Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Christmas from Nineteenteen!

Happy Christmas, my dears! Marissa and I will be taking some time off, as we usually do this time of year, to make memories with our families. Look for my next post on January 4. In the meantime, be sure to beg, borrow, or rent a copy of the film Sense and Sensibility starring Emma Thompson so you can be ready to share your thoughts in our next Young Bluestockings Attend the Cinema discussion on January 14.

Of course, we could not leave without a couple of Christmas presents for you. The first is a loving tribute to Chatsworth, the seat of the Duke of Devonshire and supposedly the model on which Jane Austen based Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley.

The second can be found on my website. The Love Inspired Historical authors have put together a recipe book of favorite family dishes, including one my father used to make every Christmas. I hope you enjoy it.

From Marissa and me, a very merry Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year to you all!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Young Bluestockings Attend the Cinema: January Movie!

Hello there!  I'm Cara King, back again to announce the second installment of NineteenTeen's "YOUNG BLUESTOCKINGS ATTEND THE CINEMA," the four-times-a-year gathering of the young and young-at-heart to talk about interesting movies with 19th-century settings.

So... (Drumroll, please!)

Our next movie will be:  SENSE AND SENSIBILITY!

Of course, there are many different adaptations of Jane Austen's first published novel. The one we'll be discussing is from 1995, and stars Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, and Greg Wise.

Our discussion will be on Tuesday, January 15.  So you have a month to beg, borrow, buy, or check out from the library a copy of the movie, and see what you think.

Because what you think is really the whole point of this. This is your chance to be a movie critic, and tell everyone else what's good or bad about the movie. And it doesn't matter whether or not you've read the book -- the more perspectives we have, the more fun for all!

So please join us here on January 15!

All images copyright Columbia/Tristar Pictures.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Grand Tour, Part 12: Home Is Where the Heart Is

We have returned from our year-long Grand Tour. Our last stop was Gilbraltar, where we were feted by the families of the garrison officers. We found the romantic Moorish architecture to be in direct contrast to the bastions built by Britain to fortify this rock jutting out of the sea. We were also fortunate enough to spend some time in the Garrison Library (an honor normally reserved only for the soldiers stationed here, but you know SOMEONE in our group would bat her eyes!). The library is an amazing place stocked with tomes in many languages and covering hundreds of years. We also visited the cemetery to pay our respects to the sailors buried there who died in the Battle of Trafalgar.

And now we are back in our own little homes, having bid each other a teary goodbye after living cheek-by-jowl for so many months. Ah, but the comfort of friends, family, and familiar surroundings cannot be overestimated. Yet somehow England looks smaller, perhaps less colorful, than we remembered it. Then again, it is dreary December, so perhaps our outlook will improve in the spring.

In the meantime, everyone we know wants to hear more about our travels, and we have no end of invitations for dinners and teas. Remembering all our adventures brings a smile to our faces every time. And we find we have opinions on matters we had not considered before, such as whether antiquities should be left in their native lands and how women and gentlemen should relate to each other.

We’ve also collected a number of keepsakes along the way. Here are a few of mine:

Lace from Venice

A set of etchings of the Roman ruins

A Moorish shawl

So what did you bring back from your travels? Is there somewhere else you’d like to travel next year? I do believe we can find a likely chaperone to accompany us. Or are you happy now that you have safely returned to England’s shore?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Queen Victoria’s Christmas Dinner

If anyone in the 19th century was going to celebrate Christmas in a truly outstanding fashion, you know that person had to be Queen Victoria, who more than anyone helped popularize the holiday and set its traditions in stone (or fruitcake). But how, exactly, did she celebrate December 25?

To answer that question, I did a little digging…and found the following. For the menu below, I’ve provided translations where necessary—the Queens’s menus were always in French).

Queen’s Victoria’s Christmas Day Menu - 1896
(from the English Heritage Website (

Potages (Soups)
La Tête de Veau En Tortue  (head of veal and tortoise)
Aux trois racines (three root vegetables)

Poissons (Fish)
Le Turbot bouilli sauce hollandaise (Boiled turbot with Hollandaise sauce
Les Filets de soles frits (fried filets of sole)

Les Kromeskys à la Toulouse (Toulouse style Croquettes wrapped in bacon)

Les Dindes rôties à la Chipolata (roasted turkey with sausages)
Chine of Pork Roast
Sirloin of Beef
Plum Pudding

Les Asperges sauce mousseline (asparagus in mousseline sauce)
Mince Pies
Le Pain de riz à la cintra (not sure about this one, though it sounds perhaps like a rice pudding?)

Side Table (more about these below)
Baron of Beef
Woodcock Pie
Wild Boar’s Head
Game Pie

We aren’t the only curious ones…readers of the New York Times got this peek into the Queen’s holiday in an article in their December 26, 1898 paper:


How the Festival is Observed at Osborne—What an Old-Fashioned Christmas is Like.
From the London Mail

For weeks before Christmas the cooks at Windsor are busy preparing the Queen’s dinner for Dec. 25. The principal dishes are all prepared at Windsor, as the kitchen accommodation at Osborne is totally unequal to the task. The Queen’s plum pudding is the triumph of Windsor cookery. In an enormous caldron are placed the usual ingredients, well soaked in fine old Madeira or rum, and all the cooks take their turn in stirring round this huge mass—over 200 puddings are made at Windsor—and occasionally privileged persons are permitted to be present as spectators.

The duly mixed mess is divided into the required number of puddings, which are then boiled for twelve hours. One of these puddings is sent to every one of the Queen’s immediate relatives and descendants. The mincemeat also involves considerable preparation; it is made according to a recipe of King James I.

The ox from whose carcass the baron of beef for the royal table is to be cut is specially fed up, and in Christmas week the enormous joint is handed over to the tender care of the cooks. So big is it that it is placed before a roaring fire at 8 o’clock in the morning and exposed to the heat until 8 at night, when it is pronounced “done”.

Afterward the royal monogram in shredded horse radish is imprinted on the joint, which is served cold. It does not appear on the table, but stands on the sideboard.

The boar’s head always figures in the menu. Both the German Emperor and the King of Saxony invariably send a boar’s head to the Queen as a Christmas present, but the chef finds that an ordinary bacon head cooks better, so the tusks of the wild boar are fastened on to the head of a tame pig, whose appearance is further “made up” by fierce eyes and painted gums.

The game pie is a huge pasty, in whose bowels is concealed a savory compound of woodcock, game, pork, bacon, eggs, spice &c.

Christmas presents for the Queen frequently take the form of delicacies for the royal table. The Czar of Russia keeps up the custom of his late father and sends a royal sturgeon.

The Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin always forwards a splendid paté-de-foie-gras encased in pastry, and resembling an enormous pork pie. The Crown Princess of Greece sends her grandmamma a case of fine currants and spices and the Empress Frederick some German gingerbread, of which her father was very fond. The Emperor of Austria forwards a dozen bottles of his priceless Tokay wine.

All these presents are sent to Windsor, and forwarded to the Isle of Wight, along with the other Christmas fare. The Royal yacht used for conveying provisions to Osborne when the court is there, is irreverently called “the milk cart” by the young Princes and Princesses.

The Christmas fare is sent across Southampton Water in time to reach Osborne on Christmas eve. Such dishes as are to be served hot are either warmed up or prepared wholly at Osborne.

Dinner on Christmas Day, as on other days, is served at 9 P.M. All the Queen’s splendid gold and silver plate is used. After the most substantial dishes have been disposed of Stilton cheese is served, and then comes dessert, which consisting of all the rare fruits of the season, is served on the famous Sevres set of plates and dishes, valued at £50,000. Music is provided by the royal band.

Quite an observance, don't you think?  I must say, though, that I feel sorry for whoever had to wash the Queen's dishes (that's a piece from her Minton service, above) after Christmas dinner.  Hopefully they hadn't sampled the tipsy plum puddings beforehand!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Items Deserving Notice, December: A Fine Shew of Cattle

If December near you is anything like December near me, the month is thronged with events, from craft shows and markets to parades and parties, all centering around the celebration of Christmas. I was therefore surprised to find something altogether different as the highlight of the month of December in London in the nineteenth century. December marked the annual show of the Smithfield Club.

The Smithfield Club was started in 1798 at the Smithfield Meat Market in London. With no less than the Duke of Bedford as its president, the club welcomed agriculturists and enthusiasts as its members. The idea was to encourage the early maturation of cattle and sheep so that the highest quality meat could be brought to market.

Prizes were offered annually for the best beef cow above a certain weight and fed on grass, hay, turnips, or cabbages (apparently the cow, unlike our friend Cara, did not turn up its nose at turnips); the best beef cow fed on corn or oil cake (a solid block of vegetable material from which the oil has been extracted); and the best sheep in the same kind of categories. A total of 50 guineas were won at the first event in 1799 when hundreds of cattlemen from around Britain brought their animals and families to London.

At first, the club was limited to 50 members, then expanded to 100, and finally allowed open enrollment. Gentlemen as well as ladies attended, and certainly young men and women were encouraged to attend with their parents. Indeed, a Miss Strickland, daughter of baronet Sir George Strickland, won a prize one year. Partially under the influence of the club, cattle and sheep began to be classified according to breeds, with the prizes changing to accommodate accordingly.

However, the enthusiasm of the Bedford family, which had continued putting up the prizes of silver plate and medals, began to wane, and the club looked as if it might fold. It was the interest of Earl Spencer, the forebear of Princess Diana, who brought the club back into prominence in 1825, and it has continued to this day.

And after learning about this club, I so want to write a story about a noble British “cowboy.” :-)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Victoria’s Grandchildren, Part 2: Ella of Russia

Queen Victoria was not fond of Russia, despite having fallen a little in love with the young Tsarevitch Alexander (later Tsar Alexander II) when he paid a state visit to the young queen’s court in 1838 (they danced a great deal, which must have been a sight with the queen so petite and tsarevitch so tall). But two of her favorite grandchildren would marry Alexander’s son and grandson…with disastrous outcomes.

Elizabeth Alexandra Louise Alice was born on November 1, 1864, the second child and second daughter of Princess Alice, Victoria’s second daughter, and her husband, Prince Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine. Princess Alice was a devoted mother to her family, which eventually numbered seven, and little Elizabeth’s (her nickname in the family was “Ella”) life up to her early teens was a happy one…until the unexpected and shocking death of first a younger sister, and then her mother, during a diphtheria outbreak in 1878.

Queen Victoria came to the rescue, and from then on Ella and her remaining brother and sisters spend at least as much time in England living with their grandmother as they did in Hesse, becoming especially close to their uncle Leopold, Victoria’s youngest son and a partial invalid who lived with his mother well into his twenties.

Ella grew in, by all accounts, a lovely young woman. All princesses are supposed to be beautiful, but in her case, it actually seems to have been true: she had delicate features, a porcelain complexion, and a graceful, slender figure. Royal suitors began to flock around her after she made her debut, including her cousin Wilhelm, who became quite besotted with her but whom Ella politely refused. Instead, she eventually fell for a very different suitor: Grand Duke Sergei Romanov, son of Tsar Alexander II and his wife, a princess from Hesse-Darmstadt. Sergei was an enigmatic figure: educated and cultured, yet stiff and reserved and with a difficult temper. But he seems to have been fond of his young wife (they married in 1884, when Ella was not quite yet twenty), and the marriage, if not a blissfully happy one, was yet a content one.

Ella threw herself into her new country, studying Russian language and history diligently as a young bride and eventually converting to the Russian Orthodox faith, which she embraced wholeheartedly (much to the dismay of most of her staunchly Protestant family. She and Sergei did not have children, though they did semi-adopt the children of one of Sergei’s brothers, who had been exiled.

Sergei was close to his brother, Tsar Alexander III, and accepted the role of Governor of Moscow, where his stiff, unbending attitude and deep conservatism made him enemies. He remained an influential advisor to his nephew, Tsar Nicholas II, who came to the throne in 1894 (at the same time that he married Ella’s younger sister, Alix of Hesse), and grew to be a deeply hated man…so much so that in 1905, as unrest grew in Russia in the wake of the humiliating Russo-Japanese War, Sergei was assassinated by a revolutionary’s bomb tossed into his carriage in the streets of Moscow.

A devastated Ella slowly began to draw away from her old life at court…and in 1909, withdrew even more, giving away some of her fabulous art and jewelry collection to relatives and selling the remainder, then using the proceeds to buy an estate on the Moscow River. Here she founded a religious order, a convent dedicated to Saints Mary and Martha. She became its abbess, taking the veil and dedicating herself to a life of charity, something she’d learned at the feet of her late mother: Princess Alice had been deeply interested in improving the nursing profession and providing health care for the poor, and in turn her daughter’s new enterprise included a large charity hospital and outreach to the poor of Moscow.

But despite the good work she accomplished for the poor of her adopted land, Ella was never accepted by a certain segment…and it was that segment that came into power with the fall of the Romanov dynasty and the rise of the Bolshevik party. They regarded her as a foreigner and a German sympathizer, and she was arrested early in 1918 and shuttled from location to location, depending on the whim of her captors and the fortunes of the varies parties struggling for power in Russia in those chaotic months. She eventually wound up in Alapaevsk, a town in the Ural Mountains, along with a few other members and connections of the Romanov family. In July, members of Lenin’s secret police, Cheka, came to Alapaevsk with orders to execute the prisoners. They were beaten and thrown down a mine shaft, but somehow survived this brutal treatment until desperate Cheka operatives threw hand grenades into the mine and finally set fire to it.

However, a few months later her body was found and removed from the mine, then smuggled out of Russia for burial in Jerusalem. Sixty-three years later, Queen Victoria’s pretty grand-daughter was canonized as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church.