Appropriately for a man who was England’s bloodiest king, Henry was a man and a monarch who loved black pudding more than most. No lavish Tudor banquet at Hampton Court Palace was fit for a king unless the table was groaning under the weight of black pudding. Banquets at the palace, which Henry enjoyed so much that he extended the kitchen to fill 55 rooms, also included spit-roasted meat, whole roasted peacock, whale meat, spiced fruitcake and plenty of ale.
But although Henry had a voracious appetite for most things, historians agree that one of the principle reasons that the monarch became such a fat chap was his unending love for black pudding. The pigs of Regent’s Park were rarely safe when Henry had an appetite on him, which was always.
It is highly indicative of both black pudding’s social standing and Henry’s love of it, that it found a place on the Tudor table. Its bedfellows were exotic and prized dishes, expensive and ostentatious dishes that were designed to flaunt the monarch’s wealth as much as it was to fill his ever expanding belly. Black pudding sat alongside grilled beaver’s tails; internal organs such as beef lungs, spleen and udders, usually preserved in brine or vinegar; boar’s head; stork and roasted swan.
This vast array of food was washed down by equally enormous quantities of wine and ale. It is estimated that 600, 000 gallons of ale and 75,000 gallons of wine were drunk every year at Hampton Court. Respectively, that was enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool and 1500 bathtubs.
Henry’s tastes for excess was inherited by his daughter, Elizabeth 1. In a period of three days, her court managed to consume 67 sheep, 34 pigs, 4 stags, 16 bucks (used to make 176 meat pies), 1200 chickens, 363 capons, 33 geese, 6 turkeys, 237 dozen pigeons, 2500 eggs and 430 pounds of butter, plus a cartload and two horseloads of oysters. The amount of black pudding is not recorded.
State functions aside, Henry was said to regularly spend over £1520 a year on food for himself and whichever wife was current, an immense sum for the time. There is, of course, always a price to be paid. When Henry ascended to the throne in 1509, aged 18, he was a slim, athletic figure. At the age of 23, before he truly discovered the delights of black pudding, his waist was just 34 inches. However by the time he was 48, after gorging himself on the finest puddings in the land, the Royal waistline had spread to an impressive – and deadly – 51 inches.
Along with his greater girth came gout, syphilis and finally an early death. He didn’t get the syphilis from black pudding, we hasten to add. History often treats Henry badly, perhaps on account of a regrettable habit of having his wives’ heads cut off. However it ought to be remembered that a man who loved black pudding can’t be all bad.