Outliers: A scullion in the Hampton Court kitchens

Season Two of HRP’s Outliers podcast is here – our history fiction podcast that tells stories from the perspective of those standing in the shadows of historical events. In this Outliers blog series, we’re uncovering the true history that inspired our podcasts’ compelling stories. In this week’s episode of Outliers, Scullion Daydreams, we heard the story of Robert, the young kitchen boy who worked in Hampton Court Palace’s kitchens during the reign of Mary I.

The Great Kitchen at Hampton Court Palace. The kitchen complex at Hampton Court is the most extensive surviving royal Tudor kitchen range in the world. © Historic Royal Palaces

Despite his lowly position, Robert is moved by the tumultuous religious changes of the time, and confused and scared about the persecution of heretics by Mary I. He attempts to navigate and understand this world whilst trying to keep his head down and ultimately remember his place as a scullion boy.

Robert is a fictional character, but his life is based on what it might have been like for a young boy working in the kitchens at this time. The hubbub and business of the kitchen, the chaos and heat, the comings and goings, were all taken from sources we have of the kitchens during this period where the kitchens were described as veritable hells. Our writer, Steven Camden, wanted to capture the essence of a boy caught up in a moment bigger than himself.

The story is set in 1555 when Mary I had recently come to the throne following a succession crisis. Mary’s brother Edward VII, increasingly evangelical towards the end of his life in practice and in legislation, planned to avoid a reversal of his religious policy by naming Lady Jane Grey his protestant heir. This coup failed. When Mary became queen she set about re-establishing Catholicism in England and chose a Catholic husband to bolster her power.

Choosing Philip of Spain as her new husband aggravated strong English xenophobic sentiment, which was made all the more powerful for being combined with anxiety about the potential power of a male consort. It also exacerbated the campaign against religious dissent, meaning the persecution of non-conforming Protestants kicked off in earnest.

A model of Hampton Court’s kitchens, and the Great Hall and Great Watching Chambers where food was served. © Historic Royal Palaces

In this story the main character Robert would have worked at Hampton Court during the reign of Edward and would have directly seen Edward’s evangelical tendencies and lived all his life under the Protestant faith. When Mary I came to the throne this would have turned his world upside-down.

Our story plays on all these ideas, and ultimately creates a moving piece to show how a young and vibrant life, unlikely to be considered important, could hold vibrancy and imagination enough to question they’re place in the world. This story gives us a peek into the lives of those who only ever saw half the picture, but were affected by it nonetheless.

Scullion Daydreams is now available to download. Listen to the new story and to all previous episodes on Apple PodcastsSpotify, or Stitcher

You can read the full transcript of Scullion Daydreams here

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