October 18, 2019 12:00 pm

The Master invites you to join them in a Loving Cup!

Those who are regulars at banquets in the City of London will tell you that the ceremony of the loving cup is one of the enduring traditions of the City, a living piece of history that sets City and Livery banquets apart from all others.

But where does this tradition come from? To trace it’s roots, we must go all the way back to March 978, to King Edward the Martyr. The story goes: King Edward was offered a drink from a two-handed cup, and as he raised it to his lips he was stabbed in the back by his step-mother! From then on, no-one would drink from such a cup without the person to their right making themselves unable to draw their sword (this, incidentally, is why a loving cup always has a lid, and why it is always lifted with the right hand), and the person to their left standing guard of their back.

From there – and with just over one thousand years of history to it! – the ceremony developed into one of putting fellowship into action, and is now a key part of a City of London banquet.

How does the ceremony work?

At the end of a banquet the Beadle will gavel and invite you to join the Master in a loving cup. The cups will be placed, usually, at the top and bottom of the tables and will usually be passed from right to left as it travels along. So first of all, you will see one of your neighbours stand and face away from you – now’s the time to get ready!

When your neighbour turns to you, it’s time to stand up and take part in the ceremony. To start, you bow to one another as a sign of respect. Next, you remove the lid from the cup with your right hand (and a dramatic flourish!), holding it up high for all to see. Your neighbour will raise the cup to take a drink before wiping the lip of the cup with the affixed napkin. Once they have finished, replace the lid, and grasp the cup with both your hands and bow a second time before taking it.

Now with the cup in hand(s!), you turn to face your other neighbour and the previous drinker will turn away to guard your back – make sure they don’t sit down! Now it’s the same process as before, but this time your neighbour will lift the lid for you to take a drink (it’s at this point one should keep in mind you don’t have to drink, just mime instead if you’d rather not!). Remember to wipe the rim with the napkin after you’ve finished, and bow to your neighbour before passing the cup onwards. Finally, you will turn to guard your neighbour as they drink – keep an eye over your shoulder so you know when they’ve passed it on and you can then take your seat.

Remember to bow!

The ceremony of the loving cup can seem complicated to read about, but rest assured it’s much easier in person! Taken together with all of the other ceremonial aspects of a City banquet we think it’s a key piece of the wonderful tapestry that makes a City of London event so memorable!

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