The RCP’s new exhibition ‘This bewitching poison’ explores the fascinating and turbulent history of alcohol over the last 300 years. A beautiful ceramic caudle cup on loan from the Museum of London is the star of our first 'object of the month' post.
Caudle was a warm drink made from wine mixed with cream, egg and spices to ‘abate the strength of the wine’ and thicken the mixture. Popular in Britain from the Middle Ages, caudle was used for centuries as a restorative and comforting drink for invalids. Samuel Pepys ‘went to bed and got a caudle made me, and sleep upon it very well’ on 7 April 1660. 16th-century medical text The Byrth of Mankynde notes ‘It is a commune usage to geve often to women in there chylde-bed cawdels of ote-meele’. This tin-glazed caudle cup was made in 1660 to celebrate Charles II’s return to the throne and coronation in 1661. It features a colourful portrait of the king flanked by the flags of St Andrew and St George, and the inscription: 'DRINK/UP YOUR DRINK AND LEVE NON IN/FOR HEAR IS A HELTH TOO CHARLS OVER/RYOUL KING' [drink up your drink and leave none in, for here is a health to Charles our Royal King].
During the English Civil War and Commonwealth, beer was the drink of puritans and wine the choice of royalists, used for elaborate toasts in honour of the exiled Prince Charles, the future Charles II, giving caudle political as well as social significance.
The joy at the return of the excelled King was described by Samuel Pepys who attended Charles II’s coronation at Westminster Abbey on 23 April 1661. Pepys ‘drank the King's health and nothing else, till one of the gentlemen fell down stark drunk and there lay speweing’. Despite his hangover, Pepys ended: ‘Thus did the day end, with joy everywhere… Now after all this, I can say that besides the pleasure of the sight of these glorious things, I may now shut my eyes against any other objects, or for the future trouble myself to see things of state and shewe, as being sure never to see the like again in this world’.
Emma Shepley, RCP senior curator
The exhibition 'This bewitching poison': alcohol and the Royal College of Physicians ran from 13 January – 28 July 2014