The curious story of the stirrup cup
Have you ever heard about the stirrup cup also called nightcap? This is how we refer to the last glass of wine or other spirits before leaving the place where the evening was spent. But how did this word come about? The origin seems to be Italian, but there are also examples in other countries such as England, Scotland and Germany. Let’s see about this curious story together.
First of all, it is necessary to clarify what stirrup means: this term refers to the metal tools that are located on both sides of the saddle to facilitate the descent and ascent on horseback. So it seems obvious that the origin of this saying can be traced back to that period when the horse was the main transport of getting around.
Hosts and innkeepers: they are the architects
The most accredited hypothesis links the origin of this expression to a Tuscan tradition of the nineteenth century. Very often, after lunch or dinner, the innkeepers and hosts used to accompany their gentlemen to the horse with which they would return home. At this point, the owners offered a glass of the best wine they had just as the gentleman mounted his horse to show gratitude to their customer. It was a “social ritual”, a sign of respect, but also an act to convince the customer to return to that place. This is why the last glass before returning home was called the stirrup cup.
However, according to what we read in historical testimonies, this habit occurred in very different situations too: after a visit, it was considered a good way for the landlord to offer a glass of wine to his guest when he was about to leave the house or when he was about to get on his horse, as a wish for a good journey. For this reason, in Tuscany, we often say: “don’t set out if your mouth doesn’t taste like wine”.
The legend of Chiara Gonzaga and Gilberto I of Borbone
According to what is reported in a 1988 book by Carla Torre Navone on ancient Turin curiosities, the stirrup cup was the one offered in 1481 at the San Giorgio tavern to Chiara Gonzaga and Gilberto I of Borbone, newlyweds. During the honeymoon to France, the couple stopped in Turin in June and here, before leaving for the rides in the meadows around Piazza Castello, they drank the wine served by the host when they already had the foot in a stirrup.
The stirrup cup: England, Scotland and Germany
We know that stirrup cup is common in many other countries.
In England they speak about stirrup cup, nightcap or parting cup when a glass of good wine was offered as a wish to the knights involved in fox hunting, while in Scotland they talk about drink of the door that is linked to the habit of toasting before leaving someone’s house.
In Germany there is no mention of a stirrup cup, perhaps because they didn’t drink before getting on a horse, but it is common another term to refer to the last glass to drink before saying goodbye to the guest: scheidebecher, which means the glass of division.