“Jerome Bowie, sumlyer, of all wynes that he sall desyre to the Kings Maiesteis vse”: The 16th century history of sommeliers.
This is my second post exploring the history of the sommelier. Though this position has existed for centuries, there is incredibly no comprehensive history in English. Please find my first post at “[S]mashed [the bottles of wine] publically and then left him for dead”: The Early Association of Sommelier with Wine.
When James VI toured through Scotland in 1617, it was the culmination of two years of advanced planning. James VI was King of Scotland since 1567 and became King of England and Ireland in 1603. His unique position as the son of Mary, Queen of Scots and the great-great-grandson of Henry VII, King of England and Lord of Ireland, enabled him to ascend the throne of the independent sovereign states of England and Scotland. It was anticipated that some 5,000 people and 5,000 horses would be visiting with James VI. Such a large group required roads and bridges to be repaired in advance, lodging to be found, and of course the procurement of food and wine.The general planning for the visit was conducted by the Scottish Privy Council which was the body that advised the monarch of Scotland as well as carried out executive and judicial orders. In the Register of the Privy Council the detailed planning records for the visit of James VI may be found. Between £200,000 and £229,000 was spent on the trip. Of this amount, £48,000 was assigned “for purchase of wines etc.” with over £17,000 spent on wine alone. These funds were not haphazardly spent for the money was given to Jamies Baillie and James Bowie who was “servand of his majesties wyne sellair”. The transportation of the wine was important enough that “Sarjand Bowy” was furnished with a ship so that he could “lay in the cavys of his palicis at Halyruidhous, and uther partis of his resort.”
James Bowie came from a family long involved in wine. Like his father, he too was the Master of the King’s Wines. Though somewhat sadly, it was a position he was only appointed to upon his father’s death in 1597. Of great interest is that both of these men were considered “His Majestie’s symlier” or sommelier.
In my post “[S]mashed [the bottles of wine] publically and then left him for dead”: The Early Association of Sommelier with Wine I relate how very little research has been conducted into the history of sommeliers. I note that the earliest reference to sommelier in early modern English dates to 1543, when the King of France granted “readily that Henry’s ‘sommelier’ at Bordeaux should be suffered to depart with the wines he had bought there for [King] Henry [VIII].” Unfortunately there is no contextual information about who this sommelier was nor the range of responsibilities. The fact that we can link both James Bowie and his father Jerome Bowie as Master of the King’s Wine to the position of sommelier thus becomes very important. It demonstrates that the French term of sommelier was applied to non-French citizens and helps define the role of a sommelier in England and Scotland during the 16th century.
This royal link between sommelier and Master of King’s Wines is further echoed in Erienne Pasquier’s description in Les Recherches de La France (1621) that a sommelier carried bottles of wine for princes and great lords. However, the Master of King’s Wines carried more responsibility than simply a porter of wine for royalty. Indeed, “Jeremy Bowie, simleir” received “letters of commissioun for visiting, taisting, and uptaking of wynis to the furnissing of his Majesteis house upoun ressonabill prices”. Not only could Jerome Bowie search houses in boroughs and towns but he could also search ships. As the King’s sommeliers they often looked for the “best sorts” of “new Burdealx wyne”.
The King’s sommelier purchased a variety of wines include Spanish and “hottopys” or haut pays but it was Bordeaux that was the favorite. This taste for Bordeaux wine was certainly cultivated during the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France. The close ties and favorable trading arrangements meant that many Scots setup in Bordeaux as “warehousemen, retailers, and factors.” It is perhaps through this active trade in Bordeaux that the term sommelier fell into use.We know that the sommelier was used in official correspondence during the second half of the 16th century thanks to the informative Dictionary of the Old Scottish Tongue (up to 1700). This dictionary details several dozen entries mentioning sommelier from 1559 through 1599. These entries chronicle the variations in spelling: symmular, symliar, simleir, symmolier, symbleris, symblair, sumlieris, and even semlairs to name a few. It is not yet clear that every single entry refers to a sommelier of wine.
The majority of the original texts do, however, refer to the Bowie family but there are other sommeliers involved with wine such as “Leonard Baillie, summeleir to oure Soveranis” meaning Mary, Queen of Scots. In reviewing the various texts it appears to me that a sommelier was a royal officer in charge of sourcing, choosing, buying, and transporting wine for the monarch. It would be fascinating to learn further details about the sommelier’s daily life within the royal house but I am not sure if that documentation exists. Until then, the evolution of the sommelier from a royal position should be told.
 McNeill, William A. and McNeill, Peter G.B. The Scottish Progress of James VI, 1617. The Scottish Historical Review, Vol. 75, No. 199, Part 1 (Apr., 1996), pp. 38-51
 The Register of the Privy Council of Scotland. Vol XI, 1616-1619. 1894. URL:
 The Historie and Life of King James the Sext. From 16th and 17th century sources printed in 1826. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=-1sJAAAAIAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
 Bowie, Walter Worthington. The Bowies and Their Kindred. 1899. URL: https://archive.org/details/bowiestheirkindr00bowi
 The Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, Volume 3. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=qmEhAQAAMAAJ&pg=PR3#v=onepage&q&f=false
 Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh: Index, a.d. 1403-1589, and a glossary of peculiar words. 1882. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=lYE1AQAAMAAJ&pg=PP7#v=onepage&q&f=false
 The Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, Volume 3.
 Lynch, Michael. The Oxford Companion to Scottish History. 2007.
 The Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, Volume I. 1877. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=ByQ5AQAAMAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false