The mourning rites we customarily think of as being so strict during the Regency era, were actually those imposed by Queen Victoria after the death of her husband, Prince Albert. Victoria was known to wear black for many years and strict forms of comportment during the mourning period. The Georgian Era/Regency held its moments, especially during the country’s mourning for King George III and later, King George IV. But the mourning of individuals differed.
The wealthy might have an open coffin in a drawing room where the deceased could be viewed by the family and others could pay their respects. More than likely, the poor permitted the body to decompose in one of the rooms and later the bones were buried. If a coffin was used, the poor were more likely to “rent” a coffin. The deceased was sewn into a wool shroud. The coffin had an open end and the shrouded body would be tipped into the grave and covered up with dirt. The coffin would be used again for another service. Funeral meats were served at the home of the deceased.
From WordOrigins.org, we find: “Funeral baked meats” is famous from Hamlet and I had assumed baked meats referred to roast beef/venison/pork/suckling pig etc.
E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
means meat-pie. “The funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage table” (Hamlet); i.e. the hot meat-pies (venison pasties) served at the funeral and not eaten, were served cold at the marriage banquet.
“Presumably those pies and pasties were cooked in shortcrust pastry, and such meat (and veg) pies are still popular in the UK and the Antipodes, but not in the States where pies are fruit with a different kind of pastry I believe. (This is true of British fruit pies anyway.)”
/ˈbeɪkˌmit/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [beyk-meet] Show IPA
1. pastry; pie.
2. cooked food, esp. a meat pie.
Also, baked meat.
1350–1400; ME bake mete, OE bacen mete baked food. See bake, meat
This is reminiscent of the legend of the Sin-Eater. A sin-eater is a person who consumes a ritual meal in order to take on the sins of a person or household. The food was believed to absorb the sins of a recently deceased person, thus absolving the soul of the person. Sin-eaters, as a consequence, carried the sins of all people whose sins they had eaten. A local legend in Shropshire, England, concerns the grave of Richard Munslow, who died in 1906, [“Last ‘sin-eater’ to be celebrated with church service”. BBC News. 19 September 2010.] said to be the last sin-eater of the area:
By eating bread and drinking ale, and by making a short speech at the graveside, the sin-eater took upon themselves the sins of the deceased”. The speech was written as: “I give easement and rest now to thee, dear man. Come not down the lanes or in our meadows. And for thy peace I pawn my own soul. Amen.
There is an episode of Rod Sterling’s 1970s Night Gallery (Season 2, Episode 59) entitled “The Sins of the Fathers,” and starred Richard Thomas of “The Waltons” fame as the sin-eater’s son and Geraldine Page as his mother. When I saw it years ago, it creeped me out and the images of it stayed with me all these years. Ethan Renoe tells us something about the episode: “The episode takes place in 13th century Wales, where famine is destroying the country. An old man has just died, so his family is looking for a sin-eater to come and relinquish the man of his sins. The belief is that this person, known as the sin-eater, comes and feasts on fine foods from the chest of the corpse and, once the meal is complete and the proper prayers are recited, the sins of the deceased enter into the soul of the sin-eater. He screams in agony and the family watching knows that the dead man is relieved of his trespasses.
“If you know anything about Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone, you know that creepy and weird is just what lives inside his head. The episode follows a midget as he rides his pony 12 miles to fetch the sin-eater, who, it turns out, has also just died. His wife coerces their son to go instead and eat the sins of the dead man.” Obviously, if you read the title above, you know the ironic twist at the end.
NIGHT GALLERY #27
(Air date: February 23, 1972)
THE SINS OF THE FATHERS
Teleplay by Halsted Welles • Story by Christianna Brand
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc
Not for the squeamish is “The Sins of the Fathers,” based on the old Welsh custom of sin-eating: cleansing a man of his sins
by feasting in the presence of his corpse.
Geraldine Page as Mrs. Evans
Richard Thomas as Ian Evans
Michael Dunn as the Servant
Barbara Steele as the Widow Craighill
Cyril Delevanti as the First Mourner
Alan Napier as the Second Mourner
Terence Pushman as the Third Mourner
John Barclay as the Fourth Mourner
In my story, Where There’s a FitzWILLiam Darcy, There’s a Way, Mr. Bennet has passed and the Bennet family is thrust into mourning. During the Regency, Mrs. Bennet would be expected to mourn her husband for a year, while the daughters were only required to mourn their father for six months. This meant wearing black or dark gray. After six months, Mrs. Bennet would be in half mourning, meaning she should could wear a combination of black and white. After that she could wear black, gray, or lavender until the year was complete. Many women continued to wear mourning long after their husbands had passed.
The “rules of propriety” said a year of mourning for a husband or wife, and six moths for a parent or one’s in-laws. Donna Hatch has a full breakdown of how long one must grieve for aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, and the like on her Mourning Customs in Regency England. I know many of you will find the excerpts she quotes quite interesting.
Geri Walton has a wonderful post entitled “Mourning in the Georgian Era,” in which she tells us:
Mourning rules were also associated with families, relatives, and servants in the Georgian Era. In the Life of Harriot Stuart, written in 1750 by the English poet and authoress, Charlotte Lennox, she noted:
“[The] length of time devoted to mourning, and the apparent intensity with which one mourned, were determined to a large extent by the relationship that … existed between the two people and the ‘public knowledge of that relationship’ … mourning was usually only done for kindred, and … the formal rules that governed mourning, which specified an exact amount of time for each degree of kinship, ‘showed that servants were excluded from family.’”
Where There’s a FitzWILLiam Darcy, There’s a Way
ELIZABETH BENNET’s world has turned upon its head. Not only is her family about to be banished to the hedgerows after her father’s sudden death, but Mr. Darcy has appeared upon Longbourn’s threshold, not to renew his proposal, as she first feared, but, rather, to serve as Mr. Collins’s agent in taking an accounting of Longbourn’s “treasures” before her father’s cousin steals away all her memories of the place.
FITZWILLIAM DARCY certainly has no desire to encounter Elizabeth Bennet again so soon after her mordant refusal of his hand in marriage, but when his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, strikes a bargain in which her ladyship agrees to provide his Cousin Anne a London Season if Darcy will become Mr. Collins’s agent in Hertfordshire, Darcy accepts in hopes he can convince Miss Elizabeth to think better of him than she, obviously, does. Yet, how can he persuade the woman to recognize his inherent sense of honor, when his inventory of Longbourn’s entailed land and real properties announces the date she and her family will be homeless?
The eBook is available from these outlets:
Excerpt from Chapter Ten of Where There’s a FitzWILLiam Darcy, There’s a Way. In this section, Darcy and Elizabeth have been inspecting the home farms as part of Darcy’s duty to Mr. Collins. They stop to enjoy a meal he brought for them.
Darcy knew he could never permit such a future for her, but he could not speak promises without the bonds of an engagement, and having such at this time would drive her away, so he swallowed the words on the tip of his tongue. “I, too, find London difficult,” he said lamely.
Again, they sat in quiet contemplation for several minutes, each finishing the food on their plates. It amazed him how those silent moments between them no longer felt awkward, for there was an understood acceptance now. At length, she returned their plates and silver to the basket. When finished, she turned to him to ask, “I know this will sound personal, and you must not respond, if doing so makes you uncomfortable, but after your father passed, did you ever walk into a room and believe you could feel his presence? Smell the soap he used or the cigar he had just smoked?”
“Often,” he admitted. “My sister claims she has been awakened by his touch on her shoulder, but I have not experienced such an encounter. However, I have repeatedly thought that if I turn my head, I would find George Darcy watching me go about my daily business to the estate.”
“Does such frighten you? This feeling, I mean?” she asked quietly.
Darcy sipped his wine before responding. “No. I find it comforting, especially when I am addressing a pressing or a difficult problem. My father always wished my success; therefore, why should I be frightened?” He took a longer drink of the wine before he asked, “Do you feel Mr. Bennet’s presence?”
She nodded in embarrassment. “More than I would have thought. Even when I was at Hunsford. The last night.” She brought her eyes to meet his. “The night of your—”
“Proposal,” he said softly.
“Yes.” Sunlight filtered through the leaves to slant across her beloved features. “It was as if, for the first time in many years, my father looked upon me with disapproval.”
“I suppose you realize that evening would have been the day of his passing.” A brief breathless moment slid between them, and Darcy reached across the blanket to cover her hand with his.
“I thought of little else upon my return to Longbourn,” she admitted.
He dared not ask what she considered to be the source of her father’s disdain. Did Mr. Bennet disapprove of Darcy’s proposal? Of her refusal? Or the fact his favorite daughter was not at Longbourn so Bennet could speak his farewells?”
“Have you seen him since?” he asked, at last.
“No, but I often feel him—his warm embrace—my nestling into his sturdy body.” With a sigh, she entwined their fingers. “Much as it was with us in the orchard.”
Darcy relished the ease with which she reached for him and the comfort she appeared to take in his touch, but he did not wish to replace her father in her life. He desired her affection.
“It is natural for you to seek the security Mr. Bennet provided your family,” he assured. “You were not at Longbourn when the incident happened, and your life has been full of the repercussions since. You must promise me you will permit yourself time to grieve.”
“Would grieving not mean I accept Mr. Bennet’s loss?” Tears formed in the corner of her eyes.
He caressed her cheek. “Not accepting will not alter what has occurred. It will only delay your healing.”
“I know you speak the truth,” she said on a sob. “But how do I make myself believe my father will never sit at his desk again and enjoy a book from his library?”
“Things will settle once you know the disposition of your father’s will. You are much of the same nature as I in that manner. You are strong and willing to face whatever life delivers to your door. It is the unknown that brings you anxiousness. Such is what has you questioning yourself.”
“Did you question yourself with your father’s passing?”
“I lost my mother when I was but thirteen. My father met his end some five years past. The loss of my mother was devastating. Lady Anne Darcy was my champion, and her passing left a gaping hole in the happiness we all had known at Pemberley. Yet, we knew for months that Lady Anne’s passing was inevitable. We had time to prepare ourselves for the void. But it was my father’s sudden collapse that frightened me to my core. I did not wish to accept that I was now not only Pemberley’s master, with all that entails, but I was also Georgiana’s guardian. It was quite daunting. In many ways, it still is.”
“How old is Miss Darcy?”
Darcy realized Elizabeth had yet to read his letter. “Barely sixteen. Georgiana is twelve years my junior. I treasure her and worry every day if I am serving her well.”
She smiled upon him. “Surely, you have never failed her.”
However, before he could respond, the sound of laughter from some place along the road leading to where they sat had them jerking apart.
“My sisters,” she mouthed.
He leaned close to whisper. “I will circle around to the orchard and pretend to have been examining it.”
She nodded her agreement and stood quickly. “What of the basket and blanket?
“I will think of something.” He gave her a gentle nudge in the direction of her sisters’ approach.
* * *
Elizabeth strolled casually from the woods to encounter her two youngest sisters. “Where are you about?”
Lydia and Kitty pulled up short. “We could ask the same of you,” Lydia said smartly.
Elizabeth gestured to the empty phaeton. “Mr. Darcy wished to walk through the orchard. To observe the condition of the trees or some such nonsense,” she said with what she hoped sounded of boredom.
“What were you doing in the woods?” Lydia taunted. “Please tell me you did not permit Mr. Darcy a kiss.”
“If you must know,” she said in hushed tones. “I was seeing to my personal needs while the gentleman was not about.”
“Were you not ashamed?” Kitty questioned.
Elizabeth gestured to them to keep their voices low. “It is not as if we were within a hundred yards of each other. Besides, sometimes urgency outweighs embarrassment. Now tell me where you were going.” She meant to change the subject before her sisters questioned her too closely.
“Mama said we could walk into Meryton,” Kitty responded before Lydia could warn Kitty with an elbow to their sister’s ribs.
“It is too soon,” Elizabeth protested. “It has been but twelve days since our father’s passing, even less since his burial. You cannot go about in society as if Mr. Bennet meant nothing to us.”
“But there is little to entertain us at Longbourn,” Lydia protested.
Elizabeth shook her head in denial. “It is not a time for entertainment. Surely you cannot mean to insist we go about our days as if nothing of importance has occurred in our lives. Our father is dead, and we all will be soon at the mercy of charitable relations.”
“But the militia means to go to Brighton soon,” Lydia reasoned. “What if Denny and Mr. Wickham and the others leave without our speaking our farewells?”
“Lydia, you must accept the fact we no longer hold the exalted position we once did in the neighborhood. Mr. Collins is now Longbourn’s master, and, within a month, we will be vacating our home forever. The militia has no place in our future.”
“But Mrs. Forster has asked me to go to Brighton with her. Harriet says we will have a jolly good time,” Lydia argued.
Elizabeth said in strict tones. “Mrs. Forster’s invitation was extended prior to Mr. Bennet’s death. We are all in mourning. You cannot leave on a holiday.”
“But Mama said—”
“Mrs. Bennet had no right to make such promises. Even if we were not newly in mourning, neither Uncle Gardiner or Uncle Philips can afford to send you off on a holiday. We will each be farmed out to relatives or be expected to work for our keep. Our days of socializing and enjoying balls are over.” She glanced behind her to note Mr. Darcy’s approach from the far side of the orchard. “Now no more arguing, especially before Mr. Darcy,” she warned.
As he came near, Elizabeth said, “I am pleased you have returned, sir. If you will pardon me, I mean to walk back to Longbourn with my sisters.”
“I do not want—” Lydia began, but Elizabeth shot her sister a glare of fury.
“I said we would walk back together,” she hissed.
“Certainly,” Mr. Darcy was quick to say. “I will finish my examination of the orchard and then rejoin you at Longbourn.” He bowed to them. Thankfully, the gentleman understood her need to accompany her sisters’ return to the manor, and he protected her reputation. Elizabeth was determined not to permit her sisters to continue to embarrass the family and their father’s good name.