Turkey Legs? I Don’t Think So

As you all know I recently attended the Great Plains Renaissance Festival. As per the usual ren fest food offerings, there were turkey legs which people carried around as they munched on them. And I wondered, why turkey legs?


Well sure we all have the image of the pompous lord or king chowing down on a large hunk of meat while throwing bones behind him for the dogs to fight over.  And sure there is a painting of Henry VIII holding a drumstick of some sort. And of course because its a large drumstick it must be a turkey, right? It couldn’t possibly be from a larger European game bird.

Well, it wasn’t turkey and nobody in Europe was dining on turkey in medieval times. How do I know this? Because turkeys are indigenous to the Americas. The only people eating turkey during those times were the native peoples of the Americas.

So why are turkey drumsticks the preferred food to be served at renaissance festivals? Other than they are cheap and serving lamb shanks, pheasant, and the like would probably cost too much.

I also wondered why there wasn’t any ‘real’ food from those times offered. So I went researching and discovered that unless they served the food nobility would have eaten back then, no one now days would eat it. The food from those times was strictly regulated according to class, to the point that during part of it, there were laws put into place to keep commoners from indulging in the refined foods of the nobility. In fact they believed that commoners needed coarse grains and apparently they didn’t need many spices. Meat was expensive and it was a luxury most commoners couldn’t afford.

Nobility supposedly had to have more refined foods because they couldn’t digest the rougher foods the common people ate. Rich and poor were warned about the dangers of trying to eat above or below their class.

One thing however is sure, neither the nobility nor the commoners were eating turkey.

11 thoughts on “Turkey Legs? I Don’t Think So

  1. I would like to state that my love for another Renfaire food (Scotch Eggs) is so potent, I’ve written it into my books. Twice. And could a Capon leg get as large as a turkey’s?


    • I’m not sure if they can get that large or not. It’s also entirely possible that the drumstick in question was painted larger than actual size. Sine a large chunk of meat in his hand would have been as much a display of his status and wealth as his clothes were, the artists may not have painted it exactly.

      I will have to try Scotch Eggs 🙂


  2. Actually, it is quite possible that Henry VII did indeed have the opportunity to feast on turkey. His reign ended in 1547. The turkey was first imported around 1526… So there were a couple decades for the delicacy to reach the royal tables…


  3. “And sure there is a painting of Henry VIII holding a drumstick of some sort”….
    Actually, there isn’t any such painting. That’s the curious thing. A lot of people have that vivid memory of Henry holding a turkey leg in a portrait…..but the painting doesn’t exist.


    • From the research I did, it said a drumstick which could have been the leg of a swan or any other fowl they ate. I do acknowledge I’ve never seen the pic, I only read things about it while researching for this post.


  4. Sorry for the late response here, but does anyone realize that the portrait of Henry the VIII eating a “bird” leg, no longer exists. As in it has been wiped from our timeline? Just curious. Madella effect is in full capacity. Since 2012, many things have changed.


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