From Courtly Curiosity to Revolutionary Refreshment: Turkish Coffee and English Politics in the Seventeenth century
Degree Granting Department
David Carr, Ph.D.
Giovanna Benadusi, Ph.D.
Kathleen Paul, Ph.D.
Food, History, England, Islam, Orientalism
Why was coffee so fashionable yet so divisive a political symbol during the latter half of the seventeenth century? Historians have offered several answers, including the suggestion that the nascent Orientalism generated its popularity. Undeniably seventeenth century England imported exotic commodities, including coffee and tea, and began to appropriate them for the English culture. Did that also imply maintaining the cultural superiority over the natives? I argue that coffee was symbolically transformed during the political and revolutionary turmoil of the seventeenth century. Coffee was first introduced in the early part of the century to the Stuart court where it was an item of sophisticated curiosity. After the Restoration, the City of London and its many newly opened coffee houses created the alternative to the courtly culture of the Stuarts transforming coffee into a political symbol, indeed a symbol of distinction in taste. The emerging political parties began a bitter struggle over coffee. The Tories considered coffee unpatriotic, not adequate for an Englishman, and too “Mohammedan.” The Whigs emphasized its more pleasant qualities. When king James II implied that the Whigs harbored sympathies for the Ottoman Sultans, coffee became a symbol of “anti-popery” and English patriotism. James’ calls to a crusade against the Turk besieging Imperial (and Catholic) Vienna went unanswered because the English were more afraid of absolutism at home and across the channel. In this way the last call to crusade fell on deaf ears, and drinking coffee became a patriotic statement. At that point, we can see the beginnings of Orientalism.
Scholar Commons Citation
Mirkovic, Alexander, "From Courtly Curiosity to Revolutionary Refreshment: Turkish Coffee and English Politics in the Seventeenth century" (2005). USF Tampa Graduate Theses and Dissertations.