I have to confess, one of my favorite parts of writing historical fiction is having an excuse to read up on the manners and customs of the period. I was doubly excited to when I realized that my latest book would take place over Christmas and Twelfth Night and I had to research those holiday traditions. I had such fun incorporating period traditions into the story. My biggest disappointment was that I could not include more of them!
I’m so glad Regina invited me to come by and share a few of them with you today.
Twelfth Night Revelry
Epiphany or Twelfth Night was the exciting climax of the Christmastide season, a time for putting away social norms. It was a feast day to mark the coming of the Magi, and as such was the traditional day to exchange gifts.
Revels, masks and balls were the order of the day and night. Typically each guest would portray a character for the evening. The hostess might create them herself or turn to a stationary shop or game good to provide her with a set of characters.
Guests might select a character to play by drawing a slip of paper from a hat or bag. Hostesses might provide dress up items for their guests to don after characters had been chosen. Other hostesses would send characters around to her guests so that they could come already dressed as their character. If a guest broke out of character during the night they would have to ay a forfeit later.
Besides the King and Queen, a variety of characters, often pulled from popular literature and plays were available. Common characters were Sir Gregory Goose, Sir Tumbelly Clumsy, Miss Fanny Fanciful and Mrs. Candour. Rachel Revel offers an extensive set of numbered characters in her book as well as instructions to introduce the characters by arranging them in order of their number and when all the guests have characters, they each read the lines for their character in turn. For example:
1. King: Fate decrees me your King: grave and gay, wise and fools, Must consent, for this night, to submit to my rules.
2. Queen: I’m your Queen: good my liege, your confessor, may shrive you; But for me, I’m resolved, if I can’t lead I’ll drive you.
3. Lord Spendthrift: Blood, for money, Lord Spendthrift is ready to barter,
If some rich maid will purchase a Knight of the garter.
4. Molly Mumper: Molly Mumper wants a husband: Baron, or Duke, she cares
not which; If you’ll marry a beggar’s heiress, she’ll promise to make you rich.
5. Lucy Leertoell: “lis so humdrum to live single, Lucy Leerwell would prefer, On some facetious youth, her hand and fortune to confer.
6. Joe Giber: Take Joe Giber, the king’s jester, he’s the fellow for your
yoke, Tho’ marriage, it must be confess’d, by most wits is counted no joke.
7- Miss All-agog: Miss All-agog’s a candid girl, who hates monastic vows,
And she will never take the veil if she can get a spouse.
8. Sam Sadboy.: Sam Sadboy’s neither monk nor friar; he sees into your views:
Marry him, you may cast off your veil, and the rest of your deeds when you choose.
9. Miss Romance.: Miss Romance to accept for her partner proposes
One who’ll print in his press ev’ry work she composes…
Servants were often included in the revelries. This could become particularly interesting when one became the king or queen for the evening.
Twelfth Night Cake
A special Twelfth Cake, would be the centerpiece of the party. The cakes were light and covered with were elaborate creations with sugar frosting, gilded paper trimmings, and sometimes delicate plaster of Paris or sugar paste figures. In towns, confectioners would display these cakes in their shop windows, illuminated by small lamps so the displays could be admired during winter evenings.
Recipes for Twelfth Cake do not appear in print until 1803, although either of this recipe might have been used prior to that to make it.
To Make a Rich Cake
Take four pounds of flour dried and sifted, seven pounds of currants washed and rubbed, six pounds of the best fresh butter, two pounds of Jordan almonds blanched, and beaten with orange flower water and sack till fine; then take four pounds of eggs, put half the whites away, three pounds of double-refined sugar beaten and sifted, a quarter of an ounce of mace, the same of cloves and cinnamon, three large nutmegs, all beaten fine, a little ginger, half a pint of sack, half a pint of right French brandy, sweet-meats to your liking, they must be orange, lemon, and citron; work your butter to a cream with your hands before any of your ingredients are in; then put in your sugar, and mix all well together; let your eggs be well beat and strained through a sieve, work in your almonds first, then put in your eggs, beat them together till they look white and thick; then put in your sack, brandy and spices, shake your flour in be degrees, and when your oven is ready, put in your currants and sweet-meats as you put it in your hoop: it will take four hours baking in a quick oven: you must keep it beating with your hand all the while you are mixing of it, and when your currants are well washed and cleaned, let them be kept before the fire, so that they may go warm into your cake. This quantity will bake best in two hoops.
To make icing for a Bride Cake.
Almond Iceing for the Bride Cake. Take the whites of six eggs, a pound and half of double refined sugar; beat a pound of jordan almonds, blanch them, and pound fine in a Iittle rose water; mix all together, and whisk it well for an hour or two; then lay over your cake, and put it in an oven.
~Every woman her own housekeeper John Perkins 1790
Parlor games were the order of the evening for a Twelfth Night Party and often involved overstepping the strict bound of propriety. Losers often paid a forfeit, which could be an elaborate penalty or dare, but more often were a thinly disguised machination for getting a kiss. Often, forfeits were accumulated all evening, until he hostess would ‘cry the forfeits’ and they would all be redeemed. Some favorites included:
Blind Man’s Bluff and variations there of
Many variations of this game existed, including Hot Cockles, Are you there Moriarty, and Buffy Gruffy. All the variations include one player being blindfolded and trying to guess the identity of another player who had tapped them or who they have caught. A great deal of cheating was generally involved, which only added to the sport.
The king or queen occupied a chair in the center of the room. The courtiers would then copy the monarch’s movements with losing their decorum. Any number of simple or vulgar actions might be attempted to cause laughter among the courtiers, thus resulting in a forfeit.
Flour was piled into a high mound and a bullet placed on the top. Players cut slices out of the flour pile with a knife without dislodging the bullet. If the bullet fell, the player had to retrieve the bullet from the flour with their teeth.
My characters had a great deal of fun with this one.
The game could be played two different ways. In one, each player in turn would recite their riddle, and the rest had to guess at their word.
In the second, the party would divide into two or more groups, would create short one minute acts to describe the syllables, the last describing the whole word for the rest of the party to guess.
Once the festivities were over, the evergreen decorations were to be taken down and burned by midnight on this day or face bad luck for the rest of the year. Some believed that for every branch that remained a goblin would appear.
If you’d like to read about a very special Twelfth Night party, try out my newest release:
Twelfth Night—a night for wondrous things to happen.
At least for other people.
In the months after her sisters’ weddings, nothing has gone well for Kitty Bennet. Since Lydia’s infamous elopement, her friends have abandoned her, and Longbourn is more prison than home. Not even Elizabeth’s new status as Mrs. Darcy of Pemberley can repair the damage to Kitty’s reputation. More than anything else, she wishes to leave the plain ordinary Kitty behind and become Catherine Bennet, a proper young lady.
Her only ray of hope is an invitation to Pemberley for the holidays. Perhaps there she might escape the effects of her sister’s shame.
Getting to Pemberley is not as simple as it sounds. First she must navigate the perils of London society, the moods of Georgiana Darcy, and the chance encounter with the man who once broke her heart. Perhaps though, as Catherine, she might prove herself worthy of that gentleman’s regard.
But, in an instant all her hopes are dashed, and her dreams of becoming Catherine evaporate. Will Kitty Bennet’s inner strength be enough to bring her heart’s desire?
On an ordinary night perhaps not, but on Twelfth Night, it just might be enough.
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