23 December – Of Samuel Pepys, three nuns, a turkey and that man Cromwell.

pepysWith only two days of my metaphorical advent calendar to go I really should be getting a bit more festive – so with no further ado allow mw to introduce the turkey – property of one Samuel Pepys. In 1660 Mrs Pepys was troubled by the art of spit roasting the aforementioned bird. In fact you can read every single 23rd December that Pepys ever recorded should you feel the urge by following the link:



A swift search of the net reveals that in the UK ten million turkeys are eaten each Christmas. I had thought it was a relative new comer to the Christmas table. After all, you only have to think of Ebenezer Scrooge and the prize goose that graced the Cratchets’ table to realise that the turkey has not always been the bird of choice but apparently, and I really am sorry about this because I had hoped to avoid him today, that the first turkey arrived in England in 1526 and, yes, the first monarch to eat turkey was Henry VIII though it was Edward VII who made them into a popular festive meal.  For more about festive birds read the History Extra article here.

Since it’s proved impossible to bypass the terrible Tudor I should probably also mention that Dr Legh, one of Cromwell’s monastic visitors, was wandering around Huntingdonshire on his way north on the 23 December 1535. He took it upon himself to visit Hinchinbrooke  Priory.  Sadly the prioress, Alice Wilton, was very unwell and the sight of Legh was enough to finish her off.  Legh promptly took charge of the keys and the money coffers before asking Cromwell what he should do next.

There being only three nuns in addition to the prioress and it being a poor establishment the priory was swiftly suppressed. Ownership passed on to Richard  Cromwell who was the son of Morgan Williams who married Katherine Cromwell, Thomas Cromwell’s sister. Richard took his uncle’s name and benefited from his uncle’s patronage to the tune of several large chunks of monastic land including Hinchinbrooke Priory and Ramsey Abbey.  Hinchinbrooke was to become famous as the birthplace a couple generations down the line of  Oliver Cromwell.
‘Henry VIII: December 1535, 21-25’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 9, August-December 1535, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1886), pp. 340-350. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol9/pp340-350 [accessed 6 December 2016].

‘Houses of Benedictine monks: The priory of Hinchinbrook’, in A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 1, ed. William Page, Granville Proby and H E Norris (London, 1926), pp. 389-390. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/hunts/vol1/pp389-390 [accessed 7 November 2016].

One thought on “23 December – Of Samuel Pepys, three nuns, a turkey and that man Cromwell.

  1. Thomas Strickland was the first breeder of turkeys in Britain he built Sizergh Castle in Kendal on the proceeds. Edward made him Royal breeder of the bird and so Strickland became rich. This young Yorkshire lad had made it and kendal changed the main streets name to Stricklandgate as a direct result. From Kendal the humble roast turkey traveled all over Europe. Long before Bernard Matthew we all ate turkey burgers on Boxing day. Boxes of cold cuts and puddings presented to servants and workers for the family gave the name Boxing day to the world.
    God bless us all and Tiny Tim was a turkey not a goose in the tale from Dickens. Turkeys I have bred and taken to 40 lbs dead weight for hotels and our table over the years we farmed in Cumbria gave me the love of that meat .Wrapped in British bacon so no dry meat cook on breast for an hour and dress with bacon rashers back on its back on potato base and lots of parsley cook 20 minutes per pound and 28 minutes the bird. Do not baste . Use fates skimmed for gravy. Never had what all say is very dry meat . We baste our birds in a big bin of brine with herbs oranges and spices. Up to four days and dry to roast as explained. Hope this Christmas brings peace to the world and unity with Europe.

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