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Old World Scotland
Chapter VI. Feasting and Fasting


There can be no doubt that in their fashions of living the Scots nobility were largely biassed by the influence of France. According to George Buchanan, luxury had begun to affect the national habit as early as the reign of David I., though that king, he states, was moved to banish his kingdom all epicures and such as studied to titilate and provoke the appetite. There is abundant evidence that the magnificent feasts and banquetings which were characteristic of the Middle Ages were not neglected by the Scottish monarchs, and it would moreover appear that gradually a very special attention was devoted in Scotland to cookery. Hector Boece laments that where previously there was "plenty with sufficiency, we have immoderate courses with superfluity, as he war maist noble and honest that could devore and swell maist, and be extreme diligence serchis so mony deligat courses that they provoke the stomach to ressave more than it may sufficiently digest." These and other "new ingynis and devysis," he further states, were introduced by the nobility, efter the fassione quhilke they have seen in France." That the modes of cookery were considerably modified by the French alliance may also be inferred from the names for some principal dishes, though these, whatever their style and title, may of course be of purely native origin. We learn from the Exchequer Rolls that James I. kept a French cook, and the probability is that his successors did likewise. That James IV. was as addicted to the pleasures of the table as to the splendour and magnificence of the tournament may be inferred from Dunbar's "Dirge to the King bydand [abiding] to lang in Stirling." Parodying the ritual of the Church, the poet invokes the aid of patriarchs, prophets, apostles, saints, and martyrs for the deliverance of his master from the purgatorial "distress of Stirling town," and his restoration to the heavenly "merriness" of Edinburgh.

"Ye may in hevin heir with us dwell
To eit swan, cran, pertik, and plover,
And every fische that swims in rever;
To drynk with us the new fresche wyne
That grew upon the rever of Ryne;
Ffresche fragrant clairettis out of France
Of Angerss and Orléance
With mony ane course of gryt dyntie.
Say ye amen for cheritie."

According to Buchanan, his successor James V. was temperate in his diet and seldom drank wine, but his personal habits in this respect had little effect on the customs of the time. During a great hunt in the Highlands he was himself entertained by the Earl of Atholl with (according to Lindsay of Pitscottie) "all sich delicious and sumptuous meattis as was to be bade in Scotland, for flesehis, fisehis, and all kindis of fyne wyne, and spyces, requisit for ane prince." An interpolated passage in a later manuscript than that mainly followed in the printed edition of Lindsay's "Chronicle" is touched with more particularity, and notes that "Syne were thor proper stuards, cunning baxters, excellent cooks and potingaris, with confections and drugs for their disserts." Under James's widow, Mary of Guise, French fashions continued to prevail at table as elsewhere, and under her daughter, Mary Stuart, the French tradition was unimpaired. Knox makes special reference to the extravagant banqueting of both the queen and her nobles. "The effairis of the kytcheing,'' he sardonically explains, were so gryping that the myuestens stipendis could nocht be payit." When Mary visited Jedburgh in 1566 the Privy Council passed a, regulation that "ane nanns ordinar at the melteth, being servit with bruise, beef, mutton, and rost at the least, should be sixteen pennies Scotch and this was no doubt the servants' ordinary. The "rost "—the French rôti probably consisted of some kind of game, but the brose no doubt was kale-brose, and the sodden beef and mutton are distinctly Scots. Presumably the viands served to the nobles and courtiers were much more sumptuous in quality.

That the French system of courses had come into general use is evident from a law of 1581 against "superfluous banqueting," which provided under certain prescribed penalties that no archbishop, bishop, nor earl should have more than eight dishes of meat at a meal; no abbot, lord, prior, nor dean more than six; no baron nor freeholder more than four; and no burgher nor other substantious spiritual or temporal more than three. The Act was not to apply to certain festival days nor to banquets to foreigners, which latter, however, were only to be given by archbishops, lords, abbots, deans, barons, and provosts. Another Act was Passed against the use of ''foreign drugs or confections"; and the reason of the enactments against luxury was that food supplies were actually beginning to run short. More than half a century before Dunbar had lamented that

"In burghis to landward and to sie
Quhair was pleasure and grit plentie,
Vennysaun, wyld-fowil, wynne, and spice
Ar now decayed through covetyce."

The treatment of waste and luxury was no doubt a first symptom of the disease, but the increase of population and the backwardness of agriculture and cattle- rearing made that disease worse felt as years went on. The Acts (passed in different years) prohibiting meat during Lent, and latterly also on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, were professedly occasioned by the prevailing dearth; and to some extent their influence continued down to the eighteenth century. Thus the bursars of St. Andrew's University, so long as they continued to dine in the Common Hall, were restricted three days of the week to fish and eggs, and to broth and beef on the other four. In Aberdeen the sin or crime of "superfluous banquetting" seems to have been besetting at baptisms. In 1626 the Town Council of the granite city deemed it expedient to enact "that thair shall be bot sex women at the most invited or employed to convey the child to and fi'a the kirk, nather yet shall thair be any man persons invited to any denner supper or afternoones drink at a baptisme, or yit any other tyme during the haul space of the womanes chyldbecl, or at the upseat bot sex men and sex women at the most: And withal ordaines that name presume to have at any such tyme any kynd of suggars droiges or oonfectionns brocht from foraine countreis, nather yit any kynd, of vennesone wyld meat or baikin meat under the pain of fourtie poundes money." The Reformers inculcated austerity in diet persistently ; and erroneous and even baneful as were their notions in regard to the sinfulness attaching to most forms of enjoyment, some of the restrictions imposed by them may have been salutary for the nonce. By especially discountenancing extravagance and wastefulness among the wealthy they possibly to some extent succeeded in preventing the want of food from pressing too severely on the poorer classes. Moreover to those whose means of procuring food were limited it was doubtless a certain comfort to reflect that there was virtue in abstinence. One peculiar innovation of Protestantism was the introduction of an uncommon form of fasting. The general practice of that form "of private fasting which standeth chiefly in a temperate diet" was recommended as of special religious efficacy; and in the ''Order of the General Fast" appointed by the General Assembly of the Kirk in 1565 there was ordained a week's ' perishing,'' during the whole of which only the most meagre diet was permissible, while entire abstinence was commanded to be from Setterday at eight houres at night till Sunday after the exercise at afternoone, that is after five houres; and then only bread and drink" [water, no doubt] "and that with great sobriety." As a protest or reaction against current excesses such a form of discipline may not have been altogether ineffectual for good, though human nature—even that variety bred in Caledonia ' stern and wild—was bound in the long run to find it "too grievous to be borne."


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