Manuel I and the White Elephant


Sugar (table sugar) was extremely expensive during the Renaissance, but Manuel I of Portugal (1469-1521) became quite wealthy by importing sugar from India and Sao Tome (an island near the northwest African coast).  Given his wealth, he was able to bestow two magnificent gifts to Pope Leo during his coronation of 1513.  One was a white elephant from India named Hanno (which is where the sentence, there is a white elephant in the room came from, and the others were full sized statues of the Pope and his cardinals in sugar.  Pope Leo was famous for throwing large parties in which sugary treats were a highlight of the dinner.  He went on to be known as Pope Leo the Fat, for he became quite obese and gouty.