I bet he would have smoked too, if he’d known about it.

It’s getting very difficult to find a Daily Mail story to poke fun at. There are so many every day now. It’s not a case of finding the silly story. It’s more a case of being spoilt for choice. I’d need a team the size of the Daily Mail staff to rip every one of the daft babblings to bits.

Tonight I selected the utter rubbish that King Richard III drank three litres of alcohol a day.

The whisky, my preferred tipple, comes in at around 40% alcohol in the good stuff. I can get through most of a bottle in an evening but at my pay rate I try to make a bottle last two nights at least, especially since I won’t drink the own-brand ones. Even if I did manage to dispose of an entire bottle (probably have at Smoky-Drinky, where there are no measures and nobody’s counting) that would be an alcohol intake of 40% of 0.7 litres. Oh heck, let’s say it was a litre bottle for the sake of easy sums. If I drank a whole litre bottle I would have taken in 400ml of alcohol. It probably wouldn’t kill me but I would be unable to function for most of the following day. I’d be a wreck.

Three litres of actual alcohol is equivalent to 7.5 litres of whisky. Ten and a half standard 70 cl bottles. That would kill the most determined alcoholic in about an hour and King Richard III is supposed to have managed that every day. No wonder his spine melted. It must have bent under the weight of his liver.

It’s total hype, of course. Like everyone in the 1400s, the King would have never touched water. Water treatment plants, sand-bed filters and chlorination were a long way in the future. Pretty much everyone drank ‘small beer’, a very low-alcohol beer that was much safer to drink than water. Three litres of that stuff in a day wouldn’t even get you tipsy. Especially since everyone was used to it.

What made the beer safer than raw water was the boiling at the start of the beer making process. Now, in King Richard III’s time nobody knew about bacteria. They didn’t know that all they really had to do was boil the water and let it cool. Although really they’d need to Tyndallise it – but I’m getting unnecessarily technical.

The point is, they didn’t really need to make beer with it but they didn’t know that. Or maybe they did but thought ‘Well, once it’s boiling, it’s already on the way to being beer so… Ah, I’ve started so I’ll finish’.

No, the three litres is a total-volume-of-liquid figure. He could not have imbibed three litres of actual alcohol a day and stayed on a horse. He’d have been pulled over by the Flashing Blue Knight and had his horse licence revoked. Heck, every time he exhaled, the horse would have forgotten how to synchronise four legs, and his breath would have corroded his armour.

He was King so there were banquets with wine. Lots of wine. Possibly quite often, in between battle times. As King he was allowed to eat swan. Mrs. Queen is still allowed to do so, even now, but I don’t know if she ever has. All swans in the UK belong to the reigning monarch. Nobody else can eat them – and I’d never try. Catching one of those vicious sods is not on my to-do list. I’ll stick with fish and rabbits.

I was surprised to find quite a few commenters pointing out the ‘beer was safer than water back then’ thing. The dumbing down of history hasn’t been as extensive as I thought. Good.

So anyway, he would have downed three litres of fluid a day on average, more in summer and less in winter. He would not have touched raw water other than the Royal once-a-year bath whether he needed it or not. Every drop of liquid he – and pretty much everyone else – drank had been fermented but the bulk of it had not been fermented very far. It had been boiled during the process so it was safe to drink.

I don’t think small beer had hops in it. They didn’t want it all bitter. Unlike the bottle of Dead Pony Club (had to get some after reading this) I had earlier. Oho, it’s the kind of beer that could cause a hop shortage! Very nice indeed. Reminded me of the old days when not all beers were the same.

Sometimes King Dick (I used to have a large spanner with his name on it) would have had wine. Probably not all that much, really, since small beer does not prepare you for the hard stuff. It’s not likely he would have had wine every day, just at banquets. Unlike modern politicians, he was required to actually act as the head of a country and not be a totally feeble dick almost all the time. So I suspect he was rarely drunk and never drunk in battle or on a hunt. He drank small beer because if he drank the water he would have overwhelmed the rudimentary sewage system of the time.

The Mail story tells us less about the past and more of this modern, post-scientific age where drinking that canned shandy that children are allowed to have (are they still? about 0.1% alcohol or less. Less than they get in cough medicine). counts as ‘drinking alcohol’. The degree of dilution doesn’t matter. Shandy is the same as whisky in the Puritan’s eyes. It’s all alcohol.

Might as well drink absinthe. When you’re going to get castigated for drinking any alcohol at all, you might as well go straight to the top.




8 thoughts on “I bet he would have smoked too, if he’d known about it.

  1. I’d have to go back to look up the figures, but I think if you drink a gallon or so of orange juice you’ll have drunk the alcohol content of a half mug or so of beer or near-beer. Ahh heckk… lemmee look it up again…


    OK, fresh OJ can have about 380 mg of alcohol per liter, or about one gram for every 3 liters. At about 30 gm/oz, you’d get an ounce of real alcohol for every 90 liters of alcohol., or about 1 standard beer/drink/wine unit for every 25 liters or thereabout.

    So if y’have kids, you can feed ’em a liter of OJ every day, or just give ’em water and then sit down with ’em once a month and hand ’em a nice can o’ beer!

    Hold off till New Year’s, stick a couple of six-packs under the tree and you’ll be just another good parent giving them their healthy dose of alcohol without all those nasty sugars in the OJ!



  2. P.S. Of course under the no-threshold rule of carcinogenesis, any parent who gives their child even an ounce of orange juice is actually contributing to their painful and early demise and should be shot. And heaven help the poor children in a school cafeteria if little tuddlydums pulls out a sippy cup of OJ! Just think of all the highly volatile carcinogenic ethyl alcohol in vapor form permeating the entire school building and being forced down the throats of every child within… forming the little seeds of cancerous tumors that will multiply and destroy them!

    – MJM


  3. I once heard of a bloke who regularly imbibed 2litres per day of 96% home still per day…for many years….my rough brain calculation makes that about four and a half bottles of 700ml daily.

    Apparently he had a gruff voice….


  4. Small beer did/does have hops in it, though not many. Minds hops only reached England in 1400(ish) before then it was all herb beers (gruit). The move to hops was due to the better preservative properties of hops compared to herbs for beer making with the technology available at the time. The tragedy for us of course is that the herb beers tended to have euphoric properties which hops don’t. I’ve made a few herb beers based of old recipes and they’r really rather nice though very different from what we’re used to thinking of as beer, often not as bitter.

    (All information subject to the caveat that I’ve not had coffee yet so I may be spouting utter nonsense).


  5. As I commented on that story in an average day he drank slightly more than 5 pints a day of beer or wine equivalent. That’s just 2 or 3 hours in a pub for a bloke. The use of the term litres of alcohol was just sloppy copy. He drank beer, big beer and small beer, wine and no doubt sack too. It seems that once he became king his diet requirements included exotic fowl. When you think about it though, 5 pints of beer a day back then when water wasn’t safe is actually fairly abstemious really. He was not a great boozer.


  6. Interesting, Leggy. I’d always assumed that the alcohol was what killed off the nasties. Didn’t occur to me that they boiled the mix – should have.

    10 x 330ml beers is something I do regularly. Good fun and hasn’t threatened to harm me yet. The screaming, pansy frightbats who think that any more than one drink a week is going to kill you before your frail, dementia-ridden “golden” years are not the kind of people I’d ever want to send tim with.

    What has astonished me during the past decade or two, is just how much power and influence these crazed puritans have managed to acquire.

    As the inimitable John Brignell is wont to say, “It’s a mad, mad world, my masters.”


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