Today’s post is another in a series of posts on the duties of period Sewers – those men of distinction who served at royal or noble meals. The original source was published in 1690 and describes the table setting and service for a banquet for Pope Innocent XI at which several sewers were stationed at intervals to assist guests. My interest in this practice stems from having found an ancestor who was engaged as a Sewer, however, I hope a glimpse into medieval era foods will be of interest to all.
…the entrance was a great Hall, surrounded with long Tables furnished with Sweetmeats, Fruit and other Delicasies, at the upper end being a cupboard of all kind of Plate and another of Glasses; then passing through three Rooms richly furnished…they entered the Dining-Room, where was a table that held 80 Arm’d Velvet Chairs, with a space between every four Chairs for a Carver on the one side, and a Sewer on the other, so that there were eight persons to a Mess, with those two Officers and a Servant behind each person to attend. The breadth of the Table was eight foot, and through the middle ran a range of large Historical figures, ten in number made of a kind of Sugar-paste, sent afterwards as Presents to great Ladies; and to fill the vacancies betwixt them were variety of Birds and Beasts of the same make; On the side these stood two rows of Intermesses of all relishing bits, whether Salt, Sweet, or Sowr; only where the Carver and Sewer were to stand was a void place on each side the Middle range for two large Dishes of meat to stand, which were fresh brought in for twelve courses, being 24 Imperial dishes to every Mess; but to avoid tediousness they were contracted to ten courses, and so but 20 Dishes; of which every one was served from the Carvers, whether they eat or not; and then the Triumphs and Ornaments being taken away, the whole table was covered with all kind of Sweetmeats imaginable, which at last the standers by snatch’d and carried away. The entertainment lasted 3 hours, each course was served up with loud Musick, and while they eat, they were entertain’d with Soft Musick, as Voices, Lutwa, &c….
I learned about the man, Pope Innocent XI, after having found this post. He was born Benedetto Odescalchi in Milan May 19, 1611, and died Aug. 12, 1689, a year before the previous passage was published. He was elected pope on Sept. 21, 1676. The following quote says a lot about the man and his ideals. “Innocent is considered the outstanding pope of the 17th century, largely because of his high moral character. In a time of frequent papal corruption he was free from nepotism and his integrity was unquestioned.”
Source: The Life and Reign of Innocent XI, Late Pope of Rome. 1690. London. Encyclopedia Britannica online. Catholic Encyclopedia online: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08021a.htm