Dr George Gross - Wine and Coronations


Saint Émilion's Château Angélus
The Coronation 1953

As we enjoy the Bank Holiday weekend and festivities in celebration of Her Majesty the Queen’s 70 years on the throne – a unique Platinum Jubilee, one can think of no better occasion or reason to raise a glass or three (!). The Queen is the very best of British – and an example to the world of service, loyalty and stoicism and of commitment to causes that matter. It is perhaps also a lovely opportunity to reflect on royalty and wine, and the courses surrounding jubilees and coronation celebrations, including a celebration for the late Duke of Edinburgh, that we enjoyed with the superb The Rebecca Lamont Wine School.


We have delved into royal warrants with Simon Field MW reflecting on the role of some of the finest champagne houses. These favourite ‘royal’ champagnes have been enjoyed at the most prestigious of regal occasions from State feasts of Queen Victoria, to the hedonistic Edward VII’s coronation banquet (Mumm 1892) with all his epicurean tastes, to George V (Bollinger), George VI (Ayala) and of course our current Queen’s coronation.


When George V (the Queen’s ‘Grandpa England’) came to the throne in 1911 he frequently served what he referred to as his ‘special bottle’ of Bollinger at Balmoral to his many guests there. Word quickly got back to the Champagne house and thus it acquired the renaming ‘Special Cuvée’. For Elizabeth II’s coronation banquets – with Winston Churchill’s enthusiastic support (!) – guests indulged in Pol Roger’s 1934 vintage; with Krug 1945 served at a second reception. These days the English sparkling world is just as likely to feature at Buckingham Palace and Clarence House as a French champagne and indeed we have sampled in tastings the likes of Camel Valley (now a royal warrant holder) and the glories of Gusbourne.


Yet royalty and wine ‘flows’ back much further than the last two centuries. The carafe of wine was the very centre of the coronation banquet of Henry the Younger on 14 June 1170 – nearly 852 years ago. In one of King John’s better moves, in his coronation year of 1199, he gave St Emilion a royal charter in exchange for rights to the coveted local wines there. It will take a lot to improve King John’s reputation, but this is not a bad start! Moving from the medieval to the early modern, one of the most recorded of early coronation celebrations was that of Anne Boleyn in 1533 and unique in an English context in being the independent crowning of a Queen Consort. The celebrations saw a veritable overflowing of wines from both France and Hock/Rhenish in Germany. Indeed, the description of the wine fountains from the City of London in 1533 are quite remarkable.


At Gracechurch Corner was erected ‘the Mount Parnassus, with the fountain of Helicon’. It was formed of white marble. ‘Four streams rose on … high and met in a cup above the fountain which ran copiously till night with Rhenish wine. At the great Conduit in Cheap, a fountain ran continuously, at one end white wine, the other claret, all the afternoon.’ (British Library, Harley MS 41; and G. Kipling, “‘He that Saw It Would Not Believe It:’ Anne Boleyn’s Royal Entry into London,” in Alexandra F. Johnston and Wim Hüsken (eds), Civic Ritual and Drama (Amsterdam - Atlanta, 1997), pp. 39–80)

Street parties are thus nothing new and tastes varied. As Simon Field MW investigated with grape or grain, it was not so much that people drank wine or beer, but rather the quantities and the types that have evolved. Our predecessors enjoyed a passion for life as much as the present and the remarkable footage of ‘The Unseen Queen’ released as part of this Jubilee year, highlights how humour, laughter, family, friendship and commemoration have united us all in one way or another as human beings going back centuries.


Samuel Pepys (and so too the diarist John Evelyn) allow us to explore the Stuart world and almost taste the wine and food on offer and share in that same sense of joy at these special occasions. Pepys watched in celebratory detail the coronation of Charles II and was a baron of the cinque port (an important ceremonial role and part of the naval tradition as a keeper or representative of many of the strategic ports of England) for the coronation of James II in 1685. His words give us a link to the past and his actions on coronation day 23 April 1685 are recorded in Francis Sandford’s depictions of the key figures of the event (The History of the Coronation of … James II … 23 April 1685 (London, 1687)) – Pepys is seen carrying the canopy over the King in the royal procession. His diaries include an impressive 335 entries devoted to wine (from claret to hock) and he is regular visitor of the wine tavern. James II’s coronation banquet table saw the presentation of over 600 dishes and copious quantities of wine from France, Germany and Spain.


How wine was drunk and in what manner varied to different levels of appreciation. On the night of Charles II’s English coronation on St George’s Day 1661 (he had been crowned in Scone in 1651), Pepys and his retinue (as he recorded), ‘drank the King’s health and nothing else, till one of the gentlemen fell down stark drunk and there lay speweing’ (https://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1661/04/23/). During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, claret became not only exceptionally popular but highly politicized – a bastion of Tory sympathy, but dangerously French and Jacobite for Whigs who favoured the wines of Portugal.


With the arrival of the Hanoverians, formally as the new royal House in 1714 with George I – German wines remained a theme in royal cellars and acquired something of a royal blessing. The Royal Collection archives include accounts with charges of 322 pounds for his royal highness George I for 22 aums of Rhenish wine (Royal Collection Archives, GEO/ADD/1/39). An aum was originally a liquid measure used in Germany and the Low Countries which varied in different places from about 30 to 44 imperial gallons (136 to 200 litres). It apparently still features as a measurement for some South African vintners and vineyards.


The scale of festivities drove change and fashions too – George II’s coronation banquet in 1727 (that made famous Handel’s Zadok the Priest) was lit by over 2000 wax candles! The quantities required involved extraordinary expenditure and up and down the land, families, villages, town and cities joined in. Royal tastes influenced courtiers – the earl of Sunderland in 1666 had a wine cellar that reflected Charles II’s French interests and the fashionable tastes of the Sun King Louis XIV, so too the duke of Newcastle under George II acquired a passion for German wines (Cf. C. Ludington, The Politics of Wine in Britain (London, 2013)). In 1748 George II sent his advisor the first duke of Newcastle to Hanover to develop better how the two dominions would work together. Newcastle not only worked politically, but developed an affection for the local wines and surviving letters in the British Library record his request on his return to England to have wine shipped over (British Library, Add MSS).

With Queen Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1840, the United Kingdom has enjoyed a familial yet complicated relationship with Germany that is often difficult to understand. The same can probably be said about its relationship to German wines in the last two centuries.


By 1902 the Empire and what would become the Commonwealth was already playing a fundamental part in coronation proceedings and was essential in maintaining Britain’s place in the world. The Commonwealth is a crucial part of these 2022 Jubilee celebrations and one of Queen Elizabeth II’s most cherished and important organisations – she has been a champion of the institution in her capacity/role as Head of the Commonwealth.


The coronation of Edward VII in 1902 prompted major celebrations in Australia. It was an opportunity for the new nation to reaffirm its pride at being a key member of the British Empire. Over 40 different medals were produced around Australia from Melbourne to Sydney (Museums Victoria, Australia Collection). In 1953 HMS Sydney brought to London a special contingent of Anzac troops (who had won VCs) to be in the traditional coronation procession; and also to take part in a coronation naval review. London was not the only host to celebrations and in 1953 the dignitaries of Canberra consumed a quite magnificent menu:


Consomme royale; lobster; roast turkey and ham; asparagus; and strawberries – and washed down with Riesling Yalumba Carte d’or and a Buring’s Old crusty hock, private bin. (National Archives Australia: A462, 821/1/119)


The Queen would also be the first British sovereign to visit Australia in 1954. The crowning banquet of her tour would also include a Riesling, this time of the Lindemann Cawarra stable. It was therefore wonderful to muse over such wines with Rebecca Lamont and to compare the old world with the new.


Can there be a better way to end than with the world of Sauternes. Sauternes have long graced the dinner tables of monarchs and given their production involves ‘noble rot’ there could be little more appropriate for a sovereign. It is perhaps far from surprising that a wine as prestigious as Chateaux d’Yquem (vintage 1928) featured at Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. The royal pallet for something sweet was nothing new and indeed has a tradition that runs for centuries. If you were interested in a bottle of the ‘28, a certain wine shop just off Berkley square is retailing a bottle for just under £5000.


Shakespeare echoing heraldic accounts of Richard III’s coronation shows such interest in sweet wines was present there too. Historical wine courses and themed tastings with the Rebecca Lamont Wine School have not been an attempt at reputational improvement for our lesser loved monarchs (King John and Richard III) but they both clearly knew a thing or two about wine. Richard III made sure at his coronation banquet of being served by the lord mayor a sweet wine of refinement. At his coronation feast of 1483 he enjoyed his peacocks, partridge, venison bake, capons and custards with a plenitude of red wine, but also as Shakespeare recounts – there was much consuming of malmsey – a sweet fortified madeira wine, ‘being served to the king and queen (Anne Neville) a sweet wine in a gold cup’ (A. F. Sutton and R. W. Hammond (eds), The Coronation of Richard III: The Extant Documents (Gloucester, 1983)). Shakespeare references sweet wines from France, Portugal and the Canary Islands in plays from Love’s Labour Lost to Twelfth Night and The Merry Wives of Windsor.


From the early modern to the Victorian, the tastes for something sweet endured. The Victorian court revelled in Sauternes and evidence of its presence at Buckingham Palace can be seen in the menus of head chef Charles Francatelli (in service at Buckingham Palace in the 1840s). Francatelli proscribed sauternes for royal dinners, interestingly, he would serve Chablis or Sauternes as ‘the best accompaniment to oysters, while sherries are best with soup’ (C. Oliver, Dinner at Buckingham Palace: Secrets & Recipes from the reign of Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II (London, 2003). Edward VII revelled in everything food and wine, ‘one not only drinks the wine, one smells it, observes it, tastes it, sips it and one talks about it’. As his marvellous quotation illustrates he was a true lover of wine, a Dionysus or Bacchus of a monarch. In the twentieth century sauternes and fortified wines found themselves as part of coronation cocktails, from the Brooklyn coronation for George VI in 1937 to a Sauternes Cobbler. On the sweeter end of grapes there is even a coronation grape grown in Canada – a table grape popular for the sweetness generated.


Monarchy and wine have thus been entwined for centuries, from the aperitif to the digestif, they have shaped fashionable tastes and secured the warrants for progress in the next exciting venture. We look forward to exploring further these themes with you in the coming year.


As we stop to reflect and celebrate this bank holiday weekend, we look at a monarch of constancy, who’s devotion to duty is an inspiration. In this uncertain world may she ‘long’ reign over us and as we raise our glasses this Platinum Jubilee Weekend, we join together in saying ‘God Save the Queen’.

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