The Ruler’s Fast: Fish Consumption in the Cuisine of Sigismund Augustus (1544–1572), Grand Duke of Lithuania

  • Neringa Dambrauskaitė
Keywords: Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Sigismund Augustus, cuisine, fast, history of everyday life


The goal of the article is to explore fish consumption in the cuisine of Sigismund Augustus, Grand Duke of Lithuania. The tasks set for the research are the following: 1) to examine the sources of fish stocks; 2) to study the supply of fish to the ruler’s cuisine, and 3) to find out the periodicity and the menu of the fasts. The main sources for the research were court records books of Sigismund Augustus, Grand Duke of Lithuania, and especially the manuscript of the ruler’s steward who kept daily records of Sigismund Augustus’s menu in 1566. Analysis of sources shows that there were several sources of fish stocks: the lakes and rivers of the ruler’s manors, the ponds that composed large systems in the Sigismund Augustus’ manors, and from markets. The supply of fish to the ruler’s cuisine was well organized, and the ruler’s steward who responsible for this. At the time when Sigismund Augustus stayed in his Vilnius residence, most of the fish, in particular pikes, were supplied from the ponds of Viršupis manor near Vilnius. Some fish, for example, salted bream, bass, roach, and catfish were supplied by the administrators of the ruler’s manors. Additionally, various species of fish were bought to Vilnius market. When the ruler went hunting and stayed in a particular hunting manor in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, fish were supplied from local lakes, rivers, and ponds by the administrator of that manor. Some fish were bought in surrounding places. The administrator or the ruler’s steward also bought fish from the markets in Vilnius or Kaunas and sent to the hunting manor. The book of the ruler’s steward of 1566 shows that Sigismund Augustus fasted every Friday and Saturday, and also on the feast days. About two hundred fish of several different species were consumed on each fast day in the ruler’s cuisine. Expensive large pikes usually served for dinner and supper. Other expensive fish such as salmon, sturgeon, and eel were consumed not so often. Carp, crucian carp, tench, bass, roach, bream, trout, ide, herring and other fish also were eaten on the fast days. The ruler’s cuisine was varied, plentiful and luxurious even on the fast days.