Tag Archives: Henry VIII

The Queen’s (Full) English

One thing led to another. I was driving towards the North Kent Marshes and an appointment with Farrow and Ball, as I drove I was half-listening to the audio book of “Iris“,  the recollections of Iris Murdoch by her husband John Bayley.

Farrow and Ball wanted to do some publicity shots of their paint range at our tumble-down shack, I had hoped that they might paint it, but it turned out that I was just the first location in a week of photo-shoots. They wanted to shoot outdoors and it rained of course.

Photographer James Merrell and the team soldiered on. “I think the rain adds something, makes it more real, more British,” said Charlie the Creative Manager bravely, while we held umbrellas over James. No time to wait and see if the weather cleared, they had to get to West Sussex that afternoon for another shoot.      “And tomorrow we’re in Deptford,” said the stylist.

Not the Master Shipwright’s House in Watergate Street I said?   “Yes,” said Charlie, “why don’t you come along?”

Just try and stop me I thought.

The next day the sun shone after a dismal start and I wandered down to the river and the Master Shipwright’s House. They were having lunch, and Charlie showed me around a few of the rooms and introduced me to the owner. It is the sort of house I could easily live in, huge rooms, distressed walls and bare floorboards.

I’ve glimpsed it from the street when the gates are open, I’ve seen it from the other side of the river, but nothing really prepares you for the shiver of history when you’re actually walking around inside it. Recently I’ve become more and more interested in Deptford’s lost dockyards, and for a couple of weeks I’ve spent a day wandered around the Pepys Estate and Deptford Green. It’s too late for the Royal Victoria Victualling Yard, mostly buried under the Pepys Estate, but now there are plans afoot to build on the 42 acres of Convoys Wharf, the old King’s Yard founded by Henry VIII in 1513, his first Royal Dockyard.  If you’d be interested in learning more about the unsympathetic development proposed for Convoys Wharf I urge you to visit the Deptford Dame853, and for a scholarly and passionate defence of Deptford’s heritage, the Shipwrights Palace. Then maybe like me write to Lewisham Council to oppose these plans.  Henry’s daughter Elizabeth I was a regular visitor to Deptford, arriving by river and landing at the watergate stairs. In 1581 she knighted Sir Francis Drake on board his ship and ordered the Golden Hind to be preserved in Deptford as a reminder of the historic achievements of Drake, the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe.  On another occasion in Deptford Sir Walter Raleigh might have thrown down his cloak so Elizabeth could avoid wetting her feet in a puddle on those same stairs, for a while Sir Walter was one of Elizabeth’s favourites. In about 1586 he had a ship built here by Chapman the Master Shipwright, and he named it the Ark Raleigh.

                                 The first Ark Royal

Unfortunately by that time he was less in favour and Elizabeth ‘bought’ the ship from him for the Navy renaming it the Ark Royal. In 1588 it was the flagship of Admiral Howard in the attack on the Armada.

But one thing leads to another as I said, and at the weekend I went to the Dulwich Picture Gallery for the Twombly and Poussin exhibition. Two painters separated by 350 years that both left their homeland aged about 30 and went to work in Rome. They painted similar subjects in drastically different styles, Twombly was a romantic, and Poussin a classicist. I think Twombly is the greater painter, inspiring and intriguing, beside his electrifying canvases Poussin seems too chocolate-boxey.  Twombly was a poetry lover and introduced poetry into his paintings sometimes as the subject, and often scribbling in pencil onto his paintings.

‘Hero and Leander’ ©Cy Twombly

The painting on the cover of the exhibition catalogue and on the exhibition poster is ‘Hero and Leander‘, a painting about love, death, blood and the sea. Hero and Leander was the poem Christopher Marlowe was working on when he died in Deptford in 1593 after a fight at Eleanor Bull’s house on Deptford Strand.

                John Evelyn’s map of Deptford and The Strand.

For a couple of days I was completely obsessed with Twombly and Marlowe, and the many fantastical theories surrounding the death of Christopher Marlowe.

     Christopher Marlowe, 1585 aged 21. Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

Was he a spy for Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster in the 1580s? Was he linked to the out-of-favour Earl of Essex? Did he contact Sir Walter Raleigh and express atheistic views, which was as serious as treason in Elizabethan England. His patron was Walsingham’s cousin, Thomas Walsingham a former courier for the intelligence services, and Marlowe spent his last night alive at Thomas Walsingham’s moated manor house at Scadbury in Chislehurst.  As did the man who would kill him Ingram Frizer and two others, all three working for Thomas Walsingham and possibly working in the Elizabethan spy network. Two of them had been involved in exposing the plot by supporters of Mary Queen of Scots to usurp Elizabeth. One of them, Robert Poley, should have been delivering an urgent dispatch to the Queen at Nonsuch, but instead chose to spend the day with Marlowe in Deptford. It seems a fight broke out over the bill, and Marlowe was stabbed to death, and later buried in St Nicholas‘ churchyard. Frizer was pardoned, Mrs Bull it turns out was distantly related to Lord Burghley, Elizabeth’s chief advisor, and she also had contacts with Walsingham’s spy network. Three years after Marlowe’s death, Elizabeth visited Scadbury and knighted Thomas Walsingham… I don’t suppose we’ll ever know exactly what happened and why, but the rumours indicate that there may be more to his death than meets the eye.

The ruins of Scadbury Manor can still be seen if you’re adventurous enough to search for them at Scadbury Nature Reserve. I did of course, braving brambles and barbed wire, first finding a Tudor walled kitchen garden then following that around to the romantic ruins of the old manor house, still surrounded by a moat.

Back to the beginning of this rambling story, driving along half- listening to “Iris” I heard a remark about breakfast and Queen Elizabeth, but I didn’t quite catch the context so I had to go and buy the book.

There on page 111 is the description of breakfast in a hotel : “had bacon and scallops for breakfast, the favourite morning dish, as I recalled, of good Queen Elizabeth the First, who used to wash it down with a pint of small beer. We had Irish coffee instead.

That is the sort of annoying throw-away remark by an academic that can never be proved to be true, or not. But I like the idea of Queen Elizabeth breakfasting on bacon and scallops at the Royal Dockyard in Deptford.

Most recipes for scallops and bacon would have you wrap the bacon around each scallop and secure with a cocktail stick. That’s a bit too mimsy for me, I’d want a proper dockers’ breakfast, not finger food.

I buy my scallops from F.C. Soper in Nunhead, or Shellseekers in Borough Market.  Ex-navy diver Darren Brown runs Shellseekers, if you visit his stall on a Friday or Saturday you’ll find Darren cooking takeaway scallops with bacon.

Scallops and Bacon

Ingredients (serves 2):

225g – 450g streaky unsmoked bacon rashers, you’ll need 2 or 3 rashers per person, depending on your love of bacon

10 or 12 scallops, removed from their shells. Slice each scallop in half through the side into 2 rounds.  (Don’t buy large bags of scallops from supermarkets, they’ve probably been soaked in phosphates which bleaches them and then soaked in water so they swell unnaturally. I prefer to buy diver-caught scallops, a bit more expensive but better.)

Freshly ground black pepper, and salt

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 clove of garlic, crushed

Glass of white wine

25g unsalted butter

A few leaves of fresh parsley


Grill the bacon, or fry if you wish, till the rashers are starting to crisp and curl. Then put them onto kitchen paper to drain. While the bacon is cooking lightly grease a heavy frying pan with a little oil and over a medium heat fry the scallops for about 2 minutes each side. Season with salt and pepper. Cook the scallops till they are golden, then remove them to a warm dish. Add the chopped onion and crushed garlic to the pan, increase the heat, and when the onion is translucent pour in the glass of white wine. Stir, and scrape the bottom of the pan to collect the bits of fat and scallop. Keep cooking so the liquid reduces by half, then spoon in the butter and stir a little bit more. Serve the bacon with the scallops and pour over the juices from the pan. Scatter a few parsley leaves across the dish.     Rule Britannia!

Even Artichokes Have Hearts

“Oooh, look at that big thistle!” remark passers-by peering into our front garden. We’ve two artichoke plants thriving and growing despite the clay soil and the constant buffeting by cat-chasing dogs. Usually we leave them to burst into striking bright purple flowers, just like giant thistles in fact. This year we’re going to eat them, I’m hoping the plants will produce more artichokes as we harvest the globes.

Globe artichokes have an exciting history. They are one of the world’s oldest continually cultivated plants and have been linked to Greek gods, Roman emperors, French Royalty, Henry VIII, and the Mafia.

The Greeks believed the goddess Cynara was transformed into an artichoke after she rejected her lover Zeus and he threw her from Olympus.   The Romans believed the artichoke to be a powerful aphrodisiac and women were forbidden from eating it. The House of the Vettii in Pompeii, the house with the erotic frescos, has some very interesting depictions of artichokes!  A thousand years later artichokes were still considered too racy for women. In France, Louis XIV married 14 year old Catherine of Medici not knowing that she secretly enjoyed eating artichokes. If people knew, she said, they’d point and gossip!

French settlers took them to the new territory of Louisiana in the 17th Century where they quickly became a valuable crop.  But in the 20th Century some Italian immigrants rented land in California and soon had the USA’s most productive artichoke farms. The Mafia took an interest and Don Ciro Terranova of the 116th Street Mob made the farmers an offer they couldn’t refuse, monopolising the artichoke business. What followed became known as ‘The Artichoke Wars’, and serious violence broke out.

            Police mugshot of Ciro ‘the Artichoke King’ Terranova

In 1935 the mayor of New York, La Guardia, went on the radio, “Lets drive the bums outta town,” he squeaked (he had a very high-pitched voice).

La Guardia banned the display and sale of artichokes in his city in an attempt to stem the violence. The mayor’s love of artichokes drove him to make sure prices dropped, and the ban was lifted.  A few years later in 1947, a certain Norma Jean Baker was crowned ‘Miss California Artichoke Queen‘, another step on her way to becoming Marilyn Monroe.

Closer to home, in 1530 Henry VIII was courting Anne Boleyn in Greenwich Park and in need of a regular supply of artichokes. A 16th Century doctor had written that eating artichokes made women more ‘desirable’ (read:’available’), and men less ‘tardy’?!  Henry ordered his gardeners to plant them at his New Hall Palace in Essex. Their daughter Elizabeth I is linked to the Queen’s Head and Artichoke near Regents Park, which was once a hunting lodge named for the artichokes served there to the Queen by her master cook Daniel Clarke.  Deptford was famous for its asparagus, and I expect artichokes were grown here as well because in 1614 an Italian visitor wrote that in England artichokes were in season most of the year, unlike in Italy.  Fruit and vegetables were shipped from Deptford’s market gardens by river to the City. The other area noted for artichoke growing was the Fens around Ely. Artichokes were taken by boat to London along the drains and rivers of the Fens; these days artichokes are still being grown on the Fens, but now they arrive in London by courier. Third generation Clive Martin grows organic artichokes on 30 acres of his 500 acres. “Some of our customers come back week after week for artichokes in the season,” he said, “I really enjoy them, they look fantastic in the fields.”

Clive has an Italian customer who told him she bashes the artichoke with a rolling pin to loosen the leaves, then stuffs herbs and sopices into the spaces between the leaves, ties it all back tightly together and then boils the artichoke as normal. “She says ours are the best she’s ever tasted!”  I ordered a box of Clive’s artichokes, and can confirm they were beautiful, far, far removed from the sad, dry and tired foreign examples you see in supermarkets.

In 1597 herbalist John Gerard described how to prepare and eat artichokes, something that still puzzles people today., as Clive says, “the only problem with artichokes, is getting people to eat them.”

When you’ve cut or bought your artichokes wash them under running water and then plunge them upside down in water with a couple of lemon wedges. This stops them going brown. They’ll keep like this in a fridge for a couple of days. When you’re ready to use them, cut off the stalk flush with the base. The easiest simplest way to eat an artichoke is by boiling it, then pulling off the petals and dipping them in a bowl of melted butter, then sucking the soft inner base of the petal through your teeth, discarding the tougher tip.

Here are two recipes, the first is the classic way to eat an artichoke, more or less unchanged since John Gerard wrote about it 400 years ago.

Artichoke with Garlic and Lemon Butter

You’ll need 1 artichoke per person, soaked in lemony water with a pinch of salt, then drained.

Place the artichokes in a large pan with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Cover with water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes depending on their size and age. A skewer pushed through the artichoke at the widest point of the globe will tell you if they are cooked. It should be easy, with just a slight resistance.

Drain, and meanwhile make the butter sauce by melting 110g of butter, and very finely chopping 2 cloves of garlic. Mix the butter and garlic then add the juice from half a lemon and season with plenty of ground black pepper. I usually finish with some very finely chopped parsley, just a pinch.

To serve, put your artichoke on a plate and open the petals a little, they’ll be loose and spread easily.  Serve the butter sauce in a pretty teacup or ramekin. When you’re very messy you’ll have eaten all the petals and reached the ‘choke’. The choke is the hairy covering of the heart. Just cut the choke away from the heart and then eat the heart. In Italy, street sellers trim most of the petals from the artichoke when you buy them so you’re just left with the delicate inner petals and the heart.

Warm Artichoke Salad


4 baby artichokes, prepared as before

2 slices of thick (homemade?) wholemeal bread

Some ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped

2 spring onions, chopped

Juice of 1 lemon

A generous slug of olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper and a little sea salt

1 tin of anchovies, drained

Handful of parsley, chopped


Put the bread in a bowl with the tomatoes and onions then shake over a generous amount of olive oil, you know your own taste, add the lemon juice and season with pepper and salt. Leave for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the artichokes for 10 minutes and drain, then slice in half from top to bottom.

Arrange the salad on 2 plates and top with the halves of artichoke, the anchovies, and finally the chopped parsley.

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