A Georgian Christmas

A Georgian Christmas was very much all about parties, balls and family get-togethers. The Georgian Christmas season ran from December 6th (St. Nicholas Day) to January 6th (Twelfth Night). On St Nicholas’ Day it was traditional for friends to exchange presents; this marked the beginning of the Christmas season.

Christmas Day was a national holiday, spent by the gentry in their country houses and estates. People went to church and returned to a celebratory Christmas dinner. Food played a very important part in a Georgian Christmas. Guests and parties meant that a tremendous amount of food had to be prepared, and dishes that could be prepared ahead of time and served cold were popular.

For Christmas dinner, there was always a turkey or goose, though venison was the meat of choice for the gentry. This was followed by Christmas pudding. In 1664 the Puritans banned it, calling it a ‘lewd custom’ and ‘unfit for God-fearing people’. Christmas Puddings were also called plum puddings because one of the main ingredients was dried plums or prunes.

In 1714, King George I was apparently served plum pudding as part of his first Christmas dinner as a newly crowned monarch, thus re-introducing it as a traditional part of Christmas dinner. Unfortunately there are no contemporary sources to confirm this, but it is a good story and led to his being nicknamed ‘the pudding king’.

Traditional decorations included holly and evergreens. The decoration of homes was not just for the gentry: poor families also brought greenery indoors to decorate their homes, but not until Christmas Eve. It was considered unlucky to bring greenery into the house before then. By the late 18th century, kissing boughs and balls were popular, usually made from holly, ivy, mistletoe and rosemary. These were often also decorated with spices, apples, oranges, candles or ribbons. In very religious households, the mistletoe was omitted.

The tradition of a Christmas tree in the house was a German custom and apparently brought to Court in 1800 by Queen Charlotte, wife of George III. So Sir Percy wouldn’t have had a Christmas tree!

A great blazing fire was the centerpiece of a family Christmas. The Yule log was chosen on Christmas Eve. It was wrapped in hazel twigs and dragged home, to burn in the fireplace as long as possible through the Christmas season. The tradition was to keep back a piece of the Yule log to light the following year’s Yule log. Nowadays in most households the Yule log has been replaced by an edible chocolate variety!

The day after Christmas, St Stephen’s Day, was the day when people gave to charity and the gentry presented their servants and staff with their ‘Christmas Boxes’. This is why today St Stephen’s Day is called ‘Boxing Day’.

January 6th or Twelfth Night signalled the end of the Christmas season and was marked in the 18th and 19th centuries by a Twelfth Night party. Games such as ‘bob apple’ and ‘snapdragon’ were popular at these events, as well as more dancing, drinking and eating.

A popular drink at assemblies was the Wassail bowl. This was similar to punch or mulled wine, prepared from spiced and sweetened wine or brandy, and served in a large bowl garnished with apples.

Once Twelfth Night was over, all the decorations were taken down and the greenery burned, or the house risked bad luck. Even today, many people take down all their Christmas decorations on or before 6th January to avoid bad luck for the rest of the year.

Unfortunately the extended Christmas season was to disappear after the Regency period, brought to an end by the rise of the Industrial Revolution and the decline of the rural way of life that had existed for centuries. Employers needed workers to continue working throughout the festive period and so the ‘modern’ shortened Christmas period came into being.

Yorkshire was the home of the Christmas pie, a huge barn of pastry filled with a turkey stuffed with a goose, a fowl, a duck and a pigeon – all with bones removed and any gaps filled with pieces of hare and woodcock. This was the precursor of that recent craze for multi-bird roasts. However, our ancestors baked these birds in pastry, so that the fat released from the goose fried the dry turkey in the sealed pie-case, producing succulent meat. When the pie had cooled, clarified butter was poured through a hole in the lid to seal the meat in, ensuring that it would keep for months.

These huge pies were designed to be eaten cold and were frequently sent long distances as gifts. The crust was often embellished with pastry decorations. 

The history of the mince pie 
Mince pies originated in the 16th century or earlier. Though sweet, they usually contained meat, which tended to be overpowered by the strong flavours of the spices and preserved fruit, so was barely detectable.  Unlike our simple modern round pies, they were made in a myriad of eccentric shapes and usually contained four or more spices. Many of the cookery books of the 17th and 18th centuries featured illustrated designs showing the latest fashions in mince pie shapes. These delightful little knot gardens of spicy mincemeat were arranged on a salver in a charming kaleidoscope pattern.

Festive punch
Two authentic early 18th-century punch recipes.

Royal punch
Take three pints of the best brandy, as much spring-water, a pint or better of the best lime-juice, a pound of double refined sugar. This punch is better than weaker punch, for it does not so easily affect the head, by reason of the large quantity of lime-juice more than common, and it is more grateful and comfortable to the stomach.

Punch for chambermaids
Take a quart of water, a quarter of a pint of Lime-juice; squeeze in also the juice of a Seville orange and a lemon; put in six ounces of fine sugar; strain all through a strainer, three times till it is very clear then put in a pint of brandy, and half a pint of white-wine.

A bill of fare for Christmas Day

Oysters
A collar of brawn
Stewed broth of mutton with marrow bones
A grand sallet
A pottage of caponets
A breast of veal in stoffado
A boil’d partridge
A chine of beef, or sirloin roast
Minced pies
A jegote of mutton with anchove sauce
A made dish of sweetbread
A swan roast
A pasty of venison
A kid with a pudding in his belly
A steak pie
A hanch of vension, roasted
A turkey roast and stuck with cloves
A made dish of chickens in puff paste
Two bran geese roasted, one larded
Two large capons
A custard

The second course for the
same mess

Oranges and lemons
A young lamb or kid
Two couple of rabbits, two larded
A pig souc’t with tongues
Three ducks, one larded
Three pheasants, one larded
A swan pye
Three brace of partridge, three larded,
made dish in puff paste
Bolonia sausages, and anchovies, mushrooms, and cavieate, and pickled oysters in a dish
Six eels, three larded
A gammon of Westphalia bacon
Ten plovers, five larded
A quince pye, or warden pie
Six woodcocks, three larded
A standing tart in puff paste, preserved
fruits, pippins, etc
A dish of larks
Six dried neats tongues
Sturgeon
Powdered geese, jellies

Aren’t you glad you haven’t got to prepare that much food this Christmas!

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A BIG thank you to all our supporters who have helped us raise donations in November through #easyfundraising. This takes our total donations raised to £364.36! Remember to keep using easyfundraising when buying all your Christmas gifts and help us raise even more!

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Remember to open the Advent Calendar windows…

 

Olympe de Gouges – writer, feminist, victim

Olympe de Gouges

As promised, another last letter from a victim of the French revolution, Olympe de Gouges.

Her real name was Marie Gouze and she was one of the very few women to play an active part in the defence of the democratic ideal of 1789. But unlike Mme Roland she had no fortune. She is known as the ancestor of modern feminism by virtue of her Déclaration des droits de la femme, a riposte to a Déclaration des droits de l’homme that excluded the ‘weaker sex’ from civil and political responsibilities, but maintained their penal responsibilities.

‘Woman has the right to mount the scaffold; she must also have the right to mount the tribune,’ she wrote.

A radical – in 1789 she put on a play against slavery at the Comédie-Française – Olympe des Gouges was also against violence – ‘the very blood of the guilty sullies revolution for all eternity.’ Her offer to act as the king’s defence at his trial caused a scandal. Refused permission to speak, she turned to her pen and wrote a great many political pamphlets, plays and even notices which she posted up all over Paris.

After the eviction and arrest of the more moderate Girondists she wrote to the Tribunal in their defence and was censored. Despite the risk she published a federalist tract, Les Trois Umes, in which she proposed that the French could choose their form of government by referendum. She was immediately arrested and after several months in different prisons she was condemned to death and executed on 3 November 1793. An observer noted her ‘steadiness’ on the scaffold. Someone remarked that they were ‘killing intelligence.’

Here is her final letter, to her son. As with all the other letters discovered in the archives it was never delivered.

To Citizen Degouges, general officer in the army of the Rhine.

I die, my dear son, a victim of my idolatry for the fatherland and for the people. Under the specious mask of republicanism, her enemies have brought me remorselessly to the scaffold.

After five months of captivity I was transferred to a maison de santé in which I was as free as I would have been at home. I could have escaped… but convince that all malevolence combining to ensnare me could not make me take a single step against the Revolution, I myself demanded to go to trial. Could I have believed that unmuzzled tigers would themselves be judges against the laws, even against that assembled public that will soon reproach them with my death?

I was presented with my indictment three days before my death; from the moment this indictment was signed the law gave me the right to see my defenders and whomsoever else I chose to assist my case. All were prevented from seeing me. I was kept as if in solitary confinement, unable to speak even to the gaoler. I was given the list at midnight, and the following day at 7 ‘clock, I was taken to the Tribunal, weak and sick, and lacking the art of speaking to the public; like Jean-Jacques and also on account of his virtues, I was all too aware of my inadequacy. I asked for the défenseur officieux that I had chosen. I was told that there wasn’t one or that he did not wish to take on my cause; I ased for another to take his place. I was told that I had enough wit to defend myself.

Yes, no doubt I had enough to spare to defend my innocence, which was evident to the eyes of all present. I do not deny that a defenseur officieaux could have done much more for me in pointing out all the services and benefits that I have brought the people.

Twenty times I made my executioners pale and not knowing how to reply to each sentence that betrayed my innocence and their bad faith, they sentenced me to death, lest the peope be led to consider my fate as the greatest example of iniquity the world hs ever seen.

Farewell my son, I shall be no more when you receive this letter. But leave your post, the injustice done to your mother and the crime committed against her are reason enough.

I die, my dear son; I die innocent. All laws have been violated for the most virtuous woman of her century… always remember the good advice that I have given you.

I leave your wife’s watch as well as the receipt for her jewellery at the pawnbrokers, the jar and the keys to the trunk that I sent to Tours.

De Gouges.

Source: Last Letters by Oliver Blanc.

Hazard – an alternative game for the festive season

If you’re dreading yet another game of monopoly this Christmas you might like to try Hazard. The modern game of Craps evolved from Hazard, which is basically a variation, where throws of 7 or 11 always win. All you need are two dice (and some money!)

Hazard has been around since the 14th century and the phrase “Set upon six and seven” first appeared in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and referred to betting one’s entire fortune on a single throw of the dice. We also get the modern meanings of “risk” and “danger” associated with the word “hazard” from this notion.

The name is commonly thought to be Old French, but likely derived from the Spanish “azar”, which is “an unfortunate card or dice roll”. There’s some speculation the game was allegedly first played by the crusaders laying siege to a castle, called Hazart or Asart, in the 12th century.

Hazard was very popular during the 17th and 18th centuries where gambling by the nobility was a favourite past time to chase away the boredom and make some extra money. Or more likely lose it…

Horace Walpole often expressed astonishment at the sums of money being lost at the clubs of St James’ ‘The young men of the age lose five, ten, fifteen thousand pounds in an evening there. Lord Stavordale, not one and twenty, lost eleven thousand there, last Tuesday, but recovered it by one great hand at hazard: he swore a great oath, – “Now, if I had been playing deep, I might have won millions”’ (2 Feb. 1770). Lord Stavordale’s cousin was Charles Fox the leading politician, a very great gambler. He sometimes went to Almack’s (later renamed Brooks) in the evening, staying there until the next afternoon before going to White’s to drink until the following morning, before setting out for Newmarket and the horse races. In the space of two nights he and his brother Stephen, neither of them over 25 years old, lost £32,000.

Fox’s father, Lord Holland, paid off his son’s debts to the princely tune of £140,000. (In today’s terms this sum would be astronomical – depending on the inflation converter you used, you would multiply the sum by 97 to get at the value of 1790s money today.)

The main reason people lost so much money is that the other players could place bets on the outcome of the throw – so-called ‘side bets’.

The basic rules

Hazard is played with two dice. In each of the many rounds the caster picks out a number between 5 and 9, inclusive. This is called the “main”, then the caster throws two dice.

If the caster rolls the main numbers, you win, which is called “throws in” or “nicks”. If you roll a 2 or 3 you will lose, or “throws out”.

If the caster rolls a 11 or 12, the result of that throw depends on the “main”:

  • a main of 5 or 9, the caster “throws out” with both an 11 and 12.
  • a main of 6 or 8, the caster “throws out” with an 11 but “nicks” with a 12.
  • a main of 7, the caster “nicks” an 11 but “throws out” with a 12.
  • if the caster doesn’t “nick” or “throw out”, that number is called the “chance”, then you throw the dice again.
  • if the caster rolls “the main” on a “chance” you will lose, unlike when you first threw.
  • if the caster rolls neither of them, they keep throwing the dice until one or other is rolled, either winning with “chance” or losing with the “main”.

As long as the caster keeps winning, he keeps on playing. If the caster loses three times in a row, the dice pass to the player on his left.

A nick on the first throw wins the caster an amount equal to his stake or wager. The setter or bank gives odds if the setter throws a “chance”.

Common phrases used in a game of hazard.

In order to play this game competently, it’s imperative to have a grasp of terms often used in the course of playing. Here are the more commonly used phrases of the game.

  • Caster-is the current player.
  • Throw out- means to lose.
  • Throw in/nick-refers to rolling the main.
  • Main-any number between 5 and 9, inclusive.

Her are the odds of throwing the different combinations:

2d6 Rolls

Dice Value Combinations Chance of rolling
exact number
Chance of rolling a number
and above or below
2 1 2.8% 2+ 12- 100%
3 2 5.6% 3+ 11- 97.2%
4 3 8.3% 4+ 10- 91.7%
5 4 11.1% 5+ 9- 83.3%
6 5 13.9% 6+ 8- 72.2%
7 6 16.7% 7+ 7- 58.3%
8 5 13.9% 8+ 6- 41.7%
9 4 11.1% 9+ 5- 27.8%
10 3 8.3% 10+ 4- 16.7%
11 2 5.6% 11+ 3- 8.3%
12 1 2.8% 12 2 2.8%

After the first throw, the caster (and others, in side bets) may wager an additional sum that the chance will come before the main. These bets are made at odds determined by the relative proportions of the main and the chance:

Main Chance
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
5 4/3 4/5 2/3 4/5 1/1 4/3
6 5/3 5/4 5/6 1/1 5/4 5/3
7 2/1 3/2 6/5 6/5 3/2 2/1
8 5/3 5/4 1/1 5/6 5/4 5/3
9 4/3 1/1 4/5 2/3 4/5 4/3

 

For example, with an odds stake of £10, a main of 7 and a chance of 5, a caster stands to win £15 (3/2 × £10); with the same stake, a main of 5 and a chance of 6, he could win £8 (4/5 × £10).

So there you have it. Don’t blame me if you lose all your money…

Etienne-Thomas Ogier de Baulay’s final letter

Whilst going through boxes in the Archives Nationales, Olivier Blanc came across dozens and dozens of letters written by men and women condemned to death a few hours or even a few minutes before their departure to the scaffold. These letters had been handed over to Fouquier-Tinville, the Public Prosecutor, and never delivered.

I found reading these letters during my research for my adaptation of The Scarlet Pimpernel very moving and have decided to reproduce some of them here. If there really had been such a person as my eponymous hero, these are the people he would have been trying to help.

Etienne-Thomas Ogier de Baulay was a member of the minor nobility in the region of Brie. It was impossible for him to prove that he had not taken part in a plot to bring about an uprising. He was accordingly sentenced to death. He was 46 years old. His last letter was addressed to his wife:

From the Conciergerie, Saturday 1 February 1794, at 9 o’clock in the morning.

Ah! My good friend, my loving friend, I am writing these few words to inform you that today at midday, you will no longer have a husband. If I have done anything to harm you or treated you badly, I beg you to pardon me as I pardon you any ills that you may have caused me. Embrace Amédée for me and tell him never to forget his dear, loving pap.

I  beg you always to take care of him, but I have no need to commend him to you, knowing your love for him and the good care that you have always lavished upon him. Farewell, my dead friend, never forget me a long as you live, farewell once again, I embrace you for the last time.

Black Friday approaches – let’s make the most of it

Hello all,

I’m delighted to say that we’ve got positive responses from some wonderful actors we want for the show next year. ‘Oh yes we have.’ We are into panto season here 🙂

We will be auditioning for other roles in January.

More on this in due course.

In the meantime we’re still raising money towards the production and you can help at no cost to yourself.

I’ve written before about easyfundraising. With Black Friday fast approaching I’m trying to recruit more supporters. When you buy online from leading retailers they make a donation – we’ve already raised over £350 using easyfundraising, we’d like to make more with your help.

Easyfundraising and how it works

Our cause is The Scarlet Pimpernel on stage.

The more money we raise, the more we’ll have to spend on the production.

You really don’t want to be doing this (see below) when you can shop online from the comfort of your own sofa do you?

Thanks in advance and Happy Shopping!

Easy money and how to get it…

It’s less than eight weeks until Christmas!

Remember to use #easyfundraising when you’re buying your Christmas gifts online. We want to raise as much as possible and it couldn’t be easier through #easyfundraising! https://www.easyfundraising.org.uk/

true

 

Our cause link is here:

The Scarlet Pimpernel on stage

Thank you so much for supporting us!

christmas decorations

 

 

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Whoop, whoop – it’s really happening!

 

 

‘We seek him here, we seek him there…’

I’m delighted to announce that I have secured financing for three semi-staged performances of my adaptation of The Scarlet Pimpernel in May next year. These will be at:

Adelaide Hall, Bath Street, Glasgow – 7.30pm Friday 3 May 

Broompark Centre, Denny near Falkirk – 7.30pm Saturday 4 May 

Roxy Upstairs, Roxburgh Place, Edinburgh- 7.30pm Sunday 5 May 

Booking information will be available in due course and posted here and on our website Pimpernel Productions Ltd.

This will be an abridged – one hour twenty minute – version of the play, no lighting or sets etc. but the actors will be fully rehearsed – no scripts. I hope that this showcase will attract further funding so we can produce the full production and take it on tour.

We will be holding auditions in January.

I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed in order to make this happen, I really appreciate your help.

I understand that there are at least two television series based on The Scarlet Pimpernel in development so it will be wonderful to be able to share my take on the story and characters with you all.

If I could ask you to all sign up for easyfundraising if you haven’t already – money raised will go towards making the production even better and it won’t cost you a penny. Retailers donate when you shop online. You can find out all about it here: https://www.easyfundraising.org.uk/causes/scarletpimpernelonstage/

Thank you!

Marie Antoinette’s jewellery comes up at auction

If you’re looking for a very special Christmas present, and happen to have a few million to spare, this upcoming auction in Geneva next month may be of interest. The rest of us can just appreciate the beauty of this incredible jewellery.

brooch

(From Sotheby’s website)

One of the most important royal jewellery collections ever to come to auction is set to capture the world’s imagination when it comes to Sotheby’s this autumn Royal Jewels from the Bourbon Parma Family (Geneva, 12 November), which spans centuries of European history, from the reign of Louis XVI to the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, will offer a fascinating insight into the splendour of one of Europe’s most important royal dynasties.

pendants

Descended from Louis XIV of France, the Holy Roman Emperors and from Pope Paul III, the Bourbon-Parma family is linked by blood to the most important ruling families of Europe – from the Bourbons to the Habsburgs. Members of the lineage include Kings of France and Spain, Emperors of Austria and the Dukes of Parma.

necklace

The king and queen were executed by guillotine in 1793 and their 10-year-old son Louis XVII died in captivity shortly after. Their last surviving child Marie-Thérèse, known as “Madame Royale”, was released from three years of solitary confinement in 1795. Upon her eventual arrival in Vienna in 1796 she reclaimed her mother’s jewels, which had been kept safe by her cousin, the Austrian Emperor.

ear rings

The illustrious jewels to be offered in November also bear witness to the family’s connections with the House of Habsburg, one of the most influential royal dynasties of Europe. Reigning over the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918, the Habsburgs also occupied the throne of the Holy Roman Empire and produced emperors and kings whose dominions included Germany, England, Spain, Holland and Italy.

pearl and diamond pendant

Daniela Mascetti, Deputy Chairman, Sotheby’s Jewellery Europe and Senior International Specialist: “It is one of the most important royal jewellery collections ever to appear on the market and each and every jewel is absolutely imbued with history. Never before seen in public, this extraordinary group of jewels offers a captivating insight into the lives of its owners going back hundreds of years. What is also striking is the inherent beauty of the pieces themselves: the precious gems they are adorned with and the exceptional craftsmanship they display are stunning in their own right.”

The Scarlet Pimpernel abridged – another performance scheduled

theatre masks

I have found another performance space, in Denny, near Falkirk, for the Saturday evening so we now have venues for Friday 3 May in Glasgow, Saturday 4 May in Denny and Sunday 5 May in Edinburgh.

I have had some great news regarding funding and hope to be able to greenlight the production soon.

We will be holding auditions in late January, rehearsals will be for a fortnight week beginning 22 April.

Broompark view from stage:balcony
Broompark Centre, Denny FK6 6NP