As you will know if you have read The Order of the White Boar, our hero Matthew accompanies Duke Richard to court at Westminster to spend the festive period of Christmas or Yuletide with his brother, King Edward IV and his family.
Gathered together that year were all of King Edward’s family, including young Edward, his eldest son and Prince of Wales, who had spent most of his young life with his mother’s brother, Earl Rivers in Ludlow, as Roger says, learning how to rule. Also there were Elizabeth and Cecily, the King and Queen’s eldest daughters, and Richard, their younger son. The various younger sisters were rarely seen during the festivities.
The Duke is welcomed to Westminster several days before Christmas itself with a sumptuous feast at which Matthew joins the many guests.
‘A banquet had been prepared to celebrate the Duke’s arrival and his victories at Edinburgh and Berwick. As a liveried page welcomed to its lower tables, I enjoyed the best that the royal kitchens had to offer.
We dined on swan, heron and egret, which were rarely seen at Middleham, and never even at the costliest feasts my father attended for the wealthy merchants and aldermen of York. Whole suckling pigs and sturgeon steamed as they were brought to the tables. The gilded crusts of venison pies shone gold in the flare of the sunset, while sweet pastries, marchpane and sugared fruits were silvered by torchlight that came later. Many of the foodstuffs must have been brought in on foreign ships, like those tied up at the London wharves. My first taste of the rich red juice of pomegranates was one I would always remember.’
Later Matthew moves to the palace at Westminster to stay there as part of the Duke’s company:
‘At the palace, I wandered its labyrinthine passages as far as my livery allowed.
I was a regular visitor in the cavernous kitchens with their heady aromas of fresh-baked bread and pastries, pig or deer roasting slowly on a spit. The kitchen boys were ever eager to tempt Murrey with morsels of whatever they had to hand. I also found the music room. The tutor, deserted for the holidays by his pupils in the royal family, delighted in teaching me new songs and tunes for my lute. And in the stables I lingered for hours, breathing in the scent of fresh sweet hay and horse sweat. But I never summoned up the courage to ask for a quiet pony suitable for me, Bess not having been brought from London with the lords’ horses.
While I lurked there, sometimes Duke Richard would set out for the pleasure of a gallop in the countryside around Westminster. Often he rode with Sir Francis – now made a lord as a reward from the King – or a company of courtiers, only once or twice with the King. I watched them until the last rider was out of sight, and hours later I would watch them ride back again, laughing and calling to each other. Once dismounted, they tossed their reins to stable boys – boys like me.’
But as the season wears on, Duke Richard enjoys his time at court less and less…