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For the well to do, eating during the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods was a fancy affair. A king or queen when going abroad could expect banquet tables filled with hundreds of dishes--for just one meal! There was much pageantry and entertainment. At Leicester, Queen Elizabeth I (predecessor of King James VI & I) were greeted with a pageant of welcome displayed on a temporary bridge. There were cages of live birds--bitterns, curlews, hernshaws and godwits. One pillar held great silver bowls piled with apples, pears, cherries, walnuts and filberts. Other pillars held ears of wheat, oats and barley, gigantic bunches of red and white grapes, great livery pots of claret and white wine, sea fish in quantity laying upon fresh grass, and the last pillar was devoted to the arts. There were arms and music explained by a blue-clad poet.

The evenings were marked by entertainments of various sorts like a water pageant with a costumed actor riding in on a dolphin. The food was brought in thousands of crystal and silver dishes served by dozens, sometimes hundreds, of gentlemen. Rich Elizabethans dined twice a day--breakfast at eleven or twelve and supper between five and six.

Of course, the meals of the common man were not so extravagant. The common man ate three meals a day: breakfast in the early am, dinner at twelve and supper at six. The poorer sort supped when they could. A poem by Thomas Tusser gives a good idea of the break fast of the typical farmer:

Call Servants to breakfast, by daystar appear,

a snatch to wake fellows, but tarry not here.

Let Housewife be carver, let pottage be eat,

a dishful each one with a morsel of meat.

Rich Elizabethans loved hospitality and had chronic guests. In following the old custom, they gathered in the Great Hall where the host sat at the ...

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