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chapter eight The Expansion of the Sugar Market in Western Europe Eddy Stols At the palace of Brussels, on 18 November 1565, on the occasion of the festivities of the marriage of Alexander Farnese with Princess Maria of Portugal, a gallant company of great lords and ladies, surrounding the regent of the Netherlands, Margaret of Parma, crowded around a long table to admire crystallized fruits from around the world, from Spain, Portugal, Genoa, and Naples, from Africa and the marvelous Indies, laid out on dishes, in jars, in cups, and on plates, with matching and paring knives and napkins amidst chandeliers and candelabras .∞ Everything, except the cloth on the table, was made of sugar. Even more impressive was the set in a neighboring room, four or five times larger, where on another, even longer table were set scenes of the voyage of the Portuguese princess. One saw at the start the Pillars of Hercules and the imperial eagle, the squadrons of ships, the unfurled sails marked with the arms of Portugal and Spain, the raging ocean with its whales, dolphins, and sea monsters, the wreck of one boat and another in flames, the passengers throwing themselves in the water or drowning, the arrival in Zeeland, the reception at Middelburg and then in Gand, the river with its barges, the celebrating people, and, on the road to Termonde, packed with cavaliers and carriages, the princess surrounded by her ladies and black slaves in livery—and all was this in a region where custom prohibited slavery. A great carriage led to the entry gate of the city of Brussels, which enclosed the city’s churches and its towers, its roads and houses full of people, the palace with Her Highness the Regent, and an animal park, with lions, antelopes, and a herd of elephants ridden by Indians. The scene lacked neither card and dice players in taverns nor a theater of comedies. Behind some windows there were parakeets in cages, apes, and tiny cats. There were more than three thousand pieces made from the finest sugar, and 238 eddy stols they looked so natural that they could fool some people. Nevertheless, the guests were not at all embarrassed to eat sugar and fill their pockets with more. Soon there remained nothing but the heaviest pieces that one hardly dared to touch. The people and horses weighed up to nine or ten pounds a piece. It required no fewer than four men to carry each of these cities, three feet high and six long. Never had the Italian observer Francesco de Marchi seen a spread in sugar as splendid as this, except perhaps in Naples in 1536, at the marriage of Margaret of Parma and Alexander de Medici.≤ These pieces were displayed by the magistrate of Antwerp and the cost was estimated at more than three thousand ducats. As extravagant as these expenses might appear, they no doubt justified themselves to the head of these municipal authorities. They provided evidence of the abundance of sugar and established Antwerp as its principal European market, while they also brought the city closer to its principal Portuguese supplier. The display of such colossal quantities of sugar, which could probably be estimated at more than 6000 pounds, defies the imagination, yet became very familiar and beloved by these lands of plenty. In the past, sumptuous banquets with gigantic, soaring pieces were seen at the court of Burgundy, but they had been created from nearly inedible substances such as beef fat or wax. However, after 1530s, following the sugar sculptures invented in Italy for several wedding banquets of the Este, Sforza, Montefeltro, and Medici families between 1473 and 1539, the new hype in festivities in northern Europe swept to a similar conspicuous use of sugar. On 12 December 1531, celebrating in Brussels the birth of the infant Manuel, successor to the Portuguese throne, the Portuguese ambassador Pedro de Mascarenhas regaled his invitees, the Emperor Charles V himself, his sister, Queen Mary of Hungary, and the high-ranking nobility of the Low Countries with the new tempting delicacies, the sweets of Madeira. A rich midnight ‘‘bancquet de confitures et de succades’’ closed on 26 October 1544, after the splendid feast and dance at the Brussels’s Palace on the occasion of the visit of yet another sister of Charles V, Leonore, widow of King Manuel of Portugal and at that moment queen of France through her marriage to François I. At the end of August...


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