Editor’s Note: In this delightful article, Melanie V. Taylor details the early exploration of the Americas and how food common at Thanksgiving feasts made its way from the Americas to Europe and back to America yet again. King Henry’s favorite dish? Sweet Potatoe Pie! Mell provides a wonderful Tudor Era recipe for Sweet Potatoe Pie that looks delicious! Also, do follow Mel’s links to art, maps, and photographs that help to further tell the story.
With all the challenges we all face worldwide in 2020 through the COVID-19 pandemic, Queenanneboleyn.com through Mell’s brilliant research brings us back to a time when the challenges were far more deadly, entire indigenous nations wiped out by the illnesses common to those who ventured to the not-so-new World. Our first arriving Pilgrims to Cape Cod also felt the curse of disease, losing over half of their ranks the first winter.
For all those who celebrate Thanksgiving or the National Day of Mourning, and to all else who venture to the website, Queenanneboleyn.com extends our warmest blessings and best wishes.
Beth von Staats – Cape Cod, Massachusetts – home of the Mashpee Wampanoag Nation
A Menu Fit for a King
Melanie V Taylor
When you sit down to your Thanksgiving dinner, relishing the prospect of roast turkey, with all the trimmings, followed by sweet potato pie, you may not realise it, but you are about to enjoy dishes once presented and eaten at the court of Henry VIII when he was married to Katharine of Aragon.
How so? I hear you cry. According to popular belief, the Thanksgiving Dinner celebrates the survival of the first year the Pilgrim Fathers and their families spent in their New World. Allegedly, the first meal took place at New Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621 when a celebratory feast consisting of ninety or so members of the local Wampanoag tribe sat down with the surviving fifty odd passengers who had sailed from the Old World port of Plymouth on the Mayflower.[i] The date is disputed by those living in Berkley Hundred, Virginia who claim that their date of 1619 marks the first Thanksgiving. There are records of a much earlier date for this celebration being when a group of Spanish explorers joined with the Seloy tribe of Florida in 1565 in a meal of salted port and garbanzo beans and gave thanks to God by celebrating Mass. These dates are all much later than the reign of Henry VIII (regnal dates 1509 – 1547), who is said to have enjoyed both roast turkey and sweet potato pie.
When Columbus sailed the ocean blue way back in 1492, little did he know that he was going to stumble on a massive new continent and new flora and fauna that would revolutionise royal eating habits. But why did Columbus even set sail and travel west, not knowing whether or not he might get to the edge of the world and fall off into a void?
First of all, let’s allay the idea about falling off the edge of the world. The ancient Greeks knew that the world was not flat, but in the 15th century it was a popular belief and sailors are very superstitious, so Columbus must have had a very loyal crew in order to venture forth into the unknown. But he was not the first to try and find a sea route to the land of Cathay and the Spice Islands. The Portuguese were also intent on finding a route to these fabled lands. The courage of the first Spanish and Portuguese explorers can only be equated to the astronauts who took part in the post WW2 Space Race.
What was it that lured these plucky sailors into the unknown risking life and limb, apart from the excitement of exploring the unknown? Simple – the promise of riches beyond anyone’s possible dreams.
Ever since Egyptian times, there had been trading with the Far East via the land and maritime silk routes. Pepper from India has been found stuffed up the noses of various Egyptian mummies dating from the New Kingdom (c 1200 BC), demonstrating that pepper was part of the mummification process. The Romans sent ships down the Red Sea bringing in pepper, spices and other luxury goods from the ports along the Malabar coast. We know this from the writings of the Greek historian, Strabo (64/63 BC – 24AD), the Greek physician, botanist and pharmacist Dioscorides (30 – 90 AD), the Roman historian Livy (59 BC -17AD) and author Pliny the Elder (23/24 – 79AD) and many others.
India produced a form of cinnamon, but the real money was in the trade of cloves that only grew on a few islands in the Maluku Sea and the rarest spice of all, nutmeg that only grew on one of a tiny group of ten islands known as the Banda Islands. Map of Maluka Islands (Banda Sea)
Arab merchants first traded with the merchant middle men on the west coast of the Indian sub-continent. Marine archaeological evidence shows they finally reached the Spice Islands and beyond in the 9th century.[ii] They did not come as conquerors but as traders. However, if you were a local merchant and converted to Islam you might find you got better terms than if you did not convert to the Arab religion, which is how Islam spread slowly and peacefully east. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch would come thundering in search of spices and a route to Cathay with a missionary zeal that left a bloody trail in their wake.
The fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Seljik Turkish leader, Mehmet II (1432 – 1481) may have heralded the fall of the final bastion of the Roman empire, but it also meant the finish of the domination of the Italian republics of Venice and Genoa as the purveyors of luxury goods from the Far East. The Islamic Turks now held all the ports that brought in the luxury goods from both the land and maritime Silk Routes. Fed up with the high prices for spices, silk, porcelain, and exotic curiosities demanded by the Venetian and Genoese merchants, the Portuguese had begun exploring a sea route to the Far East first around Africa in the 1450s. This concept had first been mooted by the Greek historian Herodotus (484 – 425 BC), but many thought the idea to be fallacious.
Henry the Navigator (1394 – 1460) sponsored the Venetian captain Alvise Cadamosta (died c1483) to explore the west coast of Africa and in 1456, just three years after the fall of Constantinople, Cadamosta discovered the uninhabited Cape Verde archipelago. After Prince Henry’s death in 1460, it was not until March 1488 on the voyage of Bartolomeo Dias (1450 – 1500) that the Boesmans River in what is now known as Eastern Cape province of South Africa was reached, thus proving that Africa could be circumnavigated, as stated by Herodotus.
But to return to Columbus. He first approached King John II of Portugal (1455 – 1495), but the Portuguese king was not impressed by the Genoese captain’s arrogant attitude, so Columbus took his maps and set off for the Spanish court of Queen Isabella of Castile (1451 – 1504) and her husband, King Ferdinand II of Aragon (1452 – 1516). 1492 was a seminal year in the history of Spain as in January the Moors were finally expelled from their last stronghold on the Iberian peninsula. In April the Spanish monarchs finally reached an agreement with Columbus regarding the sponsorship of his voyage to discover a westerly route to Asia, and what he could expect by way of financial reward. Columbus would make four voyages literally opening up a whole New World for exploration and colonisation. [iii]
Columbus found a paradise and returned with incredible tales of the people and the islands, inspiring many to go in search of these new lands. The Venetian Giovanni Cabotto (c1450 – 1500) better known to English speakers as John Cabot, was sponsored by Henry VII and found Newfoundland c1497. His son, Sebastian (c1471 – 1557) served both the English and the Spanish crowns, leading English expeditions in 1504 and 1508 searching for the North West passage as a way to Cathay.
In 1482, what followed was the carving up of the new lands between the two then super powers of Spain and Portugal, with the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494 and the Treaty of Zaragoza of 1528.[iv] In short, under the 1494 Treaty all lands along a meridian 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde archipelago would belong to Spain and all lands east of this, which took in a large lump of the bulge of South America and the whole of the west coast of Africa, would belong to Portugal. You will note that the rest of Europe is left out of this Treaty completely. This treaty only referred to lands on either side of the Atlantic.
After the Portuguese explorer Magellan (1480 – 1521) had organised a Spanish fleet to explore the south Atlantic in 1519 and successfully circumnavigated the globe in 1522, another treaty was required. The Treaty of Zaragoza was signed in 1529, setting a meridian that divided the lands in the Pacific between the two maritime nations. The two nations dominated world exploration for the next century but were to be challenged by the rising naval powers of England and Holland. That’s another story.
The first Spanish explorers brought back seeds to Spain that would transform European culinary tastes. For example, there is the humble butternut squash, a member of the bindweed family and is featured in Les Grandes Heures d’Anne de Bretagne (BnF Latin 9474 f81r) and is native to Central America. The Duchess of Brittany (1477 – 1514) was married to King Louis XII of France. How, or why, the butternut squash is featured in this book of hours is unknown, but it is the first visual example of a plant from the New World being celebrated as an entry in an illuminated manuscript.[v]
So to return to the traditional Thanksgiving dinner of the 21st century, you will find that the majority of dishes originated in Mexico or central America. The turkey originated had been domesticated by the ancient people of Central America and subsequently spread from Mexico right the way up to Maine. This species of turkey is the Meleagris gallopavo and the one probably encountered by the English Founding Fathers.
Gonzalez Fernándo de Oviedo Valdés (1478 – 1557) was an official serving in the early colonization of central America. We know that in 1513 Valdés was in Panama and during his time he observed the people, flora and fauna of the country. His Sumaria Historia General y Natural de las Indias describing the flora and fauna of the isthmus and surrounding lands was published in 1526, but his later more expanded version was not published until the 19th century. His Sumaria was dedicated to Charles I of Spain, and translated into English, Italian and Latin.
In the 1532 book Valdés compares one turkey to the Spanish turkey that the 19th-century scholars, have concluded was the peacock. The male ocellated turkey (meleagris ocellatus) is a spectacular bird with similar markings on its tail feathers to that of a male peacock, is native to the Yucatan peninsula and what we now know as Guatemala. If you compare the two you can see they are completely different from each other. Considering that Valdés spent some years in central America one can safely assume that he was capable of making a visual comparison and describing a bird that was as showy as a peacock, and was aware of the domesticated species enabling him make a comparison of the occelated turkey to a peacock. The Mexican domesticated bird was also imported to Spain. Alternatively, it is possible that one of Valdés ‘Spanish turkeys’, with its magnificent peacock-like plumage, was sent as a gift to Henry VIII’s wife, Katharine of Aragon (1485 – 1536) by a member of the Spanish court.
As for the turkey reaching England in the early part of the 16th century, it is possible that on Sebastian Cabot’s return in 1509 from searching for the North West Passage, he brought live specimens of the north American wild turkey (meleagris gallopavo) with him as a royal gift, only to find his sponsor, Henry VII, had died. Unfortunately, the new king, Henry VIII, was not as keen as his father on exploration and after some time as the young king’s cartographer Cabot returned to Spain in 1521 where he became a member of the Council of the Indies. It is pure speculation to suggest Cabot presented the bird to the new king as a gift and example of what might be found in the lands claimed for England, but it is possible. You have to feel sorry for the poor thing since its final destination was the king’s stomach. No doubt the roasted bird was presented to the royal couple in true medieval style dressed in all its glorious feathers, just as roast peacocks were presented at a banquet. By the 17th century cooked turkeys were being immortalised in paint as in this image of 1627 by the Dutch artist, Pieter Claesz (1597 – 1660) ‘Still life with Turkey Pie’
It has been suggested that William Strickland (1530 – 1598) was a member of Sebastian Cabot’s cadre of explorers. Edward VI granted Strickland the right to use a turkey as part of his coat of arms, but you only have to take a cursory glance at the dates of Sebastian Cabot’s adventures and time in England and compare them to William Strickland’s dates in order to question this statement in Wikipedia.
There has to be a reason for Strickland being given the right to have a turkey as one of the family emblems on his coat of arms. William Strickland (1530 – 1598) was the son of Roger Strickland of Marske (1510 – 1584). From these dates, it seems that William and his father were long-lived, Roger living to the age of 74 and William to the age of 68, but neither would have come into contact with Cabot. When it comes to turkeys, there is evidence these birds were being bred in England during Elizabethan times. It becomes even more odd to credit Strickland with the introduction of the turkey to England when it is known that a turkey was eaten by Henry VIII since Strickland was only seventeen when Henry VIII died, and had yet to fulfil his potential as a navigator. Having served his constituency of Scarborough as an MP in 1559, 1563, 1571 and 1584 Strickland retired to his estates. What has become apparent is that more research is required into why Strickland was permitted the use of the bird in the Strickland coat of arms. Perhaps it was because he saw the potential for breeding them.
As an example of other gifts from the Spanish Main being sent to England there is a miniature portrait of Queen Katharine with a Capuchin monkey held in the Duke of Buccleuch’s art collection. Clearly exotic items were being sent to the Tudor court either in the form of diplomatic gifts, or perhaps as personal ones from her nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500 – 1556), who, in 1517 had become the king of Spain jointly with his mother, Joanna (1479 – 1555).
This portrait dates from the mid-1520s and was painted by either Lucas Horenbout (d1544) or his sister Susannah Parker, (née Horenbout )(d1554). There are two important things here: one being where these monkeys are found and the second being the medieval symbolism of the monkey.
Capuchin monkeys are highly intelligent and come from central and south America – which just happened to be under Spanish dominion. The Capuchin friars were formed in the mid-1520s and were an offshoot of the Franciscans. The monkeys were given the name Capuchin because the explorers thought their markings resembled the robes of these friars.
In the medieval bestiaries, we are told that a monkey is a symbol of lust and this one is clearly chained to his mistress. You can see the chain is attached to a belt fastened around the monkey’s waist. You might see this portrait as a commemoration of a generous gift to the queen from her Spanish family. Bearing in mind that England was yet to cast off medieval thinking, those seeing this portrait may well have interpreted this portrait as a warning to any of those who might want to supplant the queen. Those privileged enough to be shown this portrait would have immediately understood the visual message that while Katharine was well aware that the king‘s reputation for bedding any woman he fancied, he was chained to her by the chains of marriage.
Apparently, Anne Boleyn hated monkeys, which seems a rather odd thing to know especially since there were not that many monkeys in England in the 1520s. Was it this one? Since this miniature was painted just about the time the king’s eye was beginning to turn towards Mistress Boleyn it would not take a lot of imagination to consider Anne’s loathing of these primates was not coincidence. As a woman of great intellect, she would certainly have been able to understand the silent, but potent visual message had she been shown this portrait. Since these portraits are designed to be held in the hand and are very personal items, a person would have to be invited to view it, which suggests that there must have been some collaboration with the artist regarding the content of the image. Whether or not it was seen by the subject of the king’s latest infatuation is another matter.
Anne was not averse to using imagery to convey messages. In one of her books of hours now in the British Library, on folio 66r under a full-page image of the Annunciation, she writes a quiet message to Henry, ‘Be daly prove you shall me fynde To be to yu bothe lovynge and kynde’. Henry chose a full-page image of the Man of Sorrows for his response, ‘Si silon mon affection la sufvenance sera en voz prieres ne seray yers oblie car vostre suis Henry R. a jammays’. (If you remember my love in your prayers as strongly as I adore you, I shall hardly be forgotten, for I am yours. Henry R. forever] (f. 231v). Anne’s choice of the Annunciation has to be a deliberate, subtle, but very definite way of telling him she was pregnant. His response is one of delight and adoration, but it is all about Henry. Is the phrase “I shall hardly be forgotten” his tacit acknowledgement of Anne’s pregnancy, and suggestive of his hope for a male heir? Henry’s choice of the Man of Sorrows image suggests he is torn with frustration, presumably from being unable to extract himself from his marriage to Katharine and now with the added complication of finding his lover is pregnant and could be carrying the longed-for male heir. Perhaps the astrologers had that answer![vi]
Much later in the 16th century John Gerard (1564 – 1637), describes the white potatoes of Virginia in his Herball or General Historie of Plantes published in 1597. These are traditionally served mashed, with lashings of cream and butter and come from the colder climes of Virginia and Gerard notes he can grow these in his own garden. The state of Virginia was named by after Elizabeth I, England’s Virgin Queen, by Sir Walter Raleigh who is traditionally considered to have introduced the white potato to England. Here we have another dish fit for a royal stomach, but whether or not Elizabeth’s father enjoyed a dish of mashed potatoes with liberal additions of cream and butter, and seasoned with salt and pepper, is not documented anywhere I have found (so far).
However, the sweet potato – a member of the bindweed family, is a much more tender root hailing from central and south America. It is thought to have been grown as a food crop for at least five thousand years ago and to have found its way to Europe with Columbus. How it came to be found as one of the ingredients of Henry VIII’s favourite sweet pies is not that difficult to comprehend, considering there was clearly an exchange of all sorts of exotic goods between Spain and England.
Gerard noted that the vines flourished in England until the onset of winter ‘at which time they perished and rotted.’ Clearly these plants were frost tender, unlike the Virginia white potatoes.
Gerard’s Herbal is a mine of information and he goes on to describe various ways the sweet potato can be enjoyed. One way is to bury the tuber in the ashes and to roast it. He does warn that eating them might cause wind, but by roasting them “they do lose much of their windinesse, especially being eaten sopped [soaked] in wine.” Another way of serving is to ‘boile them with prunes’, or to dress the roasted tubers in ‘oile, vinegar and salt, every man according to his owne taste and liking”. What is evident is that Gerard thinks these are generally a delicious and versatile root because not only can it be eaten, but ‘howsoever they be dressed, they comfort, nourish and strengthen the bodie, procure bodily lust and that with greedinesse.”
How the tuber came to be described as an aphrodisiac has to be partly because of its shape, but it takes a lot of imagination to see how. We forget that Tudor medical science was based on the writings of the Greek physician, Galen (129 – 200/16 AD) whose ideas were predicated on the four humours as proposed by that other Greek medical man, Hippocrates (460 – 370 BC). It was believed that what you ate would affect your health, therefore logically, the things that were purported to aid whatever it was that needed a bit of help. As the world opened up and new animals and flora were discovered, this provided a greater diversity for the everyday diet. For instance, the Spanish were introduced to tomatoes (originally known as love apples) and the various members of the capsicum family including the hot and fiery varieties of chilli. Examples of all of these plants were brought back to Spain and grown successfully. From Spain they spread around the Mediterranean where the climate continues to allow them to flourish.
In the 1520s the exchange of items from new Spanish lands included the sweet potato. While we believe that Henry gobbled up a very delicious spiced pie of sweet potato and quince, was it because he was being greedy? Gerard documents how the sweet potato was thought to ‘procure bodily lust’ suggests that Henry may have found a culinary way to boost his libido. Considering the very quiet exchange of messages by Anne Boleyn under that image of the Annunciation, Henry must have been delighted that his consumption of the tuber was bearing fruit – albeit it not with his wife, hence his declaration of adoration, but silent statement of sorrow by his choice of image under which he makes his reply!
To return to Gerard’s statement about the qualities of the sweet potato, was the effect of lustiness just because of the sweet potato? Perhaps the aphrodisiac qualities of the humble sweet potato were enhanced by the addition of other ingredients?
The earliest receipt (the old fashioned term for recipe) for this dish found is in a book by Thomas Dawson, published in 1586. Titled, The Good Huswife’s Jewell, Dawson describes how this receipt will “make a tarte that is a courage to a man or woman’. You might think ‘courage’ an odd word to use bearing in mind the tarte’s alleged aphrodisiac qualities. Today, the word ‘passion’ might be thought to be a better description, but the word ‘passion’ in the late medieval and early modern period would more specifically be understood as referring to the sufferings of Christ. It is not until much later that ‘passion’ begins to be associated with sexual love, hence the use of the word ‘courage’, being associated with the heart. Henry’s used ‘Sir Coeur Loyale’ as his pseudonym when he jousted in the early days of his reign, being is an expression of Henry’s loyalty and love for his lady wife.
Dawson’s main ingredients are quince, burdock root and a potato. Burdock is a long thin edible root; edible quince is quite round and the sweet potato, which much shorter than the burdock root, has a greater girth. Dates are also added and Gerard is keen to tell us that these come from Africa, Egypt, Palestine and Syria and that ‘cunning confectioners and cooks can make nourishing medicines [from certain types of date] that procure lust of the bodie very mightily”. So far, yes, these ingredients do suggest this receipt was put together to ‘procure bodily lust’ and to give both men and women ‘courage’ in the older concept of the meaning.
Apart from the fruits and spices, Dawson calls for the ‘braynes of three or four cocke sparrows’. These birds were sacred to the Greek goddess of love Aphrodite, apparently because of the birds’ lustiness. As a man educated in all the classical tales, no doubt Henry knew this, which was why he was keen to gobble up his sweet pie in order to take on the physical attributes of the lusty sparrow![vii]
Then there are the expensive ingredients from the other side of the world. All of these come from that part of the world that Columbus and the Portuguese were so desperate to find.
Sugar, an incredibly expensive condiment made from sugar cane, the production and distribution of which was dominated by the Venetian and Genoese merchants. It was not until a very clever German called Andreas Sigismund Marggraf devised a way of extracting sucrose from beets in 1747 and produced a product that was much cheaper than the sugar produced from cane. Sugar had originated in the Far East and taken centuries to come to Europe, but did so via the maritime Silk route dominated by the Arab traders.
Rosewater – again, hugely expensive and emanating from the Arab world. The expensive spices of cinnamon, ginger, cloves and most expensive and rarer than of all three being mace, are required.[viii] but Dawson does not give us a clue as to how much of each item to add to the mixture. The cost of these ingredients would certainly make it a dish for special occasions, and certainly one that would be fit for a king.
The arrival of Vasco da Gama at the major trading ports on the Indian Malabar coast in May 1498 was to break the centuries-long Arab monopoly of the spice and luxury goods trade and in the Mediterranean, bring about the demise of the monopolies held by Venice and Genoa on the luxury goods trade from the fabled East.
Together with the arrival of new and exciting plants and birds to Spain and the Portuguese bringing luxury goods and spices from the Far East, it is no wonder that the English court benefited, thanks to our close association with both nations. Henry VIII and Katharine of Aragon had been married for twenty-four years by the time they were divorced in 1533, which gives a good span of time for luxury gifts from Spain to become a regular import to England. After the divorce perhaps Henry had to find another source of sweet potato. History is not clear on this point, and perhaps he had to forgo this particular delicacy altogether. The same may apply to turkeys until the English had a solid foot in the more northerly states and were able to bring the less showy, but more prolific mealgris gallopavo to England where they thrived probably thanks to the endeavours of William Strickland.
As for Dawson’s ‘receipt’, perhaps you would like to give it a go this Thanksgiving. In order to spare the poor sparrow, if you are going to follow Dawson’s instructions as closely as possible, perhaps you could substitute bone marrow for the bird ‘braynes’. Personally, I’d leave that particular element out altogether.
To make a tarte that is a courage to a man or woman.
Take twoo Quinces, and twoo or three Burre rootes and a Potaton and scrape your rootes and put them into a quart of wine and let them boyle till they bee tender, and put in an ounce of Dates and when they be boyled tender, Draw them through a strainer, wine and all, and then put in the yolkes of eight egges, and the braynes of three of foure cocke sparrows, and straine them into the other, and a little Rose Water, and seeth them all with suger, Cinamon and Gynger, and Cloues and mace, and put in a little sweet butter, and set it upon a chafindish of coles between two platters, and so let it boyle till it be something bigge.
If the spelling and instructions are all a bit difficult to follow then try this modern interpretation. Burdock root can be sourced from the internet, but if you want you can substitute parsnip or carrot. Just a word of warning; if this pie does what Dawson suggests it might, perhaps it is best served to the adults after the children have gone to bed!
1 large sweet potato
2 roots of burdock, parsnip or carrot (your choice)
2 quince. You can substitute apple if you are unable to obtain quinces
1oz of pitted dates
1 quart sweet red wine
1tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground mace or nutmeg. Don’t be tempted to put in more nutmeg as it can have hallucinogenic properties if taken in excess
4 eggs, beaten
½ cup of sugar
1 tsp rosewater, but add more if you fancy it.
1 tbsp butter
A single pie crust. Dawson has the mixture placed in a chafing dish with no mention of pastry, but this could prove messy. I would use either a sweet rich French pastry, or simple shortcrust and bake the pastry blind.
- Set your oven at 350F
- Peel and cut the sweet potato, quinces and your chosen root into 1” chunks and put them in a saucepan together with the wine and dates. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer until all the solid ingredients are soft and the wine has reduced almost to nothing.
- Either press everything through a sieve, or for ease use a food processor and run it until you have a smooth pulp that has cooled slightly. Add the butter, spices, sugar, rosewater and mix until the butter is all melted and then add the eggs, making sure the mixture is not too hot otherwise the eggs will scramble.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared pastry shell and cook until the custard is set in the middle. The mixture should puff up, but this will not last and as the pie cools the filling will settle during the cooling process.
- Serve with cream, or custard, but that is purely up to you.
Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.
About the Author
Mell Taylor has been teaching both art history and early modern history to adult groups (and the occasional teenager) for the past 13 years ever since she gained her degrees in both subjects as a mature student.
Originally she was a dedicated modernist, but as her studies continued and after a
couple of study trips to Rome and Florence, her interest in Renaissance imagery and the hidden messages contained within it, was awakened. She did a full-time MA at the
University of Kent in medieval and early modern studies and having mastered palaeography, the door to the records written in earlier times opened. Her Master’s dissertation was on the life and works of Levina Teerlinc (1520 – 1526) and research into various illuminated manuscripts of the 15 th and 16 th centuries has continued over the ensuing years.
What has become a dedicated area of investigation is the decoding of the visual
imagery in manuscripts, altarpieces and paintings. In April 2019 Mell presented a paper on the visual evidence of the knowledge and/or trade in exotic animals at the international conference, ‘Maritime Animals’ held at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.
In 2021 (pandemic stuff permitting) she will present a broader paper on the visual evidence of trade in luxury goods, including birds and animals from the 13 th to 16 th centuries at the Harlaxton Medieval Symposium. This paper will eventually be published in the Symposium year book.
Mell has written 3 novels and a novella. The Truth of the Line explores the
relationship between the 16 th century artist, Nicholas Hilliard and Elizabeth I. In it, she suggests that Hilliard painted Elizabeth’s illegitimate son by Robert Dudley and the novel was considered of sufficient merit to be included in the Lot Essay regarding the possible identity of the sitter when a Hilliard miniature came up for auction at Christie’s in November 2013 as Lot 42. The other two novels are set in modern times. A copy of her novella, The Walls of Truth, was accepted for inclusion in the library of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, Jerusalem and is available as a free download from the books page on her website www.melanievtaylor.co.uk
Another downloadable article is available at the bottom of her short post on the mistress of the baroque, Artemisia Gentileschi (15933 – 1654/56). This much longer piece examines Artemisia’s paintings demonstrating the power of women.
Mell is currently writing up her research into a specific Hilliard miniature and will be
submitting this work for peer review and eventual publication.
[i] Artist: Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863 – 1930). Library of Congress, Washington DC.
[ii] The wreck of a 9th century Arab dhow was found of Belitung island in 1999, with its cargo of Chinese porcelain complete, thus proving the presence of Arab traders in the Far East prior to the first millennium.
[iii] On Columbus’s return, the Spanish crown refused to settle the agreed financial terms and it was not until the the 18th century that the court case was finally resolved!
[iv] This is a very complicated period of history, but since the world was divided between only two monarchies, this Treaty has to be mentioned.
[v] This book of hours was painted between 1503 and 1508by the French court artist Jean Bourdichon (1457/59 – 1521). It is complete and the most superb example of late medieval/early modern French illuminated manuscripts.
[vi] If you are interested in looking at Anne’s book of hours in more detail, here’s the link Kings Ms 9 This theory pre-supposes that Anne wrote the message and slipped the book to Henry. Since we do not know, it is an educated guess as there are elements of this manuscript that suggest it was created for an East Anglian patron East Anglia is is where the Boleyn family originated.
[vii] Sadly the sparrow is now in deep decline in the UK due to habitat loss and use of pesticides to kill off bugs and caterpillars, their main food source in the breeding season.
[viii] Mace is the outer covering of the nutmeg.
Dawson, Thomas: The Good Huswife’s Jewell: 1568
Gerard, John; The Herball or General Historie of Plantes; 1597 (this book is dedicated to Sir William Cecil)
Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book 1604
The Boke of Cokery, 1500: printer & publisher Richard Pynson (1449 – 1529)
The Form of Curie : John Rylands Library, 14th century.
Taillevant : chef to Charles V of France who prepared sumptuous royal banquets. This ran to 24 editions between 1486 – 115.
Apicius – Roman cookery recipes from the 1st c AD. Single surviving manuscript comes from 8th century. Printed version 1st in Milan (1498); 2nd Venice in 1500.
Gonzalez Fernándo de Oviedo Valdés; Sumaria Historia General y Natural de las Indias; 1532.
Kings Ms 9; British Library, Euston Rd., London. Early 16th century.
Les Grandes Heures d’Anne de Bretagne; BnF Ms Lat 9474, Paris. Illuminator Jean Bourdichon (1457/59 – 1521).
Austin, D.F. (1988) The Taxonomy, Evolution and Genetic Diversity of Sweet Potatoes and Related Wild Species. In: Gregory, P., Ed., Exploration, Maintenance and Utilization of Sweet Potato Genetic Resources, Report of the 1st Sweet Potato Planning Conference 1987, International Potato Center, Lima, 27-59.
Brown, Stephen R; The Merchant Kings : When Companies Ruled the World; Thomas Dunne Books; 2010.
Buchanan, David: Taste, Memory : Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavours & Why They Matter. Chelsea Green Publishing Company; 2012.
Crowley, Roger; Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire; Faber & Faber, London; 2016.
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