On this day in 1611, George Percy, wrote a letter to his older brother, the ninth earl of Northumberland, asking for money so that Percy might maintain a lifestyle appropriate to the “governour” of Jamestown, where he was expected to keep a “continuall and dayly table for Gentlemen of fashion.”
A number of things might strike the alert observer as interesting here. Poor epileptic Percy, for instance, wasn’t even the governor governor, but just the deputy governor. His deep-pocketed brother, meanwhile, received his mail in the Tower of London, where he was imprisoned for complicity in the Gunpowder Plot (remember V for Vendetta?). Such hijinks ran in the family, the seventh earl of Northumberland having been beheaded, and the eighth earl—George’s father—having been found shot to death in the Tower.
So yes, all of that is interesting, as is the fact that George’s brother was nicknamed the Wizard Earl for his interest in science, etc. But what really sticks out about this whole “dayly table for Gentlemen of fashion” business is that fact that this was only fourteen months after what came to be known as the Starving Time, when Percy, by his own words, suffered “a worlde of miseries.” When he and his fellows at Jamestown were “gladd” to eat dogs, cats, rats or, in some accounts, each other.
When, after a few months, they were left to resemble mere skeletons, “Cryeinge owtt we are starved We are starved.”
Just a little more than a year later, then, and Percy is writing his brother begging for money lest his table not be fashionable?
As Meg Ryan said to Tom Hanks in Joe versus the Volcano, “I have no response to that.”
Fashionable Men Keeping Dayly Table The Syndics of the Clothmakers’ Guild by Rembrandt (1662)