This is a real puzzle. As discussed a few weeks ago, we are largely unaware of what was Lambeth Ale in the second half of the 1600s in England and how it set itself in the hierarchy of drinks. I am just going to note a few more findings in this post with the hope of narrowing the uncertainties. First, this is the account of the costs related to the horses required for a Royal weekend jaunt from the 1680s:
In this series we find the subjoined computation ” of the charge and expence of the Horse Liveries, according to the following rates,” viz. : Hay £4 per load, straw 30.S’. per load, oats 24.9. per quarter, beans 6s. per bushel, shoeing and medicining 2.f. per day ; more for each hunting horse 205. per annum. Each horse was allowed 1 bottle of hay, 1 peck of oats and 1 peck of beans per day, and 8 trusses of straw per month. Four “hunting horses” and 36 “hunters coursers and pads” was the established yearly allowance in the royal stables. The total cost of keeping each horse is set down at £52 10s. a year. Yearly charge for diet, etc, commencing April 1, 1689. Yeomen of the field to the King and Queen on hunting days were entitled to receive from the royal larder 2 manchets of bread ; 2 bottles of Lambeth ale ; 1 bottle of champagne, 1 bottle of Rhenish, and 1 bottle of Spanish wines…
What sort of bread is a manchet? A snazzy sort, I suppose. Anyway, it is clear that Lambeth ale is something kept in the Royal larder, the only beer or ale mentioned, next to the bread of the elite not to mention the champers. Its high status nature is confirmed by this account of another 1680s gesture at court:
In 1687, the French ambassador in London was sending to the marquis de Seignelay regular consignments of English ale, “known as Lambeth ale” and not “strong ale, the taste of which is not much liked in France and which makes men as drunk as wine and costs just as much.”
Interesting comment. It was not as strong as strong ale. A lighter thing. We see it referenced from the same decade again in a discussion of alms as recorded the account books from 1689 for the court of William and Mary compared to that of Charles II from a few years before:
…the alms are set forth as a money payment, and we do not see gifts to the poor mentioned as of yore amongst ” daily liveries of bread, beer and wyne for the several dyetts,” but, in company with wages and pensions and “board wages to old servants,” we notice that the sum of £219 is set aside for these” Daily Alms.” It crosses our minds that this allocation of £219, larger than that of Charles II, who had almost doubled the yearly allowance for “Daily Alms” made by the Tudors, may have been so expended by William and Mary partly in compensation for the dwindling contents of the alms-tubs under the economical regulations of the semi-Dutch Court. Careful record is kept of the ” manchets” or small rolls of bread and of the loaves required by the entire household. The King, Queen and Court were obliged to content themselves with 136 1/2 gallons of beer and 30 bottles of Lambeth ale as against 240 gallons which, under Charles II, had been distributed to the” poor at the Gate,” and we have only the item of I gallon of beer and a loaf per day for the porter. But as regards the consumption of beer at Court, we must bear in mind that ale and wine were no longer the exclusive beverages in the fashionable world…
Well, now we know what a manchet was. A small loaf. A bun. I shall order them accordingly in the future. Notice that Lambeth ale is reserved for the top dogs and measured by the bottle even if it might have been consumed by the stoneware mug. Its finesse did not mean it was consumed only in a dignified manner, if this passage from the 1693 farce The Richmond Heiress: Or, a Woman once in the Right is to be believed. Here we see the character Sophronia confronting a group of young privileged men including one named Hotspur and comments on their average day:
Sophr. Come, Sir, for once I’ll be a little satirical, and venture to describe the course of life of all you Men of the Town: In the Morning the first thing you do is, to reflect on the debauch of the Day before; and instead of saying your Prayers as you ought, relate the lewd Folly to some other young rakehelly Fellow, that happens to come to your Leve: The next thing is to dine, where instead of using some witty of moral Discourse that should tend to improvement, you finish your Desert with a Jargon of fenceless Oaths, a relish of ridiculous Bawdy, and strive o get drunk before ye come to the Play.
Hotsp. The Devil’s in her; she has nick’d us to a Hair.
Sophr. Then at the Play-House ye ogle the Boxes, and dop and bow to those you do not know, as well as those you do. Lord! what a world of sheer Wit too is wasted upon the Vizard-Masks! who return it likewise back in as wonderful a manner. You nuzzle your Noses into their Hoods and Commodes, just for all the world like the Picture of Mahomet’s Pigeon, when he gave the false Prophet his ghostly Instructions. Fogh! how many fine things are said there, perfum’d with the Air of four Claret! which the well-bred Nymph as odoriferously returns in the scent of Lambeth-Ale and Aqua vitae.
Hotsp. ‘D’s heart, what shall I do! I shall ne’er have patience to hear this.
Sophr. Then at Night ye graze with the hard-driven Cattel you have made a purchase of at the Play, and strut and hum up and down the Tavern with a swashy Mien, and a terrible hoarse Voice, which the Lady (to engage your liking) returns with some awkward Frisks, instead of Dancing, and a Song in a squeaking Voice, as untenable as a broken Bagpipe. Then supper coming in, the Glasses go about briskly. The Fools think the Wenches heavenly Company, and they tell them they are extream fine Gentlemen; ‘till at last few Words are best, the Bargain’s made, the Pox is cheaply purchas’d at the price of a Guinea, and no repentance on neither side. What think ye, Sir, am I not a rare Picture drawer?
I quoted from that extended passage mainly to capture the endearing Jeeves and Bertie aspect of it all – and not at all like Tom and Bob in 1821. Which again confirms its elite nature even if those of the elite, as is often seen, have charms which are less to be desired than they might think. If you add that to the suggestion that it is lighter than strong ale and served in a bottle and kept in royal larders next to the champagne, I am thinking that it sounds a lot like the role porter played one hundred years later in New York City, perhaps another drink which was also “ripe and brisk“?
Did the bottling make it more bubbly? More charming? Dunno. But that would certainly explain its particular attraction just as the paleness of Derby ale set it apart perhaps a few decades earlier. Soon, Burton comes alone and steals the spotlight but for now, in the last two decades of the 1600s, Lambeth seems to hold a very high spot amongst the available offerings.