Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Victoria’s Children, Part 1 (sort of): Princess Victoria, the Princess Royal

Some time ago it was suggested that readers might find more information about Queen Victoria’s family of interest, so today I’m launching an occasional series on Her Majesty’s nine children…or at least eight of them. As you may recall, we already considered her eldest son Bertie (later King Edward VII) in a previous post on 19th century bad boys…it seemed like a good time to have look at his somewhat less naughty siblings, so here we go!

Poor Queen Victoria. Imagine her shock at discovering, within weeks of her wedding at age 21 to Prince Albert, that she was going to be a mother! Indeed, she was quite indignant at the prospect, not wanting to have to divert any attention away from her beloved husband. Not that she was going to be busy burping and bathing babies: upper class women of the 19th century did almost no direct child care of that type. But still

She was further disappointed, on November 21, 1840, to find that her first-born was not the hoped-for prince, but a princess. During her pregnancy she wrote to her uncle, King Leopold, that "…if all one’s plagues are rewarded only by a nasty girl, I shall drown it, I think." But once Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa was actually born, the Queen quickly changed her attitude…and Prince Albert was delighted though he too had hoped for a boy.

The Princess, also known as ‘Pussette’ and ‘Vicky’, was a bright, willful little girl who excelled at the grinding course of study set by her ambitious parents (she was probably the most intellectual of the Queen’s nine children) and as a result became Albert’s favorite child. Her upbringing in the royal palaces of Windsor, Osborne, and Balmoral was idyllic and sheltered to an almost ridiculous degree, the result of her parents’ determination to be moral role models to the country. But sheltered or not, it was still her duty one day to marry for Britain’s benefit, and it was for this reason that she was subtly cued to take an interest in young Prince Friedrich (‘Fritz’) of Prussia…which she did so successfully that she was privately engaged to him at the tender age of 14. It would prove to be a singularly happy marriage…unfortunately, one of the few happy things in Vicky’s later life.

She and her Fritz were married shortly after her 17th birthday, and went to Berlin to live…where Vicky found herself hated and gossiped about by the Prussian Royal Family and populace alike, who distrusted Britain and were sure she was hopelessly devoted to her birth country...mistakenly, as it turned out. Though she worked tirelessly for her new country on charities and in war relief and hospital work, little news of this ever was allowed to become public knowledge.

Vicky and Fritz had eight children, the eldest of whom, Willy, would become best known to the world as Kaiser Wilhelm II, who pushed Europe into the horrors of World War I. She had a rocky relationship with him and her older children, but her younger daughters were devoted to her.

Queen Victoria and her daughter were drawn together by Prince Albert’s untimely death in 1861 and by Fritz’s equally untimely one in 1888 after less than a year on the German throne, and maintained a voluminous correspondence over the next forty years until the Queen’s death in January 1901. Vicky herself was already mortally ill with cancer, and followed her "dearest and best of mamas" to the grave only seven months later.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Knock, Knock! Who's There?

Marissa’s posts on calling got me thinking. (Uh oh!) On Tuesday, she discussed the exchange of cards after meeting someone for the first time. You called at that person’s house, let’s say Lady A as Marissa did. (I love internal consistency—don’t you?). You left a card for Lady A with her footman, along with ones from your father for her and her husband. Shortly thereafter, Lady A leaves cards at your house, and she bends down the corners meaning she is delivering them in person.

Immediately, my creative mind wondered what happened then?

Knowing the lady was waiting in the entry hall, you might

  1. Tell the footman to invite her up for a nice visit, either in the sitting room (for those you were still a bit cautious about) or the withdrawing room (for those you hoped would become bosom beaus).

  2. Realize you were in shocking dishabille (okay, so you were wearing that hideous morning dress Aunt Elspeth insisted on embroidering with puce mangel wurzels and you simply cannot be seen in public in that) and have no time to change so you tell the footman to announce that you are not at home. Note that this isn’t a lie. As Marissa mentioned, “at home” meant you were receiving callers. Being “not at home” meant that you were not receiving callers at this time. That might be because you were out or because you simply weren’t up to company for whatever reason.

  3. Have heard the most torrid rumors about the lady (truly, she seemed so sweet!) since leaving the card and have decided not to pursue the acquaintance. In this case, you would have the footman return her cards to her. Note that this was an insult, and you had better mean it because this lady, and likely her family and friends, will never speak to you again.

  4. Have learned the lady is a vicious gossip who has been maligning you, your family, and your friends ever since you laid eyes on each other and is just coming around today for more spite. In fact, one of her cruel stories has forced your dear cousin Neville Wedepickler to flee to the Continent in shame. In such a case, you might be justified in ripping her card to shreds and sending the pieces down with the footman to show her your utter disapproval. There is likely no salvation from this insult, so use it wisely.

So, let’s say you are sitting in your library catching up on correspondence, and the footman brings in a lovely card from Lord Hugh Jackman, Earl of Wolverton, and the corner is bent! He’s absolute charmer, but you’re not entirely sure his motives are on the up and up. What do you do?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Duty Calls, Part 3: Let's Go Visiting!

So…let’s pay some calls. It’s 3:00 pm, the accepted time to begin to pay morning calls. Yes, morning calls—morning is loosely defined as the time after breakfast and before dinner. We’re suitably dressed, with that elegant new hat that just arrived yesterday from the milliner’s shop and spotless gloves and our ever-so-pretty carved mother-of-pearl and tortoise-shell card case with the cards engraved with our name in fine copperplate. The coachman awaits us with the carriage at the door, and the footman is ready to help us climb in and then take his place riding on the little platform at the back of the carriage…

…except that there are different types of calls. Which shall we make, and where? Let’s have a look at our options:

1. Acknowledgement calls: Lady Violet Hyacinth gave such a splendid dinner last night! We’ll call on her first; it’s only polite to pay a call on hostesses within three days of attending a party or ball given by them. If it had been a ball she gave, we’d just leave a card…but for a dinner or more intimate party, it’s proper to call in person.

2. Leaving cards: We were introduced to Lady A last night at Lady Hyacinth’s party. She seems very amusing, and it would be pleasant to get to know her better. We’ll stop at her house and give the footman one of our cards to leave with her…oh, yes, Papa said that knowing Lord A could be useful for his work on the army bill in Parliament…so we’ll send in two of his cards (one each for Lord A and Lady A) and one of ours. Some time in the next week or so Lady A will return the favor and leave cards for us. If she wants to be friendly, the card she sends up will have the corner bent over—that means she’s leaving the card in person, not just having servants leave the card as a friendly gesture. If we actually home, we’ll invite her in to pay an actual visit. If she doesn’t choose to pursue the acquaintanceship but still wishes to be cordial, the cards she sends up won’t have a bent corner.

3. Visiting during an "at home": Lady B is always "at home" to callers on Tuesdays between three and five. She’s a bit of a bore, but she is a distant cousin and one should keep up the connection. We’ll stop in for the proper fifteen minutes, make light, general conversation without removing hats or gloves or pelisses (and if Papa were with us, he'd keep his hat and umbrella), and leave.

4. Calling on best friends: It’s just past five and we’ve paid several different calls this afternoon—now it’s time to visit our dearest friends, for this hour is reserved for calling on close friends. We’ll catch up on gossip and news, and maybe darling Lucy will give us a cup of tea because we’re parched after all the smiling and chatting we've done elsewhere. Refreshments are not generally served to morning callers, but certainly to friends in need!

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Toast!

So maybe I just couldn’t leave behind all this talk of food the last few weeks, or maybe it was the vegetarian cheese tart we had for Easter, but dinner remains on my mind. I’m sure it remained on the mind of many a nineteenth century young lady as well. We talked about the various dishes and how you couldn’t necessarily reach that scrumptious apple tart because it was far down the long table. But there were several other pitfalls awaiting the unwary when it came to dining in style.

First was the custom of toasting. Now we’re accustomed to occasions in which someone stands up, makes a little (or a long) speech about something, raises a glass, and proposes that everyone drink to a particular saying: “Here’s to Joe and Judy—may their marriage be long and happy!” “Here’s to Aunt Flo on her eightieth birthday!” You get the drift.

At a nineteenth century formal dinner, it was customary to make silent toasts. You caught the eye of the handsome officer near you and lifted your glass. He drank, you drank. Oh, that sizzling eye contact! It appears that the men more often than not did the first lifting, but as a young lady you would be expected to respond. The fellow on your right might toast you, the one on your left might toast you, the baronet down the table with pockets to let might toast you in hopes you’d think kindly on his offer to relieve you of your inheritance, oops I mean to marry you and make you the happiest of mortals. The elderly balding gentleman with the squint at the end of the table might toast you too (ew!), and the helpful footmen would just refill and refill your glass. It wasn’t uncommon for some to leave the table decidedly tipsy!

But even if you managed to survive the rounds of toasts, there was the challenge of conversing with your dinner companions. Forget about the manly earl across from you. Many a hostess brought out every bit of silver to prove her family was plump in the pocket. Between the ornate epergne overflowing with fruit, the candlesticks dripping in crystal, the finger bowls, the goblets, the vases, and the twenty dishes in that course, you’d be hard pressed to catch a glimpse of the person sitting opposite you. So, you often talked to those on your right or left instead. If those happened to be delightful young gentlemen, you might have a delightful dinner.

If they happened to be your mother and father, I imagine the food might still be good.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Duty Calls, Part 2: First, a Digression

Paying calls was, as we discussed a couple of weeks ago, the social glue of female society in the 19th century. But of course, this being the 19th century, a whole slew of customs and rituals and unspoken rules evolved around the process as the century progressed. Let’s consider why that happened for a moment.

One thing I think it’s very hard for 21st century Americans to understand is just how much social class mattered in 19th century British society…the truth is, it mattered enormously. In the first decades of the century, class was pretty straightforward: if you were born in a farm worker’s family, it was almost certain that you yourself would grow up to be a farm worker. If your father was a shopkeeper, then one day you took over and became a shopkeeper in turn…and if you were a girl, you married another farm laborer or shopkeeper or whatever.

So what does that mean? A lot, because what class you were born into determined many things about you: where you lived, what you ate, your clothes, your education…but also less tangible things like your outlook on life, how you spoke, how you moved, even. You could line up a plowman, a miller, an attorney, and a duke, put them all in identical suits, and more than likely still be able to figure out almost immediately who was who. For the most part, people were happy that way; it was comforting to know where you belonged and easy to understand the people around you because they were just like you.

With the industrial revolution, this began to change. Farm laborers’ sons started working in the new factories that were springing up, and if they worked hard and showed initiative, could become supervisors and make a little more money. In time, some of them worked their way up to owning factories of their own and became very rich. But their speech and manners revealed their origins, even if they could afford grand houses and carriages and all the trappings of wealth that had formerly belonged to the upper classes.

And the upper classes were, on the whole, appalled at this development. Being a gentleman at that time meant that one did no labor nor performed a trade. Remember how we discussed 19th century medicine a few months back, and how physicians, who were considered gentlemen, resisted the use of newly-invented stethoscopes because they were tools, and gentlemen did not use tools? It was all right for a man to inherit a large fortune, but certainly not to go out and earn it with his own hands.

So say a Mr. Stubbins has worked his way up from being a coal-hauler to owning half-a-dozen textile mills and shares in a shipping firm, and has bought a splendid townhouse next door to Sir George Uppercrust. He could perhaps expect an exchange of polite nods in the street with Sir George. But the Stubbinses would never be invited to dine at their neighbors’ house, and Sir George’s wife and daughters would not call on Mrs. Stubbins and her daughters. No matter their wealth, the Stubbinses were not gentlemen...er, ladies... (well...you know what I mean!)

The problem was, the Stubbinses rode in a carriage that was just as fancy as the Uppercrusts’ carriage, and Mrs. Stubbins wore clothes just as elegant as Lady Uppercrust’s. How could people like the Uppercrusts keep the world from confusing them with people like the Stubbinses?

The answer was manners and etiquette. The behaviors that were considered to be "proper" and "well-bred" by the upper classes gradually became more complex over the century, something that you it would be hard to master unless one were born to it…which is why how-to books on etiquette and how to behave in polite society became so popular as the century progressed, from nearly none in the Regency era to a handful in the late 1830s to dozens by the 1860s and 1870s and beyond.

I hope this sets the stage a little for next week, when I’ll talk about "at homes", the corners of calling cards, and what a gentleman did with his hat and umbrella.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Dinner Is Served, Sort of

Candlelight dancing on silver, voices murmuring pleasantries, aromas wafting from delectable tidbits piled on platters — what’s not to like about a nineteenth century dinner?

As Marissa mentioned, during the nineteenth century, the time between the meals lengthened, so that dinner was pushed back to six in the evening in the country and for the middle class in town, and to nine or ten at night for the aristocracy, particularly if you were entertaining. Then of course there were the lovely midnight supper buffets at balls, when you simply couldn’t make another round of dancing without a little sustenance to see you through.

Dinners generally had several courses, but they were vastly different from the courses we think of today. Each course in the nineteenth century was made up of a number of removes—that is one dish started the course only to be removed to be replaced by something else. For example, the first course might start out with two soups, turtle and mulligatawny. After the soup had been served, the footmen would remove the tureens and replace them with platters of fish or meat. And you’re still in the first course.

In each course, it was considered classy to have the entire table covered in dishes, arranged to look colorful and delicious. The footmen lugged them all in and placed them where the hostess had decreed; they also took them all back again when it was time to go to the next course. The host generally carved the main meat such a beef, but a gentleman was supposed to carve whatever meat was placed closest to him. The footmen didn’t pass the dishes around, and guests did not pass platters to each other. You were basically expected to eat a bit of whatever you could reach. So, if you were sitting closer to the eels in aspic and you really wanted to try the cod’s head in cream, you had to manage to subtly signal a footman to pick up the dish and replace it near you or you were out of luck. It wasn’t until the 1870s that the English routinely began to have servants cut up and serve the various dishes to each guest.

Emily Hendrickson, author of the outstanding Regency Reference Book as well as over 40 Regency romances published both in the U.S. and England, offers some suggestions as to what would have been in each course:

  • First course: roast venison surrounded by stewed eels, roast pig, marrow pudding, leg of lamb with boiled cauliflower, jugged hare, pigeons, and carp.

  • Second course: partridge and quails, lobster, green peas, potted pigeons, fried sole, and sturgeon.

  • Third course: pheasants removed by plum pudding, snipes removed by apple tart, apricot fritters, almond cheesecakes, and custards. Dessert, as I mentioned in an earlier post, might also include almonds and raisins.

Depending on the occasion, you might have anywhere from five to twenty-five different dishes, in each course! So, for those of you celebrating Easter with a feast of your own, be thankful you only have to worry about a few foods rather 15 to 75.

In other words, Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

There's Tea, and Then There's Tea

Ah, tea…that most English of meals...but which meal is it?

Well, that kind of depends.

Tea was introduced in England as early as 1635, but didn’t become fashionable until the 1660s, when King Charles II married the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza. Tea drinking was already established in Portugal, and Catherine brought tea and her beautiful porcelain tea services to enjoy in her new home…and soon, drinking tea was the height of fashion. It remained an extremely expensive luxury item for several decades, but by 1725 a quarter of a million pounds was being imported annually, and tea shops had begun to make their appearance. Tea also began to replace beer and ale as the usual drink of the poor; the abolition of import duties helped this, so that by the beginning of the 19th century, tea was well on its way to becoming the national beverage.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries among the upper classes, tea was often drunk in the evening after dinner, around 9 pm, and served with light refreshments like cakes and sandwiches. When you were eating your dinner at 4 pm, this made some sense…but as hours changed for meals and dinner moved later and later, this habit made a switch…and at some point around the 1830s or so, it started to become fashionable to have tea and light refreshments in the afternoon instead, to sustain one between luncheon at one or two and dinner at 8:30 or 9. At first it was simply something one did as a quick, informal pick-me-up, but gradually sociable ladies figured out that drinking tea and nibbling delicate cakes with friends in the late afternoon was the perfect opportunity for reviewing the gossip of the day and preparing for the gossip of whatever party or ball would be taking place that night. And thus was born the afternoon tea.

That’s one kind of tea…but there is another—namely, high tea. Most Americans hear this term and assume it means an especially fancy, formal kind of afternoon tea, perhaps with extra-elaborate munchies, but in fact it means the exact opposite. High tea was and is more or less a supper-ish kind of meal consumed by working class families. Tea was certainly drunk, but the food was of a hearty, filling nature like toasted bread and cheese, or kippered herrings, or bacon and eggs, or sausages, all served with copious amounts of bread and butter—no tiny delicate pastries here!

So if you were a young lady in London for the season, your tea would probably be drunk at a friend's house some time around four, while you nibbled seed cake and planned the evening's fun...and if you were an apprentice seamstress, you'd have your tea when you got home from work at around six, while you rested your tired feet and enjoying something warm and nourishing.

And that's tea!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Nuncheon, Anyone?

So, after that sumptuous breakfast Marissa described, how could you possibly be hungry for lunch?

The answer is that many folks weren’t all that hungry in the middle of the day, at least at first. As Marissa mentioned, breakfast was often later in the morning (around 10). At the beginning of the nineteenth century, dinner was often around 1:00 in the afternoon, so people didn’t need lunch. But as dinner got pushed back later and later (from 3 to 6), people needed a little something in between.

And thus luncheon was born! According to some experts, the term lunch was considered vulgar, and the term most often used early in the century was nuncheon, which may have been pronounced noon-shine. Whatever you called it, the food was laid out on a sideboard in the dining room, and you could pick from cold meats like ham and roast beef, pickles, fruit preserves (like jelly only you ate it with a spoon instead of spread it on bread), and dessert-type items like cakes, buns, and tarts, all washed down with ale or tea. You might even grab up a sandwich of bread, meat, and cheese.

At least in some circles, however, luncheon was considered the resort of old men, young mothers, and children, in other words, those who were not strong enough to make it through the day without a little pick-me-up. And it was definitely a family affair—one did not invite guests to lunch as one did to breakfasts or dinners.

One might, however, offer callers something to eat. Sometimes that included tea. But British high tea as we know it was a whole other affair. Come back Tuesday when Marissa tells us the torrid truth about tea.

In the meantime, I had to point this out, just in case you hadn't heard: Marvel Comics has issued Pride and Prejudice as a graphic novel! The beloved story was adapted by Nancy Hajeski aka Nancy Butler, an absolutely amazing writer and winner of the Romance Writers of America’s coveted Rita award for best Regency romance. I haven’t found a copy near me yet, so if anyone reads it, tell us what you think, please!