Last Updated on 16th December 2017 by Sophie Nadeau
Sweets made from recipes dating back to the 16th-Century, floral garlands and lots of candles, each and every year the ancient Buckland Abbey is decked out for the festive season. Complete with authentic dancers in Elizabethan dress, here’s what it’s like during Christmas at Buckland Abbey.
A very brief history of Buckland Abbey
Located in a leafy copse at the edge of Dartmoor, Buckland Abbey has existed in some form or another for well over seven hundred years. As its name suggests, the Abbey was first founded by Countess of Devon, Amicia, in order to house Cistercian monks. Built in 1278, Buckland was the last of Cistercian Abbeys to have been constructed in medieval England and Wales.
However, in 1541 and with the dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII (who formed his own church, the Church of England to bypass the Pope and enable himself to divorce his wife!) the abbey came under threat. The once religious building was taken over by the Royal regime and Henry VIII sold Buckland Abbey to Sir Richard Grenville the Older. Together with his son, Richard Greynvile the Younger, he converted the Abbey into a family home one room at a time.
The Abbey, now converted into a functioning family home, was in the Grenville family for just forty years. It was then sold to accomplices of Sir Francis Drake. This was because the Grenville family despised Drake and would never have sold to him directly. Although Francis Drake is often ‘celebrated’ as the First Englishman to circumnavigate the globe, he was actually an awful man by any account- slave trader, pirate, thief, murderer, politician, and knighted by Elizabeth I.
He lived at the Abbey for fifteen years until his death in 1596. Buckland Abbey then remained in Drake’s family for numerous generations before being sold to a local landowner. Following a fire in the mid-1900s, in 1948, the property was donated to the National Trust, who have cared and looked after Buckland Abbey ever since.
Tudor Christmas Traditions (the Tudor period encompasses the Elizabethan Era)
The Tudor period is an era of British history which was between 1485 and 1603 and was the time when the Tudor family ruled the land. The Elizabethan era is named after Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled between 17 Nov 1558 – 24 Mar 1603, meaning that the Elizabethan period is part of the Tudor Era.
This era is regarded by many historians to have been the transition between the Feudal system and modern rule. Elsewhere in Europe during the 16th Century, the Renaissance was in full swing; art, science, and technology were advancing at a pace never seen before.
Feasting: The consumption of huge meals and massive meals was the preserve of the very wealthiest. During the 1500s, Turkey was introduced as a special Christmas treat (a tradition upheld in the UK today).
The Tudor Christmas Pie: Served solely at Christmas time, the Tudor Christmas pie comprised of many types of meat baked into a pie. Typically, the pie was formed of a pastry crust filled with a Turkey stuffed with a goose stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a partridge stuffed with a pigeon.
Carols: The singing of Christmas carols well and truly flourished during the Tudor period. Songs were an easy way to remember and recount stories such as the Nativity and Jesus’ childhood.
Christmas at Buckland Abbey
Currently owned and managed by the National Trust, Christmas at Buckland Abbey explores Tudor food and drink traditions, as well as Elizabethan dancing during the holiday period. The house is filled with Christmas decorations; some authentic, many not so much. (After all, the real origins of the Christmas tree may be Pagan, but most homes probably did not have Christmas trees until the Victorian era- 19th Century.)
Great Barn: The Great Barn at Buckland Abbey was once used as a symbol of the monks’ wealth and stored corn. Today, it houses a cider press and during the holiday season, it is used to display flower arrangements made by local societies. Floral arrangements have been created by themes including Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, St George and the Dragon and Father Christmas and the Wassail Bowl.
Decorations in the Abbey: The converted family mansion has been decorated with a number of traditional Tudor decorations including kissing boughs and marchpane galleons.
Tudor Kitchen: In the large and light-filled kitchen area of the abbey, an entire Tudor feast has been prepared. Learn about Tudor specialties like the ‘Fart of Portingdale’ (a traditional Tudor meatball) and the origins of the mice pie (yes, these popular sweet treats originally contained minced meat and were most definitely not suitable for vegetarians).