  It's a stretch.

Anyway, back to what's important: the food.  Look at all this seasoning.  The Bill of Fare (which is really a Bill of Charges) seems to indicate that every member of the club got his own head from which to drink.  Which means that all these other items –– the bacon, the capers, the anchovies, onions and herbs –– would have gone into the seasoning.  Who knew that regicide could be so tasty?

Nevertheless, I was left with more questions.  How did this ritual work?  Did the cooks whip something up with the brains, and then leave the heads as the drinking vessels?  Did you get your own, or were they passed around in some kind of anti-royal health?  Can you even drink out of something so large and unwieldy?  How did the dish prepared compare to other calves head recipes?  And why isn't wine (a crucial part of the ritual) included in the list of expenses?

Then I ran across this print from a few decades later, which depicts the entire ritual in a very different way.  (It is based on the story of a riot that, according to the Gentleman's Magazine, actually occurred.)

"The true effigies of the calf's club" 1734 

Note that the calf's head (just one this time) is relegated to a symbolic centerpiece and stripped of its more 'practical' function.  The deceased monarch's blood is enjoyed from a rather conventional looking wine-glass.  The caption mentions a feast, but there are neither plates nor silverware nor side-dishes on the table.

What accounts for these different depictions of the ritual?  It may be that all the negative publicity spawned a lot of copy-cat societies.  Or maybe there were just a lot of very imaginative Tory polemicists out there, all of whom were eager to make their opponents look like blasphemous king-killing maniacs.

But either way, why was it in this form –– a private eating society –– that political beliefs and fears were expressed?