Around 1520, at the court of Henry VIII of England, a new meal type emerged. Called the ‘banquet’, this took place after the main meal, in a distinct space, and consisted of sweet foods, spiced wine, and sculptural sugarwork. Originally developing at court, the sweet banquet was quickly embraced by the nobility and gentry. This article investigates the adoption of this dining practice in the wealthy country houses of early modern England and the reasons for its popularity in this specific context. It draws on state papers, published works, and household accounts to establish the ways in which the banquet was utilized and understood by early modern elites. This evidence makes it clear that a high-status person would have expected to be entertained with a sweet banquet at any important social occasion involving their peers. An examination of the visual and material cultures associated with the banquet establishes that it was a highly effective means by which to express class status at a time of anxiety regarding social mobility. As an appropriation of the ancient symposium, it provided opportunities to engage with the intellectual and visual cultures of the classical world and the Renaissance.
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