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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds Hello, I’m Polly Putnam. I’m one of the curators for Historic Royal Palaces. We are in one of two rooms which were dedicated to the making, and preparing, and serving of chocolate. Chocolate was drunk in Central America– we know from archaeological evidence from about 1500 BC. Chocolate within Mayan culture is a royal drink. It’s used in marriage ceremonies. It’s used in currency. This is because inherently, chocolate is difficult to grow and difficult to prepare. So right from its earliest origins, there’s a kind of added value to it. Chocolate gets introduced to England, probably in about the 1640s. The earliest written work on chocolate mentions that it was drunk in the court of Charles I.

Skip to 0 minutes and 55 seconds Obviously, when Cromwell comes along, he and his more puritanical followers aren’t going to be drinking something as delicious as chocolate. However, what happens is Charles II revives this tradition. He introduces a chocolate maker, called Soloman de la Faya, in 1682. Charles II has his own special chocolate recipe. And this includes the most expensive things you could possibly imagine. It includes ambergris. It includes chilli pepper, cardamom, and all kinds of spices. By the time you get to the reign of Queen Anne, we see that she’s actually making chocolate drinking part of the formal court ritual.

Skip to 1 minute and 37 seconds We know from her Lady of the Bedchamber, Abigail Masson, that part of her morning ritual, her levee, was the fact that the Lady of the Bedchamber had to kneel down, and serve Queen Anne chocolate. Indeed, Queen Anne, we know, is one of the most prolific chocolate drinkers of all our kings and queens. We know from her private bills that she was buying enough chocolate for 30 pints a month. When George I arrives from Hanover, he’s actually in rather straitened circumstances. He doesn’t have personal access to large pools of money in the way that previous kings and queens did. He has to petition to parliament for all of his expenses.

Skip to 2 minutes and 21 seconds So it might seem strange that one of the most extravagant things you could possibly imagine, a personal chocolate maker, is still something that he’d be willing to pay for. However, because chocolate had become so much part of the English court experience, if you stop serving chocolate people are going to become upset.

How chocolate came to court

Standing in the Chocolate Room at Hampton Court Palace, Collections Curator Polly Putnam explains how drinking chocolate came to the English Court, and why George I kept this tradition going upon coming to the throne.

Nestled in the colonnades of Fountain Court, the Chocolate Kitchen and Chocolate Room were an important part of William and Mary’s new baroque palace. This Chocolate Room would have stored the delicate serving cups and dishes.

Both the Chocolate Kitchen and Chocolate Room are based near the King’s back stairs, which meant a quick journey for the chocolate maker to present the chocolate to the royals.

Polly Putnam

Polly will be answering your questions between 12.00 - 13.00 (GMT) on Wednesday 9 May on this Step. If you would like Polly to respond to one of your questions, please post them in the comment section below before then. Don’t worry if you miss the session for any reason – you can see Polly’s replies in her comment feed looking at her profile page.

One of our previous learners shared this website if you would like to find out more about attitudes to chocolate from other European courts at this time.

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This video is from the free online course:

A History of Royal Food and Feasting

University of Reading