Food When There was no McDonalds

Food- You are what you eat

What, how and where people ate in Tudor times depended greatly on who they were: the rich nobility enjoyed lavish feasts of meat, seafood and sugary treats, while yeomen (farmer) and laborers were restricted to a diet of bread, pottages (a thick soup or stew) and vegetables. Everything from the number of dishes eaten to the ways in which food was served was dictated by status: in 16th-century England, you truly were what you ate.

Remember King Henry VIII? His kitchen was one of the most lavish and famous kitchens in Tudor times. He had the best of everything and no expense was spared. Have a watch of the below video to see just how extravagant his kitchen's were.


With the person next to you discuss what 'modern' technologies are missing from King Henry's kitchen and examine how much man power went into cooking a meal compared to cooking today.

Example of Tudor Food

However since Henry was a King he could basically have what ever he wanted, he also dictated what others could and could not eat with his Sumptuary Laws. These laws tried to control what you ate and wore, according to your position in the God-given hierarchy, which stretched from the king at the top, down through the numerous grades of nobility and clergy, to the gentry, yeomen and finally the labourers at the bottom of the heap.

Poor vs everyone else

The poor always got the worst of everything and since they couldn't afford the luxuries of the rich they were stuck with pottage. You could eat as much of that as your budget would allow. The rich ate pottage too, but instead of what was basically cabbage soup with some barley or oats – and a sniff of bacon if you were lucky – a nobleman’s pottage might contain almonds, ginger and saffron, as well as wine.

An example of pottage and how it would be cooked, looks appealing doesn't it?

How does Henry's diet compare to today's society? Watch video until 3.15 minutes.

Dining at Court was a very social affair

Meal times were a time to be social

Most households served three meals a day, although breakfast, if eaten at all, was not substantial: it consisted of bread, perhaps with butter and sage, washed down with a small ale. The main meal of the day was dinner. In the first half of the century, 10 or 11am was the dining hour, but by the 1580s and 1590s it was becoming more usual to eat at around 12pm. In the houses of the rich, the meal could easily last a couple of hours. On ordinary days in any home of the middle class or above, dinner was divided into two courses, each consisting of several different dishes. A light meal would be served in the evening to finish off the day.

Why would the main meal be served around our lunch time?

It all gets a tad complicated when you can only serve a set number of courses...

The Sumptuary Law of 31 May 1517 dictated the number of dishes per meal: a cardinal could serve nine dishes, while dukes, marquises, bishops and earls could serve seven. Lower-ranking lords were permitted to serve only six, and the gentry class, with an income of £40–100 per annum, could serve three.

A dish contained a set amount of a particular item – for example, one swan, bustard (type of bird) or peacock (all reserved for the higher ranks of nobility), but four smaller fowl, or 12 very small birds, such as larks. To prevent the higher ranks feeling deprived if they went out to dinner, the host could serve the number of dishes and food appropriate to the highest-ranking guest. Additionally, weddings were exempt from the rules.

Your task:

You are part of the Gentry class in Tudor times and need to plan a dinner party. You will need to serve three courses in total. Your task is to create a menu for a Tudor dinner party. You will need to research what each course should contain. You can work in pairs or individually. You need to present your menu either electronically or by hand. Use the below websites to help with your research and think about what food you like and if it existed in Tudor England. As an added extra you may want to include entertainment for your dinner party- have a go at finding out what the latest music trends were in Tudor England.


Looking at the menu you have created try and find the equivalent food in today's society? For example we don't really eat swan any more so what would you substitute it with? Chicken? Turkey? Have a go at creating a modern day dinner party menu that uses modern substitutes for Tudor food.

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