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The history of Madeira Wine and the United Kingdom

The first record of the shipping of Madeira Wine from the island dates back to 1456, a mere 37 years after the date of discovery of this emerald isle. And where did this first shipment of wine go? All the way to England.

One of the first events that marks the centuries old passion of the English for the wine made on this tiny piece of heaven in the middle of the Atlantic is the execution on the grounds of treason of the Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward IV, who allegedly chose to meet his death by drowning in a butt of Malmsey (Malvasia) in 1478.

The marriage of King Charles II in 1662 to the Duchess Catarina of Bragança (sister of the not so sane King Afonso VI of Portugal) brought a huge impetus to the exportation of Madeira Wine to the UK. The bargaining of the dowry was a fierce affair and King Charles II got the ports of Bombay and Tangiers and Brazilian gold in exchange for ships and soldiers. The bride’s mother thought she might have to add Madeira to the dowry in case the King was not satisfied, and softened him by bringing to light the legend that the island had actually been discovered by a Briton called Robert Machim who had eloped with his love, Anna d’Arfet, and been shipwrecked on the island before the Portuguese officially discovered it. However, the King had fallen in love with Catarina and was perfectly satisfied with the two ports, so Madeira remained Portuguese.

In 1665, Charles II banned the export of all European wares to the English colonies overseas, but excluded Madeira from that ban. Consequently, the shippers on Madeira Island, most of which were English, had the monopoly of trade in America and the Caribbean. Though the amount of Madeira Wine that got to the British Isles was not huge, it was an enormous source of revenue for the British Empire, because most of the shippers on the island were English and because the colonisers in the plantations in the New World became huge fans and could not get enough of this delicious beverage. Records show that by 1780, a total of 70 British houses trading wine on Madeira Island.

Madeira Wine travelled a lot during its five centuries’ old history, and in the late 18th century it was taken all the way to Australia on board the Endeavour by Captain James Cook on his first journey to the South Pacific to prevent the effects of scurvy on his 94 men, so they could all get to their destination on the other side of the world. After the American Civil War more Madeira Wine made its way to the British Isles because of the return to the Old World of so many British nationals. Records show that up until 1856 (when the first tragedy hit the vines in Madeira) the British crown’s Royal Cellarman made many orders of the finest Madeira Wine, not only for the Royal Cellars, but also for his friends in the nobility, thus demonstrating the favour that Madeira Wine had at the time.

Wine Tour Review

"For us it was the personal friendly touch and passion about Madeira that shone through including current topical Information such as Christmas celebrations that made it an enjoyable and memorable experience for us. We would highly recommend it and you can learn where some best kept secrets are then go back later and shop to your heart's content!"
Joanne F, December 2015 - 5 star rating: Highly Recommended Viator review 5 star rating: Highly Recommended



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