This summer, with a series of events, we will bring to life the moment Henry VIII visited West Horsley Place in July 1533. 

In our last blog we introduced you to the hosts, Henry and Gertrude Courtenay, Marquess and Marchioness of Exeter.

But what entertainments did the couple provide for their close friend and cousin the king? 

Feasting

Good food was of prime importance and a menu from the king’s banquet at West Horsley Place still survives. The first course included a salad of damsons, artichokes and cabbage. The second course brought together a wide variety of dishes from fish such as carp and sturgeon, game birds such as partridge, wildfowl such as gannet, gull, heron and sparrow, as well as venison baked in pastry. (Pastry was used to keep the red meat moist, it was not intended to be eaten.)

The third course were sweet treats such as ‘blanc jelly’, blancmange, old apples with pistachio nuts and cheese with sugar.  

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Music

Any great household in the Tudor period would accompany eating and drinking with musical entertainment. In the hall at Horsley, the Courtenays placed virginals (predecessors of the modern piano) and regals (a type of portable organ). There were also viols, stringed instruments that were the forerunner of the violin.

Viols were in their infancy in 1533 and to find them even in an aristocratic household was unusual. It suggests that the Courtenays were serious about their music; perhaps they were amateur performers and composers themselves, just like King Henry.

Listen to the music in concert at West Horsley Place 






Dancing 

In a household setting, much of the music played was to accompany dancing. Where virginal and viol, or a lute, might have provided background music, these were often supplemented by a wider variety of instruments when the dancing began. A pipe or flute, a shawm, (a woodwind instrument that was forerunner of the oboe), a tabor (a small drum), and perhaps a harp would be included.

The two main Tudor dances were the stately Pavane and the more sprightly Galliard. 

While formal, set-piece dances were performed by the king, royal household and courtiers, often they indulged in informal dancing. The king himself was witnessed dancing in shirt sleeves without his shoes. The ambassador of Milan reported that

‘[the king] does wonders and leaps like a stag’. 

The household and their guests would dance themselves, but they also were presented with dance-drama performances, called masks or mummings, in which the performers played characters - personifications of virtues and vices, recognisable figures from legend, history or the Bible. In the past, the king and Henry Courtenay had themselves joining in wearing matching costumes including bonnets decorated with ostrich feathers.



Hunting

For royalty and aristocracy in the reign of Henry VIII, the only form of hunting worthy of their time and energy was the chase for deer. The king himself was obsessed. 

Deer hunting was done either on horseback, or as a drive, in which the animals would be driven from the cover of woodland into an open space where the standing hunters might shoot them. The King Henry always hunted on horseback until an accident in 1534. So, in spite of his forty-two years, at Horsley in the summer 1533 the king would still have been in the saddle for a stag hunt that would have lasted most of the day.

By the Tudor period, the principal weapon of the hunt was the crossbow. Weapons were made to suit men, women and children. Likewise, arrows were fashioned differently for each user.

The Courtenays shared King Henry’s passion for the chase. Even the tapestry coverlet of Gertrude’s bed depicted the wild beasts of the hunting forest. Marquess Henry spent heavily on horses and hunting weapons. He commissioned bows and cross bows from bowyers in Devon. For hunting clothes he looked to London, buying matching suits in green velvet for himself, his wife and his 6 year old son.