Business for The East India Company was growing fast by the middle of the 17th century and a key factor was the continual renewal of the Royal Charter, first granted in 1600 by HM Queen Elizabeth II. The Company made sure that they looked after the interests of the royal family and would use gifts to influence.
Charles II had continued the royal legacy of keeping a menagerie of rare and exotic animals - camels, crocodiles, giraffes etc – and it was Charles who opened St James Palace gardens as a park so that the public could now admire the animals and birds too, in an aviary called Birdcage Walk.
So what do crocodiles and camels have to do with tea?
Well, Charles II expected gifts of exotic animals or birds every time a ship of The East India Company returned from the East. On one such arrival in 1664, the exotic animal cupboard was sadly empty. When the Captain informed the Company’s board of this sorry situation, they instructed that the ship be scoured for a suitable gift.
Two pounds of tea were found on board and duly came to the rescue of the Company and was gifted to the King. A few weeks later, the Company ordered 100 pounds of the “best tee procurable” from its Bantam factory, the implication being that the tea had been well received.
Was this the start of the royal tradition of tea drinking? Perhaps - it’s certainly a celebrated event in the history of tea drinking in Britain.