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“Jerome Bowie, sumlyer, of all wynes that he sall desyre to the Kings Maiesteis vse”: The 16th century history of sommeliers.

August 20, 2015 5 comments

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.[1]  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.

Mary Stuart, Queen Mary I of Scotland, and her son James, the later King James I of England, 1583.  Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Mary Stuart, Queen Mary I of Scotland, and her son James, the later King James I of England, 1583. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

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”.[2]  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.”[3]

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.[4]

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”.[5]  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”.[6]

The King’s sommelier purchased a variety of wines include Spanish and “hottopys” or haut pays but it was Bordeaux that was the favorite.[7]  This taste for Bordeaux wine was certainly cultivated during the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France.[8]  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.

Angliae, Scotiae Et Hiberniae. 1570. David Rumsey Map Collection.

Angliae, Scotiae Et Hiberniae. 1570. David Rumsey Map Collection.

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.[9]  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.


[1] 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
[2] The Register of the Privy Council of Scotland. Vol XI, 1616-1619.  1894. URL:
[3] 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
[4] Bowie, Walter Worthington. The Bowies and Their Kindred.  1899. URL: https://archive.org/details/bowiestheirkindr00bowi
[5] 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
[6] 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
[7] The Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, Volume 3.
[8] Lynch, Michael. The Oxford Companion to Scottish History. 2007.
[9] 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

“[S]mashed [the bottles of wine] publically and then left him for dead”: The Early Association of Sommelier with Wine

This is my first post exploring the history of the sommelier.  You may find the second post at “Jerome Bowie, sumlyer, of all wynes that he sall desyre to the Kings Maiesteis vse”: The 16th century history of sommeliers.

The association between sommelier and wine dates back centuries.  A brief history of which is found in Rajat Parr’s Secrets of the Sommeliers where he cites David M. Johnson’s A Historical Perspective of the Art of the Sommelier.[0]   In this post I explore this early association.  Whereas English references to “Serjeant of His Majesty’s Wine Cellar” date back to at least the 1620s[1] there are even older curious entries.  Nearly one century earlier in 1522, amongst the 2,044 people and 1,125 horses Emperor Charles V intended to bring with him to England for his visit to King Henry VIII is listed under “Officers of the Pantry. – Jehan Hannart, ‘sommelier’.”[2]  This appears to be distinct from sommelier d’oratiore and sommelier de corps.  Two decades later in 1543, there was certainly a direct relationship for Paget related to King Henry VIII that 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 Henry.”[3]

King Henry VIII in 1542. After Hans Holbein the Young. Image from Wikipedia.

King Henry VIII in 1542. After Hans Holbein the Young. Image from Wikipedia.

I have not yet found a direct link between sommelier and wine in 16th century French references.  However, I can place sommelier in the orbit of wine during this period.  Guillaume Bude’s Sommaire ou epitome du livre de Asse (1522) is a treaty on ancient weights, numbers, and measures.[4]  In describing the keepers of the land and the “potz & vtesil les de cuysine” he lists 20 members.  These include “sommeliers, ouuriers de mixtioner, faiseurs de vins aromatizez & de toutes doulces liqueurs, & boissons artificielles”.

Detail from Les fantaisies. 1633-1634(c.). French. #1861,0713.1181. The British Museum

Detail from Les fantaisies. 1633-1634(c.). French. #1861,0713.1181. The British Museum

It is in the 17th century that references between sommelier and wine increased.  Jude Serclier mentions “Le sommelier de Pharon” from Genesis 40 in Le grand tombeau du monde, ou Jugement final des party en six livres (1606).[5] However, it is in Les hieroglyphiques de Jan Pierre Valerian (1615) within the section Hierogrlyphiques de la Vigne that we find a stronger link.  Here is a description of “Le sommelier de Pharon” who saw the triple vine from which he crushed the three grapes and presented “du vin au Roy”.[6]  There is, however, no direct statement that the Pharaoh’s sommelier primarily dealt with wine.

Rajat Parr writes of David M. Johnson  that sommelier evolved from sommier, itself stemming from terms related to cargo and that sommelier eventually meant “a servant in charge of the wine.”  Exploration into the etymology of sommelier appears to date to the early 17th century when  Etienne Pasquier proposed that sommelier stemmed from somme in his Les Recherches de La France (1621).[7]  Sommelier stems from load because these people typically carried bottles through the fields for princes and great lords.  It is perhaps here that the association between sommelier and bottle was formed.  Unfortunately, Etienne Pasquier does not state what was in those bottles.  In moving forward several decades in history, a similar description appears in James Eugene Farmer’s Versailles and the Court Under Louis XIV where he frequently cites the works of Louis Etienne Dussieux.[8]  James Eugene Farmer quotes Louis Etienne Dussieux, “The wine-porter is to bring to the chase, or wherever the king may have gone…wine and water in two silver flagons.”  I cannot yet determine which particular work James Eugene Farmer is referencing to see if there is an original French document from which he translated “wine-porter” from sommelier.[9] This turns out to be inconsequential for there are additional references prior to the Court of Louis XIV.

View of Versailles. MARTIN, Pierre-Denis. 1722. Musée National du Château, Versailles. Web Gallery of Art.

View of Versailles. MARTIN, Pierre-Denis. 1722. Musée National du Château, Versailles. Web Gallery of Art.

A decade after Etienne Pasquier published his book there appears a brief description of a sommelier carrying wine in an issue of the Paris Gazette from 1634.[10]  In this case a group of Spaniards saw the sommelier with full bottles of wine, publically smashed the bottles then left the sommelier for dead.  One year later a direct link between a sommelier and wine may be found in Philibert Monet’s Invantaire des deus langues françoise et latine (1635).[11]

Sommelier, que fait la depanse du vin: Promus vinarius. Dispensator vinarius. Cellarius vinarius. Promus cellae vinariae. Praefectus cellae vinariae.
Sommeliere, charge de sommelier: Munus cellarij vinarij.  Praefectus cellae vinarie.
Sommeliere, lieu de la depanse du vin, ou se distribute le vin: Vini promtuarium., Vinatium promtuarium. Vinarium diribitorium.

The English translation of sommelier and the relationship to wine was clearly defined by the 1670s.  Guy Miege taught languages in London and was amongst the first non-British to publish dictionaries in English.[12]  He published four dictionaries and in the first A New Dictionary (1677) the entry for sommelier appears as[13]:

SOMMELIERe (m.) qui a soin de la depense du Vins dans une Maison, a Butler.
Sommelerie (f.) Charge de Sommelier, the Butlers Place or Office.
Sommelierie, le Lieu ou le Sommeliere distribute le Vin, a Buttery.

The rise of bilingual dictionaries allows us to date the direct association of sommelier and wine to the mid-17th century.  Sommeliers were clearly involved with wine prior to this period.  A good starting point for further investigation is the history of sommeliers carrying wine for lords, princes, and kings.  Perhaps sommelier has royal beginnings as evidenced by King Henry VIII and King Louis XIV.


[0] Unfortunately, David M. Johnson’s article was lost in a computer crash and the online link is down.
[1] ‘House of Lords Journal Volume 3: 28 May 1621’, Journal of the House of Lords: volume 3: 1620-1628 (1767-1830), pp. 135-138. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=30318&strquery=”wine cellar” Date accessed: 14 January 2014.
[2] ‘Henry VIII: May 1522, 16-30’, Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 3: 1519-1523 (1867), pp. 959-974. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=91096&strquery=sommelier Date accessed: 14 January 2014.
[3] ‘Henry VIII: February 1543, 26-28’, Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 18 Part 1: January-July 1543 (1901), pp. 114-134. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=76728&strquery=sommelier Date accessed: 14 January 2014.
[4] Budé, Guillaume. Summaire ou Epitome du livre de Asse fait par le commandement du roy, par maistre Guillaume Budé conseiller du dict seigneur, & maistre des requestes ordinaires de son hostel, & par luy presente audict seigneur. 1522. Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Réserve des livres rares, RES P-Z-2031 (1). URL: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k6521287w
[5] Serclier. Jude. Le grand tombeau du monde, ou Jugement final des party en six livres. 1606. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=5b8OMMH5t-cC&pg=PP5#v=onepage&q&f=false
[6] Curio, Coelius Augustinus.  Les hiéroglyphiques de Jan Pierre Valerian, vulgairement nommé Pierius. 1615. Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Réserve des livres rares, RES-Z-160 URL: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k5541549k
[7] Pasquier, Etienne. Les Recherches de La France. 1621. Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Réserve des livres rares, FOL-L46-1 (D) URL: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k6109174w
[8] Farmer, James Eugene.  Versailles and the Court Under Louis XIV. 1905. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=ZWLSAAAAMAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[9] Louis L. Dussieux published such works as Lettres Intimes de Henri IV (1876) and Le Chateau de Versailles; Histoire et Description (1881).  I have been unable to find the source of James Eugene Farmer’s translated quotation.
[10] Gazette (Paris. 1631) Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Philosophie, histoire, sciences de l’homme, 4-LC2-1 URL: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb32780022t/date1634
[11]  Monet, Philibert. Invantaire des deus langues françoise et latine , assorti des plus utiles curiositez de l’un et de l’autre idiome; . 1635. Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Littérature et art, X-596. URL: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k5851099r
[12] “The enterprising and tenacious Guy Miège: four dictionaries from 1677 to 1688.” URL: http://ora.ouls.ox.ac.uk/objects/uuid%3Aed89c430-0517-4065-b717-0243fd11b368
[13] Miege, Guy.  A New Dictionary French and English, With Another English and French. 1677. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=YbWtTwVbLioC&pg=PT7#v=onepage&q&f=false
[14] Jullien, A.  Manuel du Sommelier, Ou Instruction Pratique sur la Maniere de Soigner les Vins.  1813. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=mWJxt7dl5Y8C&pg=PR4#v=onepage&q&f=false