An Easter feast at a Medieval household

Medieval banquet
As you're digging into your chocolate eggs this weekend, spare a thought for how Medieval households had to prepare for Easter. 

At Goodrich Castle, there are fascinating records from the 13th century household of Countess Joan de Valence, including accounts that show she spent 40% of her income on food and drink for the people in her care. 

On Easter Sunday in 1297, the Countess celebrated the end of the fasting period with a banquet that included 3 quarters of beef and 1½ bacons, 1½ unsalted pigs, half a boar, half a salmon, half a carcass of beef, mutton, goats, 17 capons and hens, 2 veal calves, 600 eggs, 24 other pigeons and cheese. 

This enormous feast was prepared to entertain guests that would have included family, friends and eminent peers. 

Strict etiquette was in place for meal times, with food eaten in the Great Hall at the high table, and the host sat with the most important guests at the end of the table furthest from the kitchen. 

Around them were more minor members of the household, seated at long tables and positioned in descending order of status.

There were two main meals every day and they were leisurely affairs, often lasting up to three hours. Lunch was eaten at around 10 or 11 in the morning, with supper taken after evening prayers. 

It is easy to understand why Medieval meals were such big events, when you realise the size of aristocratic households. 

The period's leading lights would travel endlessly, constantly moving between households. Countess Joan had a travelling household of between 120 and 190 servants and officials, and all such parties would place huge demands on their hosts. 

When we see castles today we often picture them as fortresses, but they were busy, bustling communities where people lived, worked and entertained. 

This fascinating insight is brought to life by Dr Rob Jones on our small-group tour of Wye Valley Castles in Herefordshire. 

With visits to castles including Goodrich, you'll explore what life was like for the aristocratic lords and ladies, but also discover the challenges faced by the servants, officials and family members who kept things moving behind the scenes. 

Find out more about the tour

Information for this blog was taken from this English Heritage feature on Life in a Medieval Household
Image of a Medieval banquet supplied by Petrusbarbygere and in the public domain with a CC BY-SA 3.0 licence via Wikimedia Commons