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Norwich Castle’s festive programme gives visitors a taste of medieval feasts fit for a king

PUBLISHED: 15:39 18 December 2017 | UPDATED: 16:14 18 December 2017

How Christmas was celebrated at Norwich Castle in 1121. Adult learning officer Patricia Day and learning assistant Lee Warden recreate a Christmas scene at the castle keep.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

How Christmas was celebrated at Norwich Castle in 1121. Adult learning officer Patricia Day and learning assistant Lee Warden recreate a Christmas scene at the castle keep. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2017

King Henry I was thought to have stayed at Norwich Castle for Christmas 1121, and this festive season visitors to the historic landmark can find out more about celebratory medieval feasts.

Norwich Castle will host different events during Heritage Open Days. Picture: Nick ButcherNorwich Castle will host different events during Heritage Open Days. Picture: Nick Butcher

The castle is hosting a From Field To Feast programme of activities where people can discover how great feasts were prepared during the time of the Norman kings.

The programme is linking in with the castle’s £13.5m Norwich Castle: Gateway to Medieval England project that is aiming to re-imagine the castle’s keep as a medieval royal palace, including recreating the keep’s main Norman floor and great hall.

Over the Christmas holidays people can find out more about medieval farming practices, hunting techniques and weapons, as well as learn how food fit for a king would have been cooked.

Historic documents suggest King Henry I - the youngest son of William the Conqueror - stayed in Norwich for Christmas 1121 and that the city was one of at least 19 places he visited that year.

Henry I's Great Seal. He is depicted as a mounted knight, ready to defend his domains in England and Normandy.
Photo: Norfolk Museums ServiceHenry I's Great Seal. He is depicted as a mounted knight, ready to defend his domains in England and Normandy. Photo: Norfolk Museums Service

While not much is known about the actual events at the time, it is thought the keep’s great hall could have been the setting for an elaborate feast with Henry I’s large entourage, which would have also included government and religious figures.

“Christmas 1121 would have been the first time he spent Christmas with his new wife, Adeliza of Louvain, so he was probably looking to impress her by doing something special, so it is quite likely it was a big important event here,” said research assistant Dickon Whitewood.

Meats such as goose, swan or venison were likely to have been on the menu for Henry I, along with meat potages, cheeses, fruit potages and wine. The finest foods would have been reserved for the king and his close circle and the meal would probably have lasted a couple of hours with about five or six courses.

Along with the festivities, it is likely important state business may have been conducted because many important figures would have been present.

How Christmas was celebrated at Norwich Castle in 1121. Adult learning officer Patricia Day and learning assistant Lee Warden recreate a Christmas scene at the castle keep.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYHow Christmas was celebrated at Norwich Castle in 1121. Adult learning officer Patricia Day and learning assistant Lee Warden recreate a Christmas scene at the castle keep. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Mr Whitewood said: “We do not know, but what we can assume happened was that not only would there have been feasting and religious celebration, but that Christmas was also the time that the king would have a formal crown wearing.

“We know that William the Conquerer wore his crown symbolically three times a year and we know that Henry I did wear the crown the Christmas before [he came to Norwich].”

He added: “Five years later, in 1126, Christmas is the time where Henry I gets all the lords to agree that his daughter will rule after him. It is a politically important time as well as a celebration.”

From Field to Feast is at the castle from December 20 to January 3. For more information, including the castle’s opening times, visit www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk

For about Norwich Castle: Gateway to Medieval England and how you can support the project via the Keep Giving and Keep Adopting campaign, visit www.adoptanobject.co.uk

Henry I's Great Seal. He is depicted as a lawgiver and source of justice, enthroned with the symbols of his office (crown, sword, orb). 
Photo: Norfolk Museums ServiceHenry I's Great Seal. He is depicted as a lawgiver and source of justice, enthroned with the symbols of his office (crown, sword, orb). Photo: Norfolk Museums Service

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