Back to top

Soteltes at the Coronation Banquet of Henry VI


1 frumenty, made of boiled grain with sweetened milk (or almond milk)

2 a sweetened, jellied dish

3 Boars heads in pastry castles decorated with gold

4 a slice of red jelly with white lions carved into it

5 roasted peacock served in its plumage

6 A jelly-like dish prepared from various ingredients — fruits, meats, and white sauce — and cut into thin slices

7 Pork pie ornamented with leopards and gold fleur-de-lys

8 their mantles of the Order of the Garter

9 a dish of chopped eels or fish, here served white


ABBREVIATIONS: BL: British Library; MP: Minor Poems of John Lydgate, ed. MacCracken; PPC: Proceedings and Ordinances of the Privy Council.

Sometime before November 6, 1429, Lydgate was apparently commissioned to write verses to accompany the subtleties served at the coronation banquet of Henry VI. Although the verses are not attributed to Lydgate in the surviving manuscripts, MacCracken thinks they are “certainly” by Lydgate, although he dates them to 1432 (MP, 1:xxviii and 2:623) on the grounds that they fit with the other poems Lydgate wrote for the coronation (the Prayer for King, Queen, and People; the Roundel for the Coronation of Henry VI; and the Ballade to King Henry VI upon His Coronation). There were three subtleties (miniature pageants made of confectionary) at the banquet: the first showed Saints Edward and Louis with Henry VI between them; the second featured Henry VI kneeling before Emperor Sigismund and Henry V; the third depicted the Virgin with child, holding a crown in her hand, flanked by Saints George and Denis, who present the kneeling king to her. Lydgate’s verses probably accompanied each subtlety as a written text to explain the meaning of the image; A. Lancashire thinks the verses would probably also have been recited aloud so that everyone in the hall could hear them (London Civic Theatre, p. 125; for a subtlety with dialogue, at Ely in 1479, see I. Lancashire, Dramatic Texts and Records, no. 642). Lydgate’s verses seem to have been special expansions on the short “reasons” that typically accompanied subtleties, and were perhaps requested to enhance the effect, given the importance of the occasion. It is possible that Lydgate was responsible for the design of the subtleties (the “device”), but Kipling believes someone else decided on the emblematic subject matter that the artisans and cooks created and Lydgate was merely assigned the task of writing the accompanying verses or “scriptures” (“Poet as Deviser,” p. 83).

While the occasion was royal, civic and religious leaders would have been present for the banquet (according to one chronicler, Queen Catherine’s coronation banquet in 1421 was “opyn to alle pepull” [The Brut, p. 427]), and Lydgate’s verses touch on themes that would be of concern to all, particularly the vexed issue of the legitimacy of the dual monarchy (see McKenna, “Henry VI of England and the Dual Monarchy,” p. 157) and Henry’s youth. Lydgate stresses the king’s French heritage and his father’s friendship with Emperor Sigismund, which as Griffiths notes was a reminder of “the Lancastrian imperium into which Henry VI was now entering” (Reign of King Henry VI, p. 190), while also advocating a tough line against heretics and invoking various protectors for the young king, including the patron saints of England and France.

Soteltes survives in six manuscripts and in an altered version in Fabyan’s New Chronicles (1516). BL MS Cotton Julius B.i., fols. 79r–80r is the base text for this edition (MP, 2:623–24), collated (Lydgate’s stanzas only) with BL MS Lansdowne 285, fols. 5v–7v.

headnote This manuscript version is a chronicle that preserves the description of the courses and subtleties as well as Lydgate’s eight-line verses. John Russell, who was usher to Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, in his Boke of Nurture (lines 719–94) describes how to serve meals that include subtleties. Subtleties were presumably meant to be eaten: at Windsor in May of 1416, during the visit of Emperor Sigismund, three elaborate subtleties were served to Henry V and the emperor, while the other lords were served subtleties suited to their rank (see BL MS Cotton Julius B.i, fol. 39a). See the recent discussion of the verses and banquet by Epstein, “Eating.”

2 The appearance of the monarch-saints Edward and Louis underscores Henry VI’s supposed hereditary right to the thrones of both England and France. Compare Lydgate’s “Title and Pedigree” (MP 2:613–22).

5 The claim that Henry VI is the inheritor of the fleur-de-lys is an attempt to assert the legitimacy of his rule over France.

9–13 The reference is to Sigismund’s actions against the Hussites and to Henry V’s against the Oldcastle Lollard plot of of 1413, both instances in which heterodox threats were suppressed. Also see the Ballade to King Henry VI on His Coronation, lines 81–88, for the use of the same figures and theme. For Lydgate’s attitude towards heretics, see Brie, “Mittelalter und Antike bei Lydgate,” p. 275.

11 Lansdowne 285 (1450–75) substitutes “N” (presumably for the Latin word “nomen”) for the name of Henry VI in this line and for Henry V in line 20, possibly as a way of recycling the verses for other use. Compare the Prayer for King, Queen, and People, which in some manuscript versions has been altered to use for Edward IV (MP 1:215).

18–19 Saints George and Denis were the patron saints of England and France, respectively. During the first course, Philip Dymmock rode into the hall costumed like St. George and declared himself the king’s champion (see PPC, 3:6–7, and Historical Collections of a Citizen of London, p. 168).

22 His tendre yougth. Henry was barely eight years old at his coronation.

23–24 The last lines stress Henry VI’s claim by birth and “title of right” to rule over England and France.


ABBREVIATION: L: Lansdowne 285.

L simply lists in two columns the dishes served in each of the three courses.

3 see. Omitted in L.

4 moost sovereigne of price. L reads of moost soveraigne prynce.

6 help of. Omitted in L.
Crist. L reads grace.

7 sixt Henry. L reads seide harry.

8 hem. Omitted in L.

9 Ageinst. L reads Geyn.

10 which is. L reads with his.

11 Sithen Henry the Fifth. L reads And with N.

14 that succede. L reads that shulde succede.

18 that. Omitted in L.
art. Omitted in L.

20 The. L reads To.
Henry. L reads N.
your. L reads oure.

21 of grace on hym. L reads on hym of grace.

23 by title. L omits by.

24 in Fraunce. L omits in.
  [This was the first cours at his coronacion, that is to say, first, furmentie,1 with venyson. Viande Royal2 plantid with losenges of golde. Borehedes in castelles of earmed with golde.3 Beef. Moton. Signet (swan). Capon stued Heron. Grete pike. A redde lech with lions corven theryn of white.4 Custade Rooial (a pastry) with a leparde of golde sittyng theryn. Fritour like a sonne with a flour de lice therynne. A sotelté, Seint Edward and Seint Lowes armed in cote armours (coats of arms) bryngyng yn bitwene hem the Kyng in his cote armour with this scripture suyng: (see note)


Loo here twoo kynges righte perfit and right good,
Holy Seint Edwarde and Seint Lowes:
And see the braunch borne of here blessid blode;
Live, among Cristen, moost sovereigne of price,
Enheretour of the floure de lice!
God graunte he may thurgh help of Crist Jhesu
This sixt Henry to reigne and be as wise
And hem resemble in knyghthod and vertue.
Louis; (see note)
their; blood; (t-note)
Inheritor; fleur-de-lys; (see note)
through; (t-note)
sixth; (t-note)
him (i.e., Henry V); (t-note)

  [Here foloweth the second course: that is to wite: Viande blank, barrid of golde. Gely partid (particolored jelly) writen and notid Te Deum Laudamus. Pigge endored (roasted and glazed). Crane. Bitore (Bittern). Conyes. Chikyns endored. Partrich. Pecok enhakyll.5 Greate breame. Leches white6 with an antelop of redde corven theryn, a crowne about his neck with a cheyne of golde. Flampayne poudred with lepardis and floure de lices of golde.7 Fritour (fritter), a lepardis hedde with ii ostrich fethers. A sotelté, th’emperour and the kyng that ded is, armed, and here mantelles of the garters;8 and the kyng that nowe is, knelying bifore hem with this reasoun:



Ageinst miscreauntes th’emperour Sigismound
Hath shewid his might which is imperial;
Sithen Henry the Fifth so noble a knight was founde
For Cristes cause in actis martial;
Cherisshying the Chirch, Lollardes had a falle,
To give exaumple to kynges that succede
And to his braunche in especiall
While he dothe regne to love God and drede.
Against infidels the emperor; (see note); (t-note)
shown; (t-note)
Ever since; (see note); (t-note)
military deeds

descendant (i.e., Henry VI) especially

  [The thrid course sueth (follows); that is to say: Blaunde Surrey9 poudrid with quatrefoilis gilt. Venyson rostid. Egrettes. Curlewe. Cokkes. Plover. Quailis. Snytes (Snipes). Grete birdes. Larkes. Carpe. Crabbe. Lech of three colours. A colde bakemete (a cold meat pie) like a shelde quarterly redde and white, set with losenges and gilt, and floures of borage. Fritour crispes. A soltelté of Our Lady sittyng and hir Childe in hir lappe, and she holdying in hir hand a crowne and Seint George knelyng on that oo (one) side and Seint Denyse on that other side, presentyng the Kyng, knelyng, to Our Lady, with this reason folowyng:


O blessid Lady, Cristes moder dere,
And thou Seint George, that callid art hir knight;
Holy Seint Denyse, O martir moost entier,
The sixt Henry here present in your sight,
Shewith of grace on hym your hevenly light,
His tendre yougth with vertue doth avaunce,
Bore by discent and by title of right
Justly to reigne in England and in Fraunce.
mother dear
her; (see note); (t-note)
Denis; perfect
Show; (t-note)
increase; (see note)
Born; descent; (see note); (t-note)


Go To Appendix: Mumming of the Seven Philosophers