Thanksgiving Overload? Try This For A Feast
November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Overload? Try This For A Feast

Any excuse will do. We all love a blowout don’t we? At Thanksgiving or Christmas the traditional turkey is the belly-busting bird of choice for many families. And let’s face it, a turkey is a big bird even when de-feathered, gutted, stuffed and roasted. Sometimes we just have to just stretch those stomach muscles from the inside. But if you think your annual Thanksgiving fare is ever so slightly over-indulgent, you might feel a little better when I tell you about a rather more elaborate feast that took place just down the road from where I live in Yorkshire, England, a few years ago; well, 548 years ago to be precise.

The year was 1465. A certain George Neville had been appointed Archbishop of York the year before and had taken up residence in Cawood Castle, which was the traditional residence of that esteemed office. Neville was no monastic recluse. It seems that, for a “man of the cloth,” he liked to party. Neville wanted to celebrate his appointment in style with the aim of up-staging the English Monarchy’s Coronation celebrations. What followed was to become known as the Great Feast of Cawood.

Nobody knows for sure how long the feast lasted, but it was probably more than a week. There are, as always, various accounts, but what follows is an idea of the scale of what was on offer.

Let’s start with the feathered food. There were 400 Swans, 1,000 Capons, 204 Bitterns, 200 Pheasants, 400 Woodcocks, 1,000 Egrets, 1,200 Quails, 2,400 Fowles, 204 Cranes, 4,000 Pigeons, 2,000 Geese, 400 Herons, 500 Partridges, 100 Curlews, 400 Plovers, 104 Peacocks, 4,000 Mallards and Teals, and 2,000 Chickens.

If red meat is more to your taste you could have taken your fill from 104 Oxen, 1,000 Sheep, 2,304 “Porks and Pigges,” six Wild Bulls, 304 “Veals,” 204 Goats, 4,000 Rabbits, and finally — if you are partial to a bit of venison — there were 500 “Stags, Does, and Bucks.”

Pie lovers could definitely go supersize on Venison Pasties with 1,500 hot and 4,000 cold ones to choose from.

Fish freaks were catered for with 608 Pikes and Breams along with 12 Porpoises and Seals.

Got a sweet tooth? You could finish off with 300 “Dishes of Jellies,” 4,000 Baked Tarts, 3,000 Baked Custards, or 2,000 Hot Custards.

I know what you are thinking; all this gluttony is thirsty work. What about the booze? Well, there were 100 Tuns of Wine and 300 Tuns of Ale. A Tun was around 252 US gallons!

The guest list ran to around 2,500 and included 59 Knights, 28 Peers, ten Abbots, seven Bishops, as well as lawyers, clergy, squires, and “ladies.” It required a thousand cooks and the same number of “kitcheners and scullions” to prepare all that food. Over a thousand servants waited at tables.

The Archbishop must indeed have felt like Royalty, but sadly for him meddling in the affairs of Kings cost him dearly. He switched allegiances between Edward IV and Henry VI once too often and was arrested twice and charged with treason. He was held in the Tower of London on one occasion, stripped of his office, and died in 1476 a broken man.

Not much remains of the original Cawood Castle but the magnificent Gatehouse still stands and every time I drive past it I think of that incredible Feast. Let’s all toast old George this Thanksgiving.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Eric Hopton is a writer, musician, artist, and photographer. He has a degree in Social Anthropology and has always been passionate about travel, having so far visited 73 countries. His music and sound work has been used in many projects around the world and can be heard on Bandcamp and Freesound, where he has contributed over 1,300 sounds under his sonic alter ego, ERH.

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