From the middle Ages up to the 19th century the coronation ceremony was traditionally followed by a coronation banquet in Westminster Hall. The last such banquet was held in 1821 after the coronation of George IV. It was a particularly lavish affair involving hundreds of guests and huge quantities of food. Some of the ingredients included: 7,442Ibs of beef, 7,1331bs of veal, 2,474Ibs of mutton, 250Ibs of suet, 160 geese, 1610 chickens, 520 hen, and 1730 lbs of bacon, 550 Ibs of lard, 912 Ibs of butter and 8,400 eggs.
Much of the banqueting plate in the Jewel House was traditionally used at such feasts, either on the king's table or displayed on buffets. The standing salts, of which there are a large number on display, fulfilled an important social as well as practical role: the status of the diner being reflected in where he sat in relation to the salt.
The Plymouth Fountain, mid-17th century
This elaborate piece was presented to Charles II by the City of Plymouth as a symbol of their loyalty at the Restoration. Generally attributed to Peter Oehr I of Hamburg, the fountain was originally silver and was later gilded for the coronation of George II in 1726 and re-gilded in 1821 for the coronation of George IV. The piece has been considerably altered since it was first made but it appears from contemporary accounts that originally perfumed water was fed through the fountain and cascaded into the four large basins. The final figure was originally that of Hercules, but after the coronation of George III in 1761, it was apparently removed and delivered to a page at Buckingham Palace, and was not returned to the Jewel House. A new figure, possibly representing Cleopatra and the Asp, was made for the coronation of George IV.
The Exeter Salt, c.1630
The Exeter Salt, or Salt of State, was another gift presented to Charles II at the Restoration, this time by the City of Exeter. It bears the mark of the German goldsmith Johann Hass. Many theories have been expounded about its design: the upper half has been likened to the old Pharos (lighthouse) of Alexandria, the seventh wonder of the world, and the lower half has been said to be a model of the White Tower at the Tower of London. All the turrets can be removed and underneath each is a small receptacle which holds about an ounce of salt. Other concealed drawers would have been used for pepper and spices.
St. Georges' Salts, 1660-1661
The probable origin of the eleven Sr. Georges' salts was a banquet organized by the Knights of the Garter and held in the presence of Charles II on 15th April 1661, in honor of St George's Day. There were originally 6 sets each of four salts: one set for the King's table, 4 sets for the Knights' tables, and a further set for the Officers of the Order. The King's set are shaped like hourglasses while those for the Knights have circular bodies. All are surmounted with canopies bearing an armed equestrian figure. The salts for the Officers of the Order have napkin brackets around the salt wells instead of canopies.
In 1680 a large quantity of Jewel I louse plate was melted down to provide funds for Charles II and it is thought that twelve of these salts were destroyed at this time, leaving the King's set, the Officer's set and one each of the four Knight's sets. A further salt was lost around the time of William and Mary's coronation in 1689 and was replaced with the Queen Elizabeth Salt.
When the four salts of the Officers of the Order were being prepared for the coronation banquet of George IV in 1821, the crown jewelers mistook the brackets for legs, turned the salts upside down and fitted new salt dishes into their bases. The salts were thus displayed upside down for nearly a hundred years until 1906 when William Watts, Keeper of Metalwork at the Victoria & Albert Museum, noticed the error. There are also twelve salt spoons on display which were made in 1820 for the coronation of George IV and are engraved with his royal arms
The Queen Elizabeth Salt, 1572
The Queen Elizabeth Salt of 1572 has been attributed to the London goldsmith Affabel Partridge known to have been working for the Queen from about 1558-1576. The salt, however, is not identifiable in any royal inventory before the second half of the 17th century and is therefore unlikely to have actually belonged to Queen Elizabeth I. It is suggested that the salt was most probably acquired for the Crown at the time of the Restoration and the presence of Charles II's cypher beneath one of the feet helps support this theory.
The main body of the salt is decorated with three panels depicting, in relief, the figures of the virtues Faith, Hope and Fortitude. The three circular panels on the domed cover contain the figures of Ceres, Lucretia and Cleopatra.
The armed figure surmounting the cover bears a large sword in his left hand. The prop in his right is thought to be the original support of an emblem or coat of arms long since lost. Inside the cover is engraved the Tudor rose.
Unlike the majority of the banqueting plate in the Jewel House which was reserved for use at coronation banquets, the two caddinets on display were most likely used as everyday pieces by royalty. They functioned as place settings with the small lidded box on the left of the tray containing the salt and the longer one on the right, the cutlery.
The caddinet of 1683 was made for Charles II and originally bore his coat of arms; it is now engraved with the arms of William and Mary. The second, caddinet of 1688, also bears the arms of William and Mary but of the period prior to their recognition by Scotland. Hence, both the second and third quarters of the shield are occupied by the Irish Harp while the second supporter is not the Scottish Unicorn but the Tudor Dragon.
The two caddinets were probably sold in 1808 with other surplus plate to defray the expenses of the Princess of Wales, Caroline of Brunswick, wife of George IV. They were subsequently in the collection of the Earl of Lonsdale and in 1975 were jointly acquired by H.M. The Queen and the British Government from Lord Lonsdale's estate.
The Wine Cistern, 1829
The Wine Cistern, or Grand Punch Bowl, was supplied for George IV in 1829 by the Crown Jewelers of the day, RundeII, Bridge and RundeII. It bears the maker's mark of John Bridge. It is said to be the heaviest recorded surviving piece of English plate weighing some 8,000oz, or nearly a quarter of a ton (257.23kg). The upper section of the body is elaborately decorated with Bacchanalian scenes and the lower half is encrusted with rocks, shells and all manner of marine life. The interior is engraved with the royal arms of George IV.
The wine Cistern can hold 144 bottles of claret which would have been cooled with ice and damp cloths as claret was often not served at room temperature in the 19th century.
In 1842 the Wine Cistern was used as a punch bowl for the christening of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, Queen Victoria's eldest son and later Edward VII. For this purpose a ladle was made in 1841, the bowl of which represents a large conch shell. The handle is engraved with the arms of the Prince of Wales and an inscription recording its use at the christening.