Online course

A History of Royal Food and Feasting

Chart the history of royal food in the splendour of royal palaces.

A History of Royal Food and Feasting

Why join the course?

Did you know that Henry VIII ordered the first apricot trees to be planted in England because he couldn’t get enough of them? Or that chocolate was first introduced to England by Charles II to compete with the French court?

On this course, you’ll join expert historians, curators and food scientists from the University of Reading and Historic Royal Palaces, to immerse yourself in the changing tastes of successive generations of royalty and experience the splendour of their palaces - from the Tudors to the 20th century.

Explore royal food through five remarkable monarchs and their palaces

Over five weeks, we’ll explore the history of royal food through the tastes of five key monarchs, and take an intimate look behind the scenes at some of the most incredible palaces in England:

  • Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace

  • Elizabeth I at the Tower of London

  • George I at Hampton Court Palace

  • George III at Kew Palace

  • Victoria at Kensington Palace.

Each week, you’ll be invited to:

  • Cook royal recipes: from Tudor pies to Georgian chocolate, prison food to afternoon tea, you’ll get a cooking challenge to try at home, so you can eat like royalty.

  • Get scientific: you’ll explore the flavour, nutritional value and medicinal benefits of royal food past and present, and investigate which era enjoyed the healthiest and tastiest diet.

  • Hone your investigative skills and powers of deduction: you’ll evaluate evidence, artefacts and science to draw your own conclusions about royal food in different eras.

  • Discover some surprising facts: we’ll share riveting tales and challenge some common misconceptions about palaces, monarchs, and their impact on dietary tastes today.

  • Share your findings with thousands of people around the world: you’ll debate your opinions and compare experiences with expert mentors and other learners.

  • Throughout the course, you’ll learn with well-known experts;

From University of Reading:

  • Kate Williams is Professor of Public Engagement with History. Kate has written acclaimed books on royal history, including books on Victoria and Elizabeth II. She comments widely on royal events and affairs on TV and also on food history - including Bake Off and on Heston Blumenthal’s shows. She has collaborated frequently with Historic Royal Palaces on fundraising events and believes that the palaces are a key part of the nation’s heritage that should be preserved for future generations.

  • Dr Lisa Methven: Associate Professor in Food and Sensory Science and manager of the Sensory Science Centre. Lisa’s research focuses on individual differences in sensory perception of foods and their association with liking, food choice and dietary intake. Her research has led to public engagement through television, radio and national press.

  • Dr Jane Parker: Founder and Director of the University Flavour Centre and an expert in the area of flavour chemistry.

Guest contributor:

  • Heston Blumenthal, OBE, world renowned chef is famous for his creativity and pioneering new techniques through multi-sensory cooking, flavour encapsulation and food pairing. Heston received an honorary Doctor of Science degree, in 2006, from the University of Reading in recognition of his unique scientific approach to food and long-standing relationship with the University’s School of Food Biosciences.

From Historic Royal Palaces:

  • Marc Meltonville: Food Historian with the Historic Royal Palaces kitchen team, with a specialism in Tudor food, who collaborates with Heston Blumenthal on new multi-sensory dishes for his award winning Michelin-starred restaurants.

  • Polly Putnum: Collections Curator responsible for Hampton Court Palace and Kew Palace, who researched the recently restored Chocolate Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace.

  • Dr Annie Gray: Historian, Cook, and Broadcaster who specialises in the history of food and dining in Britain from 1600 to the present day.

What topics will you cover?

Week 1: King Henry VIII and Hampton Court Palace

  • The Tudor kitchens at Hampton Court Palace and catering to the king, his court and servants.
  • The celebrations and christening of Edward VI.
  • Henry’s expanding waistline and the science behind his assumed, heavy protein diet.

Week 2: Elizabeth I and the Tower of London

  • Palace or a prison? Elizabeth I’s relationship with the Tower.
  • The expansion of Elizabeth’s empire, discovery of new worlds, exotic foods and their influence on eating habits.
  • Surviving or thriving; life as a prisoner at the Tower, and some daring escapes.
  • Sir Walter Raleigh; his life as a prisoner in the Tower, experimenting with herbal plants, including his Great Cordial recipe.

Week 3: George I at Hampton Court Palace

  • How chocolate came to be an integral part of the English court and why George I had his own chocolate maker.
  • Lavish entertainments using chocolate to showcase kingship and wealth.
  • The science of chocolate.

Week 4: George III at Kew Palace

  • The Royal Kitchens at Kew Palace and how it catered for the Royal family.
  • George III; flamboyance versus frugality
  • The mad king. George’s medical treatment and the food he ate following his first bout of mental illness.

Week 5: Victoria and Kensington Palace

  • Young Victoria and the celebrations in 1836 when she turned 17.
  • The rise of the middle class queen. New technology and the Victorian food revolution.
  • Victoria’s eating habits and her favourite foods.
  • The democratisation of tea and cake.

When would you like to start?

  • Date to be announced

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you'll be able to...

  • Investigate a range of evidence including: artefacts, documents and diary entries to draw conclusions about monarchs and key food events from the past.
  • Explore common misconceptions about the palaces, monarchs and their impact on changing dietary tastes from Henry VIII to Queen Victoria.
  • Investigate the flavour intensity, nutritional value and medicinal benefits of food past and present.
  • Discuss typical flavour combinations of the era based on a selection of historic recipes and flavour experiments, adapted for learners to try for themselves at home.

Who is the course for?

This course is intended for anyone with an interest in history, food and food science. It doesn’t require any reading before you start or previous experience of studying the subject.

Who will you learn with?

Kate Williams

I am Professor of History, University of Reading, author of acclaimed books on royalty, royal expert for TV, food and social historian. They've even let me talk food history on Bake Off! Big HRP fan!

Who developed the course?

The University of Reading has a reputation for excellence in teaching, research and enterprise.

Historic Royal Palaces is the independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and Hillsborough Castle.

Buy a personalised, digital and printed certificate and transcript

You can buy a Certificate of Achievement for this course — a personalised certificate and transcript in both digital and printed formats, to prove what you’ve learnt. A Statement of Participation is also available for this course.

Certificate of Achievement + transcript $59.00

Statement of Participation $54.00