Banqueting Houses

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

banqueting houses were small garden buildings in Tudor and Stuart England, so called because “banqueting” was the primary activity enjoyed in them. The Tudor “banquet” was not the sumptuous feast that we now associate with the word, but a delectable, intimate repast of marzipans, jellies, quince cakes, meringues, gingerbread, and other treats, washed down with ipocras, a form of mulled wine flavored with cinnamon, cloves, ginger, peppercorns, nutmeg, and rosemary, all steeped in sugar. See hippocras. Gervase Markham described the banquet in The English Housewife (first published in 1615), giving specific orders for the “making of Banquetting stuffe and conceited dishes, with other pretty and curious secrets.” The order in which the food was presented was precisely detailed, beginning with “a dish made for shew only, as Beast, Bird, Fish or Fowl,” followed by the sweets listed above, as well as marmalade, not a jam but oranges filled with sugar paste, then sliced. The elegant and decorative little delicacies were eaten off special plates or roundels, approximately the same size as dessert plates today, often decorated with witty pictures, inscriptions, and puzzles. Fine examples in embossed and painted leather survive (at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London), but the most magnificent are the set of eight silver plates, hallmarked 1586, depicting the life of the Prodigal Son (part of the Collection of the Duke of Bucchleuch). The banquet was offered to intimate friends of the host, invited into a banqueting house in the garden or sometimes on the roof. At some houses, there was a choice of going to the garden or onto the roof.