SINCE JANUARY, THE CROMWELL MUSEUM in Huntingdon, England, has been selling copies of one of the strangest cookbooks ever published. That’s according to Stuart Orme, the museum’s curator, who’s also written the new introduction to The Court and Kitchen of Elizabeth, Commonly Called Joan Cromwell, the Wife of the Late Usurper.
This is no Joy of Cooking. Instead, the book begins with what Orme calls “a very ranty essay” against Oliver Cromwell and his wife, Elizabeth. Cromwell, as the first non-royal to preside over the British Isles, was still a controversial figure at its publication in 1664, several years after his death. While the recipes that make up most of the book are typical of the time, the anonymous editor peppered the text with political, personal, and sexual slander aimed at tarnishing the Cromwell legacy.
Elizabeth Cromwell herself had nothing to do with the cookbook, a 1665 copy of which is on display in the museum. Though she was still alive at the time, she was, by all accounts, not a prominent figure in society or politics. She certainly never published anything, much less a cookbook. However, Orme believes that the recipes in The Court and Kitchen of Elizabeth did come from the Cromwell family records.
A cookbook may seem an odd vehicle for political propaganda, but Cromwell’s polarizing legacy was dominant enough to fill every possible medium. When the book was published, Cromwell was just a few years dead. Over his lifetime, he signed the death warrant for King Charles I and helped establish a republic in place of England’s traditional monarchy. But by 1664, with the monarchy restored and Charles II on the throne, royal supporters had an axe to grind. “There was a lot of anti-Cromwell propaganda produced to blacken the name of the Cromwells and to stabilize the Royalist regime,” says Orme. This cookbook was explicitly propaganda.