Sneak Preview: “My Lady Grace Castleton’s Booke of Receipts”

By Elaine Leong and Hillary Nunn

In case you missed the news, on Wednesday, EMROC will be hosting our annual transcribathon at the Folger Shakespeare Library. At EMROC headquarters, we’re all super excited and looking forward to the big day. This year, the recipe book at the centre of our flurry of activity is a small leather-bound book created by Lady Grace Castleton (1635-1667). But who was Lady Castleton and what’s so interesting about her recipe collection? For answers to those questions, simply read on!

From what we can tell of her short life, Lady Grace Castleton embodied early modern principles of domestic virtue. The daughter of a wealthy and politically active landowner, she gave birth to at least six children during her eleven-year marriage. She makes few appearances in typical historical records, but the substantial recipe book she left behind after her death at age 32 offers us some valuable glimpses into her household concerns.

Lady Castleton was born Grace Bellasis, or Belasyse, in Coxwold, to a family on the rise. Her grandfather Thomas Bellasis was 1st Viscount Fauconberg, and her father Henry bought the title of baronet and served five times as an MP, representing his local borough of Thirsk. He married Grace Barton, who gave birth to the future Lady Castleton in 1635. She married George Saunderson, 5th Viscount Castleton, in 1657. When Saunderson began serving in Parliament in 1661, Grace apparently followed him in his travels to London. She died there suddenly, in 1667. A funeral elegy dedicated to her and attributed to one “Jo. Sh.” declared that “Able she was with Learned men to reason, / Nimbly confuting Heresy and Treason,” that she “many ways helpt such as stood in need,” and, most notably, that she was so modest that no one “Need question whether she was man or woman.”

castleton-signatureLike many others, Grace Balasye started her recipe collection as a young woman. She inscribed her name on the inside cover of the book and began to enter recipes from both ends of the notebook – medical recipes in the front and recipes for ‘good cookery’ in the back. Upon her marriage to George Saunderson, the recipe book accompanied Grace to her new home and to mark her change in status, she crossed out the original inscription and, confidently, wrote underneath it “The Lady Grace Castleton’s Booke of receipts”.

After her death, the book remained in the possession of the Saunderson family and other family members, including Saunderson’s second wife Sarah, continued to add to the book well into the eighteenth century.

castleton-1Sarah was the widow of Lord Thomas Fanshawe, 2nd Viscount Fanshawe, whose aunt was the notable cookbook keeper Anne Fanshawe.

 The Castleton’s recipe collection was written into a small leather-bound notebook decorated with a coat of arms and closed with metal clasps. The notebook contains just over 200 recipes offering instructions to make a wide range of medicines and foodstuffs. Now we don’t want to give away too many spoilers – after all, half the fun of transcribing is discovering new ways to make chocolate cream or to dry apricots – but we will say this: there are number of recipes which will come in handy for Thanksgiving dinner and other feasts. And, for those of you suffering from the perennial start-of-academic-year colds and flus, we’ve got plenty of home cures in store for you. So, mark your calendars – next Wednesday, 9-5 EST, online or at the Folger – the second annual EMROC Transcribathon. Don’t suffer from FLMO, just join us!

More details available here. If you’d like to join us onsite at the Folger, please email Lisa Smith @ lisa.smith@essex.ac.uk.


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