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  • Madeleine Perham

'If my brother married Elizabeth I, what cake would they serve at the wedding?'

- This question was concluded by a stomach rumble that would've scared the boldest fruit bat in Australia. It's one of my favourite questions, both for its political ambition and the aspirational snackery.

And the sibling loyalty: why only settle for cake when your brother could also co-rule the vast damp land of 1590s England with a decent-sized crown to keep the rain off?



Part One: Marrying a Queen


Our quest for royal cake was an initial failure: as far as history knows, only one Tudor queen married a peasant. Marriage in medieval or early modern times was a way to form alliances with powerful countries or boost the emptying royal bank account, and all we could offer was a few loose pretzels, a pencilcase coated with glittery dolphins and a brick-strength Nokia that crashed every time you tried to play Snake.


My Queen, I cannot offer you money, glory, or France. But hang on a couple of weeks and I'll give you such a high score.


Historian Helen Carr's research into royal marriages unearthed only one example of a queen marrying a regular human: Catherine of Valois, the widow of Henry V (the man who stormed France and wore them down with blood-streaked battle tactics/allegedly long speeches that led his soldiers through war with the power of rhyme).


After Henry's death in 1422 Catherine started an affair with the Welshman Owen Tudor, part of the royal household. After Catherine became pregnant they left court and started a family that led, through slightly uncertain routes of grandsons and second cousins, to the Tudor Dynasty. Their wedding cake flavour remains unknown.


Images of Catherine during her marriage to Henry tend to suggest mild rage, so hooray for Owen and finally getting to pick her husband.


The other option is becoming Elizabeth's favourite to influence her in court, but this was never a permanent role and definitely had no designated cake. As Elizabeth's tastes and plans changed, different men flitted in and out of power like anxious, ruff-swaddled butterflies. One favourite - Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex - tried to cling to power by kicking down Elizabeth's bedroom door, yelling at everyone and attempting to execute her carefully-chosen advisors. He lost his fortune, his fancy medals, his control of the sweet wine trade and everything above his neck.


It might just be the history talking, but he does look worried.


At this point we realised we'd lost sight of the plan - it was never about the power or the ability to make Elizabeth turn burning ships on the Spanish Armada. It was about the cake.



Part Two: Claiming the Cake


So even if the brother never conquers time travel and all the challenges inherent in getting Elizabeth to marry him, we should still resolve the cake question. What flavour would it be?


According to the Royal Palaces website, the menu for a Tudor feast should involve (with the desserts in bold):


Bread, Beare [that's probably beer, but don't you sort of hope it's a bear that's going to storm the dining hall?], Fleshy Pottage [a zombie's favourite porridge], Beef, Deer, Veal, Custard garnished [garnished with what bizarre thing? Eels?], Eels [aha], Jelly, Birds, Rabbits, Tarts, Eels, Hedgehog.


Sweet and savoury were served together, so a cake would sit on the buffet beside porridge, jelly and bear.


If there's ever a moment to swipe your sunglasses off your face and peer closely at the evidence, this is a good one. We're likely looking at something:

- mildly sweet

- with no icing (marzipan exists, but decorating the whole surface of a cake is French, like several of Elizabeth's arch-nemeses)

- huge enough to feed the hundreds of courtiers fuelling up for a night of laughing at the king's bad jokes.


Readers, behold.

Credit to Fosters Bakery


Fosters Bakery translated a recipe from the Hampton Court kitchens into vast real-life form for a Lucy Worsley programme, and the result is somewhere between Christmas cake and a currant scone: dense, ideal with cheese, an acceptable shield for a majestic food fight. Not too different from many wedding cakes today. Alas for Elizabeth I: she had the heart and stomach of a king, a sea of flaming boats to terrorise her enemies, but until we find the secret of time travel, she never found a good cheesecake.


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