A to Z of Elizabethan Times

C is for

CECIL.

Sir William Cecil, later Ist. Baron Burghley, was Princess Elizabeth’s adviser and helped to steer her through the fraught years when it seemed impossible she would survive. When Elizabeth became Queen, Cecil was appointed Secretary of State. Elizabeth, who had a penchant for giving nicknames to her advisers and members of the court, called Burghley, ‘my Spirit’. He was a devout Protestant, but not a zealot. A most astute and honest councillor, he was never afraid to make the hard decisions that Elizabeth shrank from taking. His tight control over the nations finances, his leadership of the Privy Council, his backing for the reform of the Navy by Admiral Sir John Hawkins and his creation of a highly effective intelligence service under Sir Francis Walsingham, marked him out as the most important minister throughout the majority of Elizabeth’s reign.

After his death, in 1598, his son, Robert Cecil, succeeded him as Secretary of State and went on to serve Elizabeth’s successor James I with great distinction, building Burghley House.

CODPIECES

These were a curious expression of male dominance during Elizabeth’s reign. They gradually faded away being replaced with buttoned up , or lace-up fastenings by the end of the century. They were stiffly padded and hollow, varying in shape from a banana to avocado pear. Sewn to the front of the breeches, they stuck up and out from the lower end, being tied to the breeches further up, by a lace, or point that was easy to untie. They were seldom plain, often with panes, puffs and bows. In the days before pockets, they were a place to keep your kerchief and a safe place for your purse. Since pins were much in use to hold ruffs etc., they also made a handy pincushion! As the line of a poem ran:

A round hose, madam, now’s not worth a pin

Unless you have a codpiece to stick it in.

CARVING

Carving at table as any gentleman of the times knew, was an art, best left to the carver. There were thirty-eight special terms for carving. Not for them, simply carving a joint, you had to:

trush that chicken, tame that crab, break that deer, rear that goose, barb that lobster, wing that partridge, disfigure that peacock, alay that pheasant, splat that pike, undertranch that porpoise, wing that quail, thigh all manner of small birds, list that swan and culpon that trout. Whew. No wonder they left it to the expert who knew The Book of Kervinge by Wynkyn de Worde, published in 1508, backwards . Having done all of that, the carver was just starting. He had to make sure, that every dish had the appropriate sauce. In less exalted homes, the butler might do the carving, but if left to the husband, it could lead to social disgrace, if he was inept. It was enough to drive you to ready-made meals! Well, perhaps not that far, but you know what I mean.

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