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George II's kitchen secrets revealed

John Ezard writing in The Guardian, May 28, 2003

John Ezard

Wednesday May 28, 2003

The Guardian

All King George II's subjects could do was sing about being given a partridge in a pear tree for Christmas. The king got three partridges, it was disclosed yesterday - and ate them for his festive dinner.

The hungry monarch also got 24 larks, seven quails, six snipe, three teals, three pullets and three cockerels. These were snacks in a 27-course royal banquet which began with plum broth, included asparagus, oysters and turkey and groaned to a halt with hasty pudding and, as a savoury, loach.

Every titbit of this epic gourmandising by George and his guests on Christmas Day 1737 is revealed in two royal household manuscripts for the period.

Not inappropriately, the official who kept the fuller of these records held the title Yeoman of the Mouth to His Majesty's Privy Kitchen. In effect, he was George's head cook.

The documents will be offered for sale in London by the York antiquarian booksellers Ken Spelman's early next month, when they are expected to fetch £35,000.

They list all the royal menus for nearly two years while George was Prince of Wales, and for 18 months towards the end of his reign.

Yesterday Tony Fothergill, a partner in Ken Spelman's, said the records were fuller than those held by the Royal Collection or the public record office.

"The truly astonishing thing is the huge amounts of food these people put away day by day. Larks are very small - one crunch and they would be gone. You would need more than one at a meal."

George II came to Britain as Prince of Wales in 1714 when his Hanoverian father, ancestor of the current royal family, was invited to take the throne after the Stuart dynasty failed.

One manuscript, a household account book for 1715 and 1716, shows that George and his father continued at first to like German dishes, such as sausages, tongue, udder and Westphalian sausages on the bone.

But, possibly because of their court duties, they adopted the English habit of eating songbirds as delicacies.

They rivalled Henry VIII, eating dinners of at least 11 courses. The menus show that for the brief river journey by royal barge between Hampton Court Palace and St James's Palace they stocked up with dried tongue, mutton, chicken in the pot, roast chicken and partridges.

Spelman's bought both books from a private collector who had owned them for decades. They once belonged to the 19th-century prime minister Lord Rosebery. They will be on sale at the Antique Booksellers Association's fair at Olympia, west London, on June 5-8.