Dinner at Cowdray House, 1595
The writer points out that although this is late reign, the house is stubbornly Catholic, and the new young Viscount Montague (age 22) is interested in preserving the stately habits of his grandfather's household, to which he is heir.
Ten o'clock has just struck, and the household is mustering in the Hall, it being covering time, or the hour for preparing the tables for dinner. The Steward in his gown is standing at the uppermost part of the Hall, surrounded by most of his chief officers and some visitors, perhaps also some travelers, "strangers" who had availed themselves of His Lordship's hospitality.
The tables are neatly covered with white cloths, salt cellars, and trenchers, under the supervision of the Chief Usher. The Yeomen of the Ewery and Pantry conducted by the Yeoman Usher pass through to the great Dining Chamber. When they arrive in the middle of that room they bow reverently (although no one else be present) and do the same on approaching the table.
The Usher, kissing his hand, places it on the center of the table indicating to his subordinate where the cloth is to be laid.
The Yeoman of the Pantry steps forth and places salt and trenchers for my lord and lady, with bread, knives, and spoons, making a little bow as each item is laid down. The trio then reverence and retire.
Next comes the Yeoman of the Cellar who dresses the sideboard with wines, flagons, drinking cups and such vessels as are in his charge. The Yeoman of the Buttery follows and brings up beer and ale, and arranges the pewter pots, jugs, and so forth on the sideboard. It now being dinner time, the Gentleman Usher proceeds to take his Lord's commands. Having received his orders, he sees that the carver and server wash their hands and have clean cloths for their arms. The Usher of the Hall standing at the screen [the decorative barrier to the kitchen] calls out, "Gentlemen and Yeoman, Wait upon the Server for my Lord!", half a dozen gentlemen and yeomen at least following him to the sideboard. When they return, each carrying a dish, the Usher calls, "By your leave, my masters," and all who are present in the Hall stand while the Lord's dinner processes through the Hall to the dining chamber, where it is met by the Gentleman Usher, who sees the dishes placed on the table. The Viscount, having been informed by the Gentleman Usher that all is ready comes forth leading his lady, followed by her gentlewomen.
While they are so engaged, the Steward and those who sat at his table repair to the Lord's dining chamber and remain in attendance until the Gentlemen Waiters return, and all await the rising of the Viscount from his table.
The assemblage is now dispersed. Those who have leisure and desire it are at liberty to call for cards in the Hall, which the Yeoman officers provide, each player bestowing a gratuity in the "playing box" for this service, the contents of which are proportionately divided.
Staffing a Great Household
24 June 2005 pkm