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I recently discovered an ancestor, John Poyntz, who was, “Sewer to Queen Catalina of Aragon”, and I found a medieval account of his having attended her in that capacity at the Field of Cloth of Gold.  What exactly were his duties?  As best I can tell it could have been one of two completely different occupations, one being a stitcher of fine quality garments, and the other being, “an Officer who comes in before the Meat of a King or Nobleman, and places it upon the Table…”.  The latter is a much simplified description of an occupation that was anything but simple.

Note that no Man under the Degree of a Knight bare a Dish to the Kings board. – Source:  The Register of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. 

I’ve tried to find a clue that would tell me which he was – a tailor/seamster or a glorified waiter, and so far have found nothing on which to form an opinion, except that I expect there was a lot more eating and entertaining done at the Field of Cloth of Gold than sewing, and serving seems to be the more common definition and example.

Given the number of dishes served at a royal banquet, knowing how and in what order to arrange them wasn’t a simple task and in order to do so correctly would have required extensive training.  For the coronation of King James II and his Queen, for example, an astonishing 1445 dishes were placed on three groupings of tables. 

The lengthy list of the dishes served just at the Majesties’ table, in all 175 dishes, included the following (Spelling is as it was in the original source):

Pistachio Cream in Glasses; Anchovies, Custards, Vollar’d Veal, cold; Lamb-stones, Cocks-Combs, Marrow Patie, hot; Jelly, Sallet, Stags Tongues, cold; Sweet-Breads, Patty Pigeon, Petty-Toes, hot; Cray Fish, Blumange; Bolonia Sausages, cold; Collops and Eggs, Frigase Chick, Rabbets Ragou, hot; Oysters pickled, Portugal Eggs, Dutch Beef, cold; Andolioes, Mushrooms, Veal, hot; Hogs Tongues, Cheese-Cakes, Cyprus Birds, cold; Tansie, Asparagus, a Pudding, hot; Ragou of Oysters, Scallops, Salamagundy, cold, 3 Dozen Glasses of Lemon Jelley; 5 Neats Tongues, cold; 4 Dozen of wild Pigeons, 12 larded hot; a whole Salmon, cold; 8 Pheasants, 3 larded, cold; 9 small Pigeon Pies, cold; 24 fat chickens, larded, hot; 12 Crabbs, cold; 24 Partridges, 6 larded, hot, a Dish of Tarts; Soles marinated, cold, 24 tame Pigeons, 6 larded hot; 4 Fawns, 2 larded, hot; 4 Pullets la Dobe, 12 Quales, 4 Partridges hasht, hot; 10 Oyster Pyes, hot; Sallet; Pease; 4 Dozen of Puddings, hot; Artichokes; Beef a la Royal, hot; an Oglio, hot; a Batalia Pye, turkeys a la Royal, hot, 4 Chicks, Bacon Gammon, Spinage, hot; 3 Pigs, hot; Almond Puffs; 12 Stump Pyes, cold, a square Pyramid, containing the Fruits in Season, and all manner of Sweet-meats; a whoel Lamb larded, hot; 12 Ruffs; 4 Dozen of Egg-Pies, cold; a very large circular Pyramid in the Middle of the Table, 6 Mullets, large, sous’d; 8 Godwits; 8 Neats tongues and Udders, roasted, hot; 18 Minc’d Pyes, cold; Marrow Toasts; 8 Wild Ducks Marinated, hot; Gooseberry Tarts, Lampreys, Shrimps, cold; 24 Puffins, cold, Smelts; Truffles; 4 Dozen of Almond Puddings, hot; Asparagus; 8 Ortelans, Lamb Sallet, cold; 5 Partridge Pyes, 18 Turkey Chicks, 6 Larded, hot; 12 Lobsters, cold; 9 Pullets, 4 Larded, hot; Bacon, 12 Leverets, 4 Larded, hot, Sturgeon, cold, 24 Ducklings, 6 larded, hot; Collar’d Beef, cold; 8 Capons, 3 larded, hot; 5 Pullet Pyes, cold; 8 Geese, 3 larded, hot; 3 sous’d Pigs, cold; 3 Dozen Glasses of Jelley; Botargo Gerkins, sous’d Trout, cold; Sheeps Tongues, Skirrets, Cabbage Pudding, hot; 8 Teals Marinated; French Beans, Leveret Pye, cold; Lemon Sallet, Smelts pickled, Periwincles; Chicks, marl’d; Cavear, Olives, cold; Prawns, Samphire, Trotter Pye, cold; Taffata Tarts, Razar Fish, Broom Buds, cold; collar’d Pigs, Parmazan; Capers, cold; Spinage Tart, Whitings marinated, Cockles, cold; pickled Mushrooms, Mangoes, cold; Bacon Pye, Cardoons, sous’d Tench, cold; 3 dozen glasses of Blamange, cold.

At another station many of the already mentioned dishes were found (639 dishes) with the following not listed above: 

Venison Pasty; Apricot and Gooseberry Tarts; Sous’d Mullets, cold; Chine of Beef, hot; Hung Beef; Rabbets frigas’d, hot; Collar’d eels, cold; Pistach Cream; Cucumbers, cold; pickled Scallops, cold; 5 Turkeys with Eggs; Mjushrooms; Hogs Feet; 4 Dozen of Oranges and Lemons; Dutch beef, cold; 6 Carps sous’d; Bamboo, cold; Portugal Eggs; 24 Puddings in Skins, hot; etc.

Another 631 dishes were served from the third station, making up the total of 1445.  – An Account of the Ceremonies observed in the Coronations Of the Kings and Queens of England.  1727.  London.

Nobility and attendants, according to custom, had to be seated and served, “with great Ceremony at their respective Tables”, after which, “the first Course of hot Meat is served up to Their Majesties Table in the manner following.  The Lords the Sewers go to the Dresser of the Kitchen, and the Earl of Scarborough, who is Master of the House, officiates that Day as Sergeant of the Silver Scullery, calls for a Dish of Meat, wipes the Bottom of the Dish, and also the Cover within and without, takes Essay of it, and covers it; and then ‘tis conveyed to Their Majesties Table with the following Ceremony…Then 32 Dishes of hot Meat, brought up by the Knights of the Bath bareheaded; after which, there is brought a Supply of several Dishes more of hot Meat by Private Gentlemen.  Then follows the Mess of Pottage, or Gruel, called Dillegrout, prepared by the King’s Master-Cook, and brought up to the Table by the Lord of the Manor of Addington in Surrey…”, and so forth until all 1445 dishes of food were served. 

Obviously great care was taken in serving the food on such an occasion and those doing so were rigorously trained to recognize and understand the hierarchy of guests and the order in which they were to be served while doing so in immaculate and splendid attire and with a flourish befitting the royal hosts. 

Perhaps Sir John’s talents were passed down through the several generations and are responsible for the enjoyment I get out of preparing period meals, albeit on a much less grand scale.  At any rate, getting to know him has been enjoyable and interesting enough to inspire the menu for our period Christmas meal this year.  The dishes will be those that Sir John would have known, served, and eaten.  Readers are invited to follow along as I research, shop, and prepare them.  Blissful Meals, all.