Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the University of Reading & Historic Royal Palaces's online course, A History of Royal Food and Feasting. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds On the 6th of February, 1789, we know from the diaries of Fulke Greville, one of his equerries, that George III is allowed to hold his knife and fork for the first time. This is significant. It means that he’s responsible enough and of sound enough mind to hold sharp things. But it also means that he can feed himself, that he’s no longer going to be confined to a straitjacket. So it’s a real sign of a man on his way to recovery. They’re just coming out of a massive autumn of discontent. George III has been incredibly ill. His household and actually the nation are incredibly worried about him. There’s the possibility of a regency coming along, which is something that’s unheard of.

Skip to 0 minutes and 53 seconds George the, who would become George IV he’s incredibly unpopular because he’s essentially everything that George III isn’t. George IV is extravagant and flamboyant, has mistresses. George III is a quiet, reserved family man seen as a sort of solid embodiment of the state. I think we need to understand that in the 18th century, the idea of being that was terrifying and that people who were mad were literally out of themselves. There was still even ideas of being possessed by devils and so on and so forth. So the idea that you were now considered sounds and ‘with it’ in yourself enough to hold sharp implements, it is a big moment.

Skip to 1 minute and 42 seconds Perhaps greater still that shortly afterwards George III is able to shave himself and even he goes to the extent of shaving his whole head. And in my mind, even though we have no evidence of this, I imagine someone with kind of mad and wild hair taking the step to kind of shave it all off so he becomes a sort of a much more sane looking character as well as being actually sane. We have something called the Bills of Fare. These function as the official record of what the cooks in this very kitchen were preparing for him. So in those bills of fare, there are probably about 12 different dishes.

Skip to 2 minutes and 24 seconds At this state, we have something called dining a la Francaise, which is a bit more like appearing in a Chinese restaurant where you share lots and lots of dishes. So there was always an element of what George III could choose. So within that dining– as opposed to dining a la Russe, which is like a restaurant menu today where you have starters, main courses and puddings, there were kind of invalid options within it. Quite interestingly, on the sixth of every menu, there’s a dish called crayfish a la creme, which speaking to other food historians, they think this is a bit of a weird anomaly. So this sort of simple fish dish might have been the thing that George III was picking.

6 February 1789

On 6 February 1789, George was deemed well enough to be able to eat with a knife and fork once more. In this video, Polly Putnam explains why this was such an important moment.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

A History of Royal Food and Feasting

University of Reading