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Dining With Maria De' Medici at the Royal Banquet

Dining With Maria De' Medici at the Royal Banquet

Maria’s marriage to Henry IV was one of the strangest and most staged nuptial meals in history: here is a look at the menu served at the sumptuous feast.

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After an infancy and childhood that were normal, though darkened by the death of her mother as well as the sudden and mysterious death of her father, the grand Duke of Tuscany, Francesco I, at the “late” age of 27, Maria De' Medici wed the king of France, Henry IV. For the French sovereign, an inveterate womanizer who had obtained an annulment of his previous marriage to Margherita di Valois, the wedding was an affair of state rather than of the heart.

Maria, physically described as reasonably attractive, somewhat plump but with lively eyes and a milky complexion, considered the “grosse banquière” (big banker) as she was called by one of the king's lovers, never had a happy marriage, though it was brightened by the birth of six children. In 1610 after her husband's assassination, Maria became regent for her firstborn son, the future Louis XIII, although those years were not recalled as triumphant ones in the history of France. Thus already in 1617, Louis (not yet sixteen), took the full reins, relegating his mother to a state of gilded reclusion.

From the point of gastronomic triumphs we must certainly recall Maria’s marriage to Henry, one of the strangest and most staged nuptial meals in history. As recounted in reports from the time, the ceremony, with great pomp, was held October 5th 1600 in Florence, in the Palazzo Vecchio, but without its male protagonist, who was in France “stretching girls out on the bed”.

The reception and banquet was organized by Giovanni del Maestro, the Grand Duke's majordomo. In the Description the very happy nuptials of her most Christian Majesty Maria, Michelangelo Buonarroti noted every detail of how the table was laid, all the dishes and sweet confections, as well as the ornamentation of the room. The theatrical marvels dreamt up by Buontalenti and statues of sugar sculpted by Giambologna caused quite a stir.

“The supreme setting” of the tables offered an astounding quantity of animals, in many groups, and the Queen was delighted to have before her a statue depicting her spouse astride his horse.

After the fruit puffy clouds fell from the ceiling with Juno and Minerva, and as they cleared the tables were transformed directly into others of mirrors and crystal, which in turn transformed into thickets with paths, hedges, and fountains, statues of nymphs and young shepherd girls decorated with flowers and fruit.

The majordomo, along with the head cook, had prepared the rich and sumptuous feast, which he finally arranged after a long and laborious preparatory period, even included dishes such as:
- Cold plates: prepared salads in bowls, castles of salami.
- First course served cold: sliced blancmange, Milanese “torta verde” savory pie.
- Second course served hot: triangular ground meat pie, stuffed roast suckling pig, veal tart.
- Selection of desserts: almond sponge cake, doughnuts, milk and honey in bowls.
- Cheese and fruit: marzolino, raviggiolo, peaches in wine, pears, grapes.

This story is taken from the book Tacuinum dè Eccellentissimi, ali&no publisher.

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