Look, a lot of the traditions that go on in Britain are a bit weird. Every year at the opening of Parliament, a hostage is taken by the monarchy until the ceremony is complete. A search is then carried out for gunpowder under the Houses of Parliament, in case Guy Fawkes has pulled off some sort of comeback 400 years after his death.
Well, not to add to that or anything, but: Tradition dictates that King Charles may now be served a bloodsucking parasite pie that's rumored to have killed one of his predecessors.
The dish is made of lampreys, an ancient species of jawless fish that spend their days as a parasite, sucking on the blood and various other fluids of their host fish. The parasites have teeth lining the inside of their wide, circle-shaped mouth.
In a bleak scallop-less past, lampreys have been seen as a delicacy and were seen fit to serve to royalty. At first, members of the royal family were genuinely keen on the parasitic fish, with King Henry I rumored to have died after eating them after expressly being told not to by his doctor because they kept making him ill.
"He had been hunting," wrote Henry of Huntingdon, a contemporary of Henry, "and when he came back to Saint-Denis in the Forest of Lyons, he ate the flesh of lampreys, which always made him ill, though he always loved them."
"When a doctor forbade him to eat the dish, the king did not take this salutary advice."
Henry ate his lamprey against the doctor's orders, and immediately became sick.
"So this meal brought on a most destructive humour, and violently stimulated similar symptoms, producing a deadly chill in his aged body, and a sudden and extreme convulsion. Against this, nature reacted by stirring up an acute fever to dissolve the inflammation with very heavy sweating. But when all power of resistance failed, the great king departed on the first day of December, when he had reigned for thirty-five years and three months."
Historians now believe that it was more likely blood poisoning that killed Henry, but the story nonetheless makes clear that of eating parasites, he was somewhat of a fan.
It was King John, though, who would turn eating a lamprey pie for fun into a mandatory tradition that's still going today. In 1200, the city of Gloucester failed to send John a lamprey pie. Annoyed that he had not been paid "sufficient respect in lampreys”, Gloucester was fined for a lack of pie. After the no pie incident, Gloucester was obliged to provide lamprey pies for special royal events.
Though the tradition was briefly stopped in 1917 by World War I, it was picked back up again and Queen Elizabeth II was served the fish pie at her coronation. The pie was also supplied for her Golden Jubilee, though the lamprey had to be sourced from the US as the vulnerable species is now protected in the UK.
“It was one of the strangest phone calls I ever received on the job,” Marc Gaden, a deputy executive secretary for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, told Today. “It was like, ‘You’re gonna think this is funny, but can we have some of your lampreys so we can make a pie to give to Queen Elizabeth?’ I was like, ‘What?’”
“We just froze them and sent them by expedited mail.”
It now falls to King Charles to follow up on the tradition at his coronation. Whether he'll actually eat it is another thing. When Elizabeth was last served the pie, she didn't eat the pie due to security issues.