As the winter solstice approaches, we often cheer ourselves with a generously laid table. To feast when the days are shortest is nothing new, but some historical celebrations make our modern excesses pale in comparison.
One of Scotland’s most spectacular winter revelries took place in Stirling, 1566. Mary Queen of Scots arranged a three-day celebration at Stirling Castle to follow the baptism of her son, the future James VI. It began a week before Christmas, on 17 December.
Modelled on the royal fêtes Mary had witnessed growing up in France, this would be a statement of her strength. She was a queen with an heir. Elaborate masques – stylised theatrical performances – were performed for the guests, penned by George Buchanan. Mary even ordered new clothes for her retinue. The Earl of Moray’s new outfit was green, while the Earl of Argyll was clad in red, and the Earl of Bothwell wore blue.
A pasteboard enchanted fortress was erected in the dip between the castle and the town, which Mary’s guests overlooked from a specially constructed platform. They watched as it was besieged by performers playing Moors, centaurs and fiends.
Huge quantities of fine foods and wines were transported to the castle. The first two courses alone comprised fifty or more separate dishes. This grand feast was served from a mechanical moving stage, operated by satyrs and nymphs. The satyrs caused some consternation when they wiggled their bottoms at the English delegation. An angel read verses from a golden sphere attached to the ceiling, and everything went well, until the stage collapsed as the final course was served.
And finally, at the darkest time of the year, fireworks lit the night sky over Stirling. Gunpowder and cannon fire proclaimed the end of the festival.
If you would like to dine like royalty we still have limited places left for our Christmas Lunch.