Skip to main content
The Collation

What to eat after a long morning's work in the Star Chamber

Well, if it’s fish Friday, the menu consisted of… fish! Fish, glorious fish. Thirty or more courses of fish, including oysters, ling, green fish, salt white herring, salt salmon, salmon, great pike, smaller pike, crayfish, roach, great carp, smaller carp, roasting eel, stock fish, chub, tench, chevin, perch, bream, salt eel, loach, flounder, smelt, gurnard, shrimp, whiting, plaice, trout, lamprey, lobster, crab, knobbard, turbot, fresh cod, haddock, barbel!

Here’s a sample menu from a Star Chamber dinner on a so-called fish, or “fasting” day, from Friday, April 30, 1591. 1

Fish, fish, fish, and more fish.

Dinner on a Friday: fish, fish, fish, and more fish: oysters, ling, salt salmon, green fish, great pikes, smaller pikes, great carps, smaller carps, breams, tenches, great roasting eels, knobbards, perch, trout, flounder, barbels, chevins, chubs, soles, creyfish, plaice, pearls (a variant of brill), gurnards, prawns, lobsters, crabs, mackerel, whitings, fresh salmon and a chine of salmon. As well as herbs, cream, pounded butter, apples for tarts, eggs, oranges and lemons, barberries, rose water, quinces, and other fruit.

  1. Star Chamber was the highest and most powerful law court in Tudor-Stuart England, consisting of members of the Privy Council and common law judges. Controlled by the monarch and with a vague jurisdiction and mandate, it was abolished in 1641.
  2. Mr. and Mrs. Folger acquired X.d.98 in 1923 from the catalog of S.J. Davey, and V.b.505 from a Sotheby’s auction of a portion of the collection of Rev. Francis Hopkinson (1810-1890), on July 17, 1916 (no. 138).
  3. These are a relatively new acquisition, purchased in 2009 from Ars Libri.
  4. Cora L. Scofield, “Accounts of Star Chamber Dinners, 1593-4,” The American Historical Review, vol. 5, no. 1 (October 1899), pp. 83-95 (available through JSTOR).
  5. The Star Chamber Dinner Accounts, being some hitherto unpublished Accounts of Dinners provided for the Lords of the Privy Council in the Star Chamber, Westminster, during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I of England with a Foreword and Commentary (London: George Rainbird for The Wine and Food Society, 1959).


Lovely fish menu — but what were knobbards? The word doesn’t seem to be in the OED

Roderick Cave — September 27, 2014


Knobbard stumped me as well, but in his edition Andre Simon suggests they were synonymous with whelks; that is, knobbed whelks.

Heather Wolfe — September 29, 2014


I queried ‘knobbards’ too soon! I’ve just checked Andre Simon’s Dictionary of Food, and he provides a brief definition. Why OED didn’t include it is more surprising…

Roderick Cave — October 2, 2014


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *