Monday, December 13, 2021

More Tudor Christmas History

(This is a bit of info I researched when writing The Winter Queen!  On a side note, the anthology Tudor Christmas Tidings is on sale for 1.99 right now!!!  3 great novels in one...)

 In 1564, Elizabeth I was 31 years old and had been on the throne for six years.  They were very challenging years; her sister Queen Mary had left England in financial and religious turmoil, and Elizabeth had to fix all of this as well as fend off suitors and increasing pressure from her ministers to marry.  In October 1562 she survived a bout of smallpox; in 1563, plague swept the country.  By Christmas of 1564, the Queen and her Court were ready to party, but it proved to be the coldest winter in living history.  Even the Thames froze through, but Elizabeth wasn’t going to keep this from spoiling her fun!  In fact, she used the terrible weather to make the holiday even more special.

Elizabethan Christmases were literally “the twelve days of Christmas,” culminating in a huge feast on Twelfth Night (January 6).  Each day had its own activity—the bringing in of the Yule log on Christmas day; a fox hunt on St. Stephen’s Day, December 26 (where the Queen would ride down the Strand, through Cheapside, and over London Bridge to Greenwich Great Park, among the cheers of the crowds gathered to see her).  There were plays, dancing, and feasting every night.  When the Thames was deemed solid on December 21, a Frost Fair was set up on the ice, with booths selling food, warm cider, and ribbons, as well as sledding, skating, and games.  (This works very well for my Swedish hero, Anton, who attempts to teach the heroine Rosamund to skate!)


But it wasn’t all feasting and games.  The Queen kept Christmas at Whitehall that year, and as usual there was a tremendous amount of political skullduggery going on in the palace’s vast corridors.  Her Privy Council and chief advisor Lord Burghley still pressed her to marry, and there was no shortage of eager suitors.  King Eric XIV of Sweden (who in 1568 would be declared insane and overthrown by his brother) was fighting two wars and needed an influential wife.  Elizabeth turned him down when she first came to the throne in 1558, but he tries again.  (Anton Gustavson comes to London as part of the diplomatic party from Stockholm.  But he has his own agenda in England—and Rosamund Ramsay is a complication he doesn’t need!).  The Austrians and French, too, want to try their luck in the marital stakes.

Her own marriage isn’t the only one concerning Elizabeth in 1564.  Her cousin to the north, Mary Queen of Scots, is being troublesome (as usual).  The beautiful widow is looking for a new husband, and rumor has it she’s settled on her own cousin, Lord Darnley (handsome and well-connected, but drunk and mean).  Elizabeth offers her an alternative—Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.  As Dudley is well-known to be Elizabeth’s own favorite, Mary is less than enthused, but she does send a party (headed by Sir James Melville) to discuss the matter.

My heroine, Lady Rosamund, lands right in the middle of all this Christmas intrigue!  Her parents disapprove of her romantic flirtation with their neighbors’ unreliable son, and hope by sending her to Court as one of the Queen’s Maids of Honor she will be distracted (and find a better match!).  There were many levels of service to the Queen for high-born ladies—there were ladies of the Bedchamber (the highest honor), the Privy Chamber, and the Presence Chamber, as well as the six Maids.  These were unmarried young ladies, paid 40 pounds a year to walk with the Queen, sit with her, go with her to church, etc.  And the Queen did not like for them to have romances.  The history of the Elizabethan Court is littered with tales of young women who landed in the Tower for getting caught in dalliances—as Rosamund and Anton know well…

Here are a few great sources I found when researching The Winter Queen:

  • Liza Picard, Elizabeth’s London

  • Janet Arnold, Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d and Patterns of Fashion, 1560-1620

  • Anne Somerset, Elizabeth I and Ladies in Waiting: From the Tudors to the Present Day

  • Dunlop, The Palaces and Progresses of Elizabeth I

  • Alan Haynes, Sex in Elizabethan England

  • Alison Sim, Food and Feast in Tudor England

  • Maria Hubert, Christmas in Shakespeare’s England

  • Simon Thurley, Whitehall Palace: The Official Illustrated History

  • Josephine Ross, The Men Who Would Be King

And in case you want to do your own Elizabethan Christmas feast, a few period recipes (and good luck!!):

Figgy Pudding: Chop ½ pound dried figs and mix with ¼ cup bread crumbs.  Lightly brown 1 cup of “autumn gathered” walnuts and mix with 1 cup brown sugar, 3 tbsp melted butter, 4 beaten eggs, and spices (1/2 tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp nutmeg).  Bake for at least an hour and serve with cream or “hardsauce” (made from Madeira or malmsey!)

Twelfth Night Cake:  In a bowl, combine ½ cup orange juice with 1 cup golden and 1 cup dark raisins and let stand.  Cream 1 cup butter, 1 cup sugar, 2 cups wheat flour, and 4 fresh eggs.  Add the undrained raisin mixture and a pinch of cinnamon.  Stir together and bake until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.  Melt 3 tbsp of honey to glaze the cake, decorating with candied cherries.  They often add a pea and a bean, so the finder of the bean is king for the evening and the finder of the pea is queen!

Roast Peacock:  Take a peacock, break its neck and drain it.  Carefully skin it, keeping the skin and feathers together with the head still attached by the skin of the neck.  Roast only the bird, with the legs tucked under.  When it is roasted enough, take it out and let it cool.  Sprinkle cumin on the inside of the skin, then wind it with the feathers and tail around the body.  Serve with the tail feathers upright, its neck propped up from within and a lighted taper in the beak.  If it is a royal dish, cover the beak with fine gold leaf.  Serve with ginger sauce (and lots of pomp and ceremony)

Maids of Honor:  Make pastry dough enough for a double-crust pie.  Preheat brick over by burning wood or coals inside, then rake them out.  Roll out pastry and cut in rounds, then fit in small tartlet tins.  Prick pastry with fork tines.  Bring to near boil ½ pint cow’s milk with 4 level tbsp white breadcrumbs.  Remove from heat and leave for a few minutes.  Into that mixture beat 8 tsps butter, cut in cubes, 2 tbsp sugar, grated rind of one lemon, and ¾ cup blanched almonds.  Be sure the mixture is not lumpy.  Beat in 3 eggs.  Half fill the pastry shells and bake for 15 minutes or until mixture is golden brown.

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