Food, after being prepared, was placed on the dresses in the kitchen until the time it was to be served.
In the Great Hall, the most distinguishing element was the Great Table, which was set on a dais and was generally reserved for people of highest ranks.
It was also customary to wash the hands of the guests at the entrance of the Great Hall, before the start of the medieval banquet.
Medieval Banquets and Buffets
An important element of a medieval banquet, particularly the royal feasts, was the buffet a term that has continued to exist in today’s world, although its connotation has changed to some extent.
During the medieval times, the terms buffets was used for a series of wooden planks that contained a number of stepped shelves. The significance of the shelves was that their number indicated the rank.
Thus wooden planks with more shelves were reserved for people of higher ranks and distinction. These stepped buffets were considered an essential component of medieval banquets and feasts.
It was a norm to use the finest plates of gold and server during the buffets and feasts which, again, signified class distinction and social status.
Medieval Banquets during the Reign of William the Conqueror
During the reign of William the Conqueror, from 1066 to 1087, a trestle table was used in royal feasts, although it was reserved for the king. An interesting aspect of these medieval banquets was the use of square shaped stale breads as plates.
These plates were called trencher and, at the end of the banquets, were given as alms to the poor. The top table was reserved for the king and the chosen few who he deemed worthy of sitting beside him.
The King’s food was cooked separately and it was considered a great honor if the king sometimes chose to give out food to a guest from his plate.
Tablecloths had elaborately embroidered linen and plates and cups of gold and silver were used. Important elements of the food served in medieval banquets included game birds, fish, turbot, and venison.
14th century medieval banquet in an English Castle
The servants who exclusively served the king during these banquets were called servants of honor and were senior in rank than other servants.
As the custom went, the top table was reserved for the king and his chosen guests, with the most honored ones sitting on the right of the king. Fine wines were reserved for people of distinction while ale was served to the rest of the guests.
An interesting part of these medieval banquets was dramatic performances which were enacted between the stages of service. The usual time of a medieval banquet was 11am and it could go on for hours.
Medieval Banquets in France
Just like the manners and etiquette on the tables, the kinds of food served during the medieval banquet were also impressive in range and type.
There were usually four to six courses during each banquet.
Food included roasted meat, sweet dishes of various forms, wines, and other components.
For instance, the great feast given by Count of Anjou, third son of King Louis II of Sicily, in 1455 contained goat meat, gosling’s, roasted chickens and pigeons, young rabbits, herons, leveret, red and white jelly, cream covered with fennel seeds, cheese in slices, strawberries, a pig, a row-deer, a sturgeon, and various other dishes.