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Royal chocolate at the palaces

Historic Royal Palaces have announced that their Spring 2017 programme this year will include an Easter rabbit hunt at Hampton Court in partnership with Lindt, to coincide with the re-opening of the Magic Garden on 1 April. The Garden occupies the site of the former royal Tiltyard where jousting tournaments were held during the reign of Henry VIII. Created by the award-winning landscape architect Robert Myers, it was formally opened by HRH The Duchess of Cambridge on 4 May 2016.

The theme of royal chocolate has a particular resonance at Hampton Court Palace, with the re-opening of the royal Chocolate Kitchen in February 2014. The Chocolate Kitchen and Chocolate Room are chiefly associated with King George I and King George II, but they were, in fact, built much earlier, for William and Mary in around 1689. Chocolate was normally drunk daily, and George II had chocolate brought to him for breakfast at seven o’clock at Kensington Palace on the morning that he died in 1760. Queen Caroline, his consort – who predeceased him in 1737 – had her own preferred style of hot chocolate, with a dash of brandy. She drank this at her Christmas dinner the year before her death as an accompaniment to “minced pyes, plum broth, roasted chyne of pork, and roast turkey and watercresses.” This lovely historic recipe was re-enjoyed at the 2014 Georgian-themed Christmas events at Kensington Palace.

The fact that chocolate had become something of a royal perquisite meant that the Georgian kings had their own personal chocolate makers. Even Charles II had his own. We even know the names of some of the chocolate makers because the office they occupied was so special that their names were recorded, the title being an important one which gave not only personal access to the monarch when serving the drink, but which came together with material privileges and a considerable amount of prestige. Queen Caroline’s royal status entitled her even to her own chocolate maker separate to that of the king, a Mr Teed. In a yet earlier generation, Mary II’s sister Queen Anne also drank a plentifully large amount of chocolate, to which records attest. Chocolate was usually drunk in the morning, and at this time, it was served during the ritual of the royal ‘levee.’

‘The morning chocolate’ – by the artist Pietro Longhi, Venice 1775-1780 (Pietro Longhi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Chocolate houses became hugely popular and were primarily frequented by the elite who could afford to use them. Chocolate was more expensive than coffee, which explains why the drinking of chocolate alone could help to define your status. The fact that chocolate was primarily reserved for the aristocracy and the wealthy guaranteed its exclusivity and underlined the sense of privilege. The third Duke of Tuscany apparently took his chocolate flavoured with “jasmine, amber, musk, vanilla and ambergris.” The chocolate that Charles II drank was equally adventurous in its added ingredients, also including spices.

Chocolate was said to be to the Spanish what tea would become to the English, ‘coffee’ being derived from the Turkish ‘kahve’, which came into Austria as a result of the brief Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683. In Spain, honey and sugar could be added to chocolate, as well as vanilla and even pepper. It was known as being a royal drink – the Spanish-born mother of Louis XIV, Anne of Austria, adored her native Spanish chocolate and could not be without it, even in France. Chocolate was a particular favourite drink of William III, which explains why he had two other kitchens built for the preparation of it in his royal residences at Windsor Castle and Kensington Palace. It could be served in china cups, those at Kensington Palace were originally blue and white – perhaps an allusion to the Oriental blue and white porcelain which was so admired and collected by his consort Queen Mary II – or in more ornamental and elaborate examples, such as chocolate frames.

Chocolate pots were commonly made of silver and came with a hinged finial, which allowed the ‘swizzle stick’ or molinet to be stuck down the lid and the chocolate to be given a final whisk before it was taken to the king or queen. Today, the Chocolate Kitchen and Chocolate Room can be found on Fountain Court, close to a staircase that led to some of the original Grace and Favour Apartments at the Palace.

Royal chocolate is – as you might expect – to be found in the beautiful shops of all the royal and former royal palaces at any time of the year. This year, Buckingham Palace has produced an Easter chocolate rabbit as well as a box of mini eggs, tied with a yellow ribbon for its seasonal range. To complement the event at Hampton Court, visitors can get the chance to learn more about the importance of chocolate during their time at the palace and understand how it was both made and enjoyed, by taking a look at the Chocolate Kitchen itself.

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