Gretna Green: Secret Engagements, Elopements and the World’s Most Famous Anvil, a Guest Post from Eliza Shearer

(This post originally appeared on the Austen Authors’ blog on December 1, 2017. Enjoy!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After many years in my “to visit” list, I finally had the chance to make it to Gretna Green recently, as part of a family trip to England. The actual place we stayed at was Gretna, which is right alongside but couldn’t be more different. Whereas Gretna Green conjures images of forbidden romance, runaway brides and clandestine weddings, Gretna’s main claim to fame is mostly utilitarian: it was built during the Great War to provide homes for the 30,000 employees of what was the biggest munitions factory in the world at the time.

But back to Gretna Green. A pretty village, it is just over 10 miles from Carlisle, the last English town along the road, and it sits right on the border. An ideal location, therefore, for anybody desperate to reach the safety of Scotland. And why Scotland?

Relative Laws

Those of you familiar with the British Isles will know that Scots law is different from English law. A law in England does not a law in Scotland make, and this is precisely what happened with the Hardwicke Act of 1753. The new law made it compulsory for young people under 21 to obtain parental consent prior to their marriage, and for marriage ceremonies to be preceded by a publication of the banns, performed in a public ceremony in the parish of those getting married and presided by a Church official with the necessary license.

However, the Hardwicke Act applied to England and Wales only. Scotland maintained the old customs, which allowed boys over the age of 14 and girls over the age of 12 to marry without parental consent, provided they were not close relatives or in a relationship with a third party. All that brides and grooms had to do was make a public declaration. No surprise, then, that from 1753 onwards, a steady stream of Romeos and Juliets began the dash for Scotland to marry without parental approval.

A Very Convenient Location

To begin with, those eloping weren’t aiming for a particular place, other than somewhere north of the border, but in the 1770s a new toll road made Gretna Green the most accessible Scottish village for those travelling from the south. It quickly became thedestination for those aiming for a secret wedding, because as well as fast access, ceremonies in the village had the added charm of being presided by the local blacksmith over an anvil.

Some say that the blacksmith’s shop was right next to the coaching inn, and he was so regularly asked to marry young couples that he ended up making a career out of it. However, I prefer an alternative explanation, which says that English couples, in spite of their eagerness to be married without the legal constraints of their country, were keen for their ceremony to be presided by someone in a position of authority in order to give it a more legitimate feel.

The Gretna Green blacksmith was happy to oblige, and added some theatricals to the ceremony by way of hammering on the anvil to symbolise the joining of new couples “in the heat of the moment but binding for eternity”. Genius!

Elopements to Scotland in Austen’s Novels

Whatever the actual reason behind the blacksmith’s story, the combination of the convenience of the toll road and the romance of the legendary anvil proved irresistible, and many couples of star-crossed lovers made Gretna Green their destination. By Jane Austen’s time, elopements to Scotland, mainly with Gretna Green as destination, were so established that they are mentioned in several of her works.

In Love and Freindship, Laura and Sophia convince young Janetta, who is to marry a man her father has chosen for her, that she is in love with Captain M’Kenzie. They manage to do the same with the gentleman, and they end up running away to “Gretna-Green”.

In Mansfield Park, Julia Bertram and Mr Yates elope to Scotland to marry. In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia and Wickham are thought to have run away to Scotland when word gets out of their escape, and the bride herself declares Gretna Green to be their destination in the infamous letter she leaves to her friend, Mrs Foster:

”MY DEAR HARRIET,

“You will laugh when you know where I am gone, and I cannot help laughing myself at your surprise tomorrow morning, as soon as I am missed. I am going to Gretna Green, and if you cannot guess with who, I shall think you a simpleton, for there is but one man in the world I love, and he is an angel. I should never be happy without hi, so think it no harm to be off. You need not send word at Longbourn of my going, if you do not like it, for it will make the surprise the greater, when i write to them and sign my name “Lydia Wickham.” What a good joke it will be!”

Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 47

And who does not remember the tragic love story between a young Colonel Brandon and Eliza, his father’s guard, in Sense and Sensibility? Before Eliza is forced to marry Brandon’s brother, the doomed couple plan to elope and get married in Gretna Green, but they are betrayed by “the treachery, or the folly” of Eliza’s maid.

In any case, the Gretna Green legend remains, so much so that the town has quite successfully marketed itself as a romantic wedding destination. And, I should add, rightly so, for who can resist the lure and romance of Scotland and of a marriage over the world’s most famous anvil, whether parental permission has been granted or not?

What do you think of Gretna Green’s reputation in history? Where should it feature in a list of Janeite locations in the UK?

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Posted in British history, buildings and structures, Church of England, customs and tradiitons, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Great Britain, Gretna Green, Guest Post, history, Jane Austen, legends, Living in the Regency, marriage, marriage customs, marriage licenses, Pride and Prejudice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Pre-Elizabethan Drama: Morality Plays

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The 1522 cover of “Mundus et Infans,” a morality play ~ Wikipedia

Previously, I did a piece on Liturgical Drama. Today I would like to look at Moralities. As compared to the Miracle or Liturgical dramas, the morality play was one where the playwright had to come up with an original story line, which many consider to be a major step forward in the history of drama. No longer did the playwright use the scripture for his plots. He did, however, employ a well-known allegory, popular for several centuries in England and upon the European continent, but which had rarely been celebrated as the central issue of a tale, as it was in the moralities. 

A morality play was defined as “an allegorical drama popular in Europe especially during the 15th and 16th centuries, in which the characters personify moral qualities (such as charity or vice) or abstractions (as death or youth) and in which moral lessons are taught.” (Britannica) The issue was the struggle between good and evil in claiming the soul of man. Vice and Virtue became the central characters. In these plays, mankind always desired to chase after the vice, but he is well aware that if he does he will face eternal damnation. Evidently, the medieval mind thought much upon the dichotomy presented in the plays. 

mummers2.jpgThe characters in the plays were personified abstractions. In moralities we find Friendship, Riches, Good, Evil, Knowledge, Mankind, etc. The action of the morality play centers on a hero whose inherent weaknesses are assaulted by such personified diabolic forces as the Seven Deadly Sins, but who may choose redemption and enlist the aid of such figures as the Four Daughters of God (Mercy, Justice, Temperance, and Truth). Customarily, the play began with Man being summoned to the Grave. The action that followed involved the conflict for the possession of Man’s spirit.

The purpose of the Moralities was didactic. In Everyman, for example, the protagonist is made acquainted with the entire Catholic scheme of salvation. In the play, Man dons the jewel of Penance and later, the robe of contrition. He also consumes the seven “blessed sacraments.” Through the action, the play teaches its audience that all men must adhere to the tenets of the church. The play ends with the Doctor or Expositor reemphasizing the moral of the story. He shows the audience how Pride, Beauty, Wealth, and other worldly aspirations abandon “Everyman” at death. Only Good Deeds will accompany him to the underworld. These early plays were solemn personifications of church sermons. 

MoralityFigures.JPGAmong the oldest of morality plays surviving in English is The Castle of Perseverance (c. 1425), about the battle for the soul of Humanum Genus. A plan for the staging of one performance has survived that depicts an outdoor theatre-in-the-round with the castle of the title at the centre. Everyman was published in 1500. They both were from the York Paternoster Plays, which date back to 1378. These plays were similar to the early moralities. They took their names from the belief that each clause of the Lord Prayer could counter one of the seven deadly sins. 

The character of Vice became the first element of comedy in 16th Century Moralities. Vice’s purpose was to irritate and arouse the ire of the Devil. Vice prodded the Devil with sticks. He taunted him. He baited him into arguments. The character of the Devil was a crossover from the Miracle plays. He “excited” the audience for they anticipated his antics. Both characters met the demand of the latter audiences for action rather than sore sermons. 

“Morality plays were an intermediate step in the transition from liturgical to professional secular drama, and combine elements of each. They were performed by quasi-professional groups of actors who relied on public support; thus the plays were usually short, their serious themes tempered by elements of farce. In the Dutch play Het esbatement den appelboom (“The Miraculous Apple Tree”), for example, a pious couple, Staunch Goodfellow and Steadfast Faith, are rewarded when God creates for them an everbearing apple tree with the property that whoever touches it without permission becomes stuck fast. This leads to predictable and humorous consequences.” (Britannica)

Resources: 

History of Morality Plays 

Luminarium 

New Advent: Catholic Encyclopedia 

Wikipedia 

Posted in acting, Age of Chaucer, Anglo-Normans, Anglo-Saxons, British history, drama, medieval, playwrights, Vagary | Tagged , , , , ,

Welcome to Gunter’s Tea Shop, Where the Fashionable People Congregate

According to Historic Food, “The first record of ice cream in this country is from 1671. It was on the menu of a feast for the Knights of the Garter held in St. George’s Hall at Windsor Castle. However, at this time it was such an exclusive dish that it appeared only on the king’s table. The earliest printed recipe appeared in Mrs Eale’s Receipts, a little work on confectionery published in London in 1718. Mrs Eales claimed to have been confectioner to Queen Anne, during whose reign ice cream continued to be a luxury enjoyed only at court and by the nobility. It was not until the second half of the 18th century that ices become more widely available from confectioners’ shops.”

negricardGunter’s Tea Shop was originally called The Pot and Pineapple.It was located at Nos. 7 -8 Berkley Square. Italian pastry chef, Domenico Negri established it in 1757. The “pineapple” was chosen as part of the name for it symbolized luxury, and pineapples were a common ingredient used in confections. The shop sold English, French, and Italian wet and dry sweetmeats. Custards, cream ice, frozen mousses, jellied fruit, candies, syrups, biscuits, and caramels were served. Some of the cream ice flavors include chocolate, lavender, maple, Parmesan, Gruyere cheese, and bergamot. Mousses were often vanilla, saffron, and pineapple.  For more information on sweetmeats, chocolate, and ice cream in Regency England, go HEREGunther’s seems to have served their individual ices in glass dishes. I particularly love this site that gives LOTS of details on flavor of the ices, making the ices, history, etc. Georgian Ices4232720.jpg

During the Regency, the ice was less important that going to Gunther’s and being seen. It was a social experience. So, no one would have gone there for a single ice and then taken it away. Gunther’s does appear to have had wait staff that would bring ices to a party parked in a carriage nearby, then collected the empty glasses later. They seem to have done the same for those who wished to enjoy their ices outdoors rather than in the shop. This entry from the Encyclopedia of London tells us: “A custom grew up that the ices were eaten, not in the shop, but in the Square itself; ladies would remain in their carriages under the trees, their escorts leaning against the railings near them, while the waiters dodged across the road with their orders. For many years, when it was considered not done for a lady to be seen alone with a gentleman at a place of refreshment in the afternoon, it was perfectly respectable for them to be seen at Gunter’s Tea Shop.”

2366811.jpgJames Gunter became Negri’s business partner in 1777, and by 1799, Gunter was the sole proprietor.  During the Regency and throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Gunter’s was considered a fashionable light eatery in Mayfair, well known for its ices, sorbets, and confections.  From the business, Gunter purchased a mansion in Earl’s Court.  Gunter’s son Robert took over his father’s business after James’s death in 1819. At his father’s suggestion, Robert had studied confections in Paris. Eventually, Gunter’s cousin John became a partner in 1837, assuring the business would remain in the family.  William, another of James’s sons published a cookbook, Gunter’s Confectioner’s Oracle, in 1830.  His book was said to be filled with gossip, namedropping and a terrible dictionary of ingredients, as well as recipes.  He began his cookbook with a dream he had of being led to a banquet by a witch. He supposedly “told all,” but in his alphabetical dictionary of raw materials, he “skipped B because it ‘is to us an empty letter.’ C was a fourteen-page treatise on coffee, in French … The dictionary skipped D and E. The letter F was for flour. Then Gunter wrote, ‘I now skip a number of useless letters until I arrive at P.” – Of Sugars and Snow: A history of ice-cream making, Jeri Quinzio, University of California Press, 2009, p. 65.  

There were also famous apprentices who worked at the shop and went on to write their own cookbooks. 

Gunther’s does appear to have offered a catering service, which was very popular with those planning parties. When ices were ordered for an affair at a private home, from what I can tell, the ice mixture was left frozen in the container in which it was made, usually a metal bowl or cylinder. These containers might have a matching metal cover or simply be covered with a layer or two of oil cloth tied on with twine. These containers were packed in large baskets, layered with enough straw and ice to keep them cold for the expected length of time until they would be served. Once the event was over, the containers, the baskets, and probably the straw, were all retrieved by someone from Gunther’s.

Via Jane Austen’s London, we learn, “(From a Correspondent)  Mrs Morton Pitt’s Masquerade (from The Morning Chronicle, 16 June 1801) –

“Mrs Morton Pitt opened her house in Arlington-street, for the first time, upon the debut of her beautiful and accomplished daughter in the beau mond: this of course attracted a most brilliant and dazzling assemblage of all the fashionable world; and, whether from the condescending manner of the beautiful hostess, or the high glow of spirits which universally reigned throughout the whole company, the writer protests he has not, in the career of fashion of this year, seen so much conviviality. The supper was such as everyone must expect, when they hear that Mr Gunter, of Berkeley-square, superintended in that department.’

“He did not cater only within London. On 25 August 1804 The Morning Post reported, in its Fashionable World column:

“’Lady Smith Burgess’s Fete at Havering Bower in Essex…about 200 of the neighbouring nobility and gentry, and many others from town were present…. About five o’clock [in the afternoon] the company…returned into the Saloon, where a most sumptuous Breakfast was set out. The entertainment consisted of every delicacy which the munificence of her Ladyship could provide, and the taste of Mr Gunter, the confectioner, could display.’

5597423.jpgWhen the east side of Berkeley Square was demolished in 1936–7, Gunter’s moved to Curzon Street. The tea shop closed in 1956, although the catering business continued for another twenty years. Gunter’s was also known for its catering business and beautifully decorated cakes. In 1811, the Duchess of Bedford’s and Mrs. Calvert’s ball suppers featured the shop’s confectionery, a tradition followed by many a society lady. Along with Bolland’s of Chester and W G Buszard, Gunter’s were considered to be the wedding cake makers du jour and made the bride cake for the marriage of Queen Victoria’s Granddaughter Princess Louise of Wales in 1889.

Other Resources: 

Georgian Index 

Jane Austen’s World 

Jolie Beaumont 

LAHilden 

Vanessa Riley 

Posted in British currency, British history, commerce, Georgian England, Living in the Regency | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Testing the Money: The Trial of Pyx

The Trial of Pyx is a near-800 year old ceremony to test Britain’s coinage. The Trial of the Pyx dates as far back as 1249. The Queen’s Remembrancer oversees the ceremony. Until the 19th century this duty was undertaken at the Court of Exchequer, but is now held at Goldsmiths’ Hall in the City of London. The ceremony puts the Royal Mint on trial. Over a four-month period, nearly 100,000 are scrutinized. During the process, the coins are tested for imperfections or impurities in the metals used, therefore, confirming their value. 

Historic UK tells us, “The Trial of Pyx is a rather interesting one. Every day the Royal Mint collect samples of the coins they produce: this amounts to around 88,000 coins a year. These coins are then placed in boxes (or pyxes) and every February they are brought to Goldsmiths Hall. The Queen’s Remembrancer swears in a jury of 26 goldsmiths whose job it is to count, measure, weigh and assay the coins. In April or May he or she returns to hear the jurers’ verdict.”

Coins from the commemorative £1,000 coin (worth £49,995) made from a kilo of solid gold to the 20p piece, all denominations of coins are tested. According to Coin Books, 2017 saw the Trial this year was the new £1 coin, which has 12 sides and will be released to the public later this year. It is considered to be the most secure coin ever developed.

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This one kilo gold coin celebrates the Queen’s 90th birthday. via Coin Books http://www.coinbooks.org/v20/esylum_v20n06a21.html

The Royal Mint provides these insights: “As one of the nation’s longest-established judicial ceremonies, the Trial of the Pyx has a rich and fascinating history. It brings together some of the United Kingdom’s oldest organisations and offices with the purpose of ensuring the quality and accuracy of the nation’s coinage. 

“The ceremony involves the Chancellor of the Exchequer (or nominated representative), financial leaders, representatives of The Royal Mint and freemen of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, commonly known as The Goldsmiths’ Company.”

“The word ‘pyx’ comes from the Latin word ‘pyxis’ or small box. In this case, it refers to the chests used to transport the coins. Throughout the year, in a procedure that has barely changed since the reign of Henry III, coins are randomly selected from every batch of each denomination struck, sealed in bags of 50 and locked away in the Pyx boxes for testing at the Trial.”

 

Business Insider describes the 2016 ceremony. “The opening of this year’s trial was on February 2nd was full of pomp and circumstance. It’s carried out by the Queen’s Remembrancer, a judge, who swears in the 16-strong jury who have the job of counting the coins sent for testing by the Royal Mint. While it’s mostly ceremonial, the Trial of the Pyx has an important message – merchants, not the state or the monarchy, must have power over the country’s currency. To allow the state to have power over the currency, risks eroding its credibility. Permission for the City of London to test the coins produced by the Royal Mint was granted by the Crown in the 13th century. Before that, the reigning monarch had a monopoly on producing and testing Britain’s coinage and would periodically alter the standards for the coins to finance wars. 

“‘There was the inherent danger of inflation and currency corruption,’ the Queen’s Remembrancer, Barbara Fontaine, said in her speech to open proceedings. The Trial was ‘a key stage of development of the international trust in our coinage.'”

these-are-the-pyx-reinforced-boxes-of-currency-ready-to-be-assayed-or-tested-the-word-pyx-comes-from-the-greek-for-wooden-box-in-them-are-hundreds-of-envelopes-containing-thousands-of-co

These are the Pyx, reinforced boxes of currency ready to be assayed or tested. The word Pyx comes from the Greek for wooden box. In them are hundreds of envelopes containing thousands of coins. via Business Insider

Coin Books also gives us these other sources: 

To read the complete article, see:
Take a tour around the Trial of the Pyx — the 800-year-old ceremony to test the UK’s coins(www.businessinsider.com/inside-the-trial-of-the-pyx-2017-1/#the-ceremony-takes-place-in-the-opulent-goldsmiths-hall-in-the-city-of-london-members-of-the-public-and-invited-dignitaries-are-sat-on-one-side-of-the-room-the-queens-remembrancer-a-judge-sits-at-the-head-of-the-table-to-give-her-address-and-start-the-trial-she-isnt-actually-present-when-counting-process-happens-1)

For more information, see:
The History of the Trial of the Pyx (www.royalmint.com/discover/uk-coins/history-of-the-trial-of-the-pyx)

The History of the Trial of Pyx (The Goldsmiths’ Company) 

The Business Insider site has some magnificent images of the process, the room, etc. Check them out HERE

Check out all the Royal Mint has to share on the topic. 

Posted in British history, commerce, customs and tradiitons, Living in the UK | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Being a “Gentleman” in Regency England

51wfZcpn2wL._SL500_SX342_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg In 1583 Sir Thomas Smith wrote: “One who can live idly and without manual labour and will bear the port (deportment) and countenance of a gentleman, he shall be taken for a gentleman.” But what does “being a gentleman” entail? According to Historical and Regency Romance UK, “The original dictionary definition of the word gentleman was strict: A well-educated man of good family. It was also used to refer to a man whose income derived from property as opposed to a man who worked for a living. It was only in the eighteenth century that it came also to mean a man who was cultured, courteous and well-educated with a code of honour and high standards of proper behaviour. By the time of Jane Austen, the gentleman had come to be defined by his personal qualities as much as by his status as a member of the landed gentry. He was not a member of the nobility but was an “esquire” at the top of the pile of untitled landowners. (Knights and baronets also do not belong to the peerage but are still a cut above an esquire by virtue of holding a title, and, of course, Jane Austen emphasized beautifully the superiority of Sir Walter Eliott, for example, a baronet, over Lady Russell the widow of a mere knight!) Even so, a gentleman such as Mr Darcy, untitled but well-connected, with a beautiful house and a very good income, was not to be sneezed at.”

Defining what made a “gentleman” was  a fascinating conundrum, basically because the idea and legal aspects of being a ‘gentleman’ was in flux, in transition, under attack, etc. along with the entire upper class.  Gentleman was a legal term and inheritable title according to long-standing laws. New ideas such as Thomas Paine’s “The Rights of Man” and the French Revolution were real threats to legitimacy of the hereditary ruling classes. The growing wealth of the middle class, buying their way into the gentry was another threat.   

quote-he-is-a-gentleman-and-i-am-a-gentleman-s-daughter-so-far-we-are-equal-jane-austen-34-70-04 Jane Austen’s books all deal with the question: “What is a true gentleman?” Primogeniture laws existed where only the first son inherited. Therefore, second sons, such as Colonel Fitzwilliam in Pride and Prejudice and Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park, although ostensibly part of the upper class and a gentleman (yet still a commoner), had to discover another means of support. Without forfeiting his place in Society, a landless gentleman could be a barrister because he was given an honorarium, but not a solicitor because he received a salary or fee for work.  He could become a vicar, who was given a ‘living’, possibly several, rather than a salary. He often did not work, per se, generally hiring others. A military officer was another story with its own issues, and one of the more serious threats to the gentry during the Napoleonic Wars. There were far more officers required during the twenty years of war than could be supplied by the upper classes. Purchasing a commission was seen as an entry into the gentry, especially by the wealthy merchant class. In Regency romances, the second son often joins the military ranks, while the third looks to the clergy, and the fourth to the law. Colonel Fitzwilliam tells Elizabeth Bennet, “Younger sons cannot marry where they like.” Needless to say, no one of sense would think Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy “equals,” but by Regency standards they were both of the gentry class.

51lOLq+YrDL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg In addition to the younger sons of the nobility, the gentleman class also included physicians, military, clerics, land stewards, men practicing the law, etc. As time went on, wealthy merchants and manufacturers “cracked” the gentleman classification. Even so, the chasm between the “wanna-bees” and the landed gentry and the aristocracy remained firmly in place.

If we look at order of precedence, we can become more confused. For example, we have at the bottom of the “order” of precedence for those before we even reach the category of “gentleman”…

Eldest sons of the Younger sons of Peers
Eldest sons of Baronets
Eldest sons of Knights
Members of Fifth Class of Victorian Order
Baronets’ Younger sons
Knights Younger sons
Esquires: Including the Eldest sons of the sons of Viscounts and Barons, the eldest sons of all the younger sons of Peers and their eldest sons in perpetual Succession, the younger sons of Baronets, the sons of knights, the eldest son of the eldest son of a Knight in perpetual succession, persons holding the King’s Commission, or who may be styled “Esquire” by the King in any Official Document
Gentlemen (Edwardian Promenade)

Beyond money and land ownership, a “gentleman” was expected to perform in a particular manner. In such is where we find the true “gentleman.” Darcy was superior to either Collins or Wickham. Edmund Bertram outshone his brother Thomas. Sir Walter Elliot was a pompous ass, and his heir Mr. Elliot was a scoundrel, but Captain Wentworth was a true gentleman. Position and wealth were secondary to a sense of honour.

Additional Resources:

513OQWCjhUL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg Captain Rees Hollow Gronow’s book, The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow, Being Anecdotes of the Camp, Court, Clubs and Society 1810-1860, provides the reader a glimpse into a life of an officer operating among the upper classes. Gronow’s tales speak to acceptance and denial as a military officer/gentleman with little income to claim a position in Society.

There is an interesting 200+ page thesis by Ailwood, Sarah, “What Men Ought to be: Masculinities in Jane Austen novels.” University of Woolongong Theses Collection 2008 that can be downloaded at: http://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/124/ It addresses Austen’s ideas of Masculinity, which pretty much targets the society of gentlemen.

11EMBRVQXKL._BO1,204,203,200_Mrs. Humphrey’s Manners for Men, originally published in 1897 (but facsimiles are available on Amazon for £4,50 HERE )

Posted in British history, customs and tradiitons, George Wickham, Georgian England, Great Britain, historical fiction, history, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, primogenture, Regency era | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

January 25, Burns Suppers Celebrated Worldwide: A Salute to the Scottish Poet, Robert Burns

 

A Burns supper is a celebration of the life and poetry of the poet Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796), the author of many Scots poems. The suppers are normally held on or near the poet’s birthday, 25 January, occasionally known as Robert Burns Day (or Robbie Burns Day] or Rabbie Burns Day) but more commonly known as Burns Night (ScotsBurns Nicht). However, in principle, celebrations may be held at any other time of the year.

The first supper was held in memoriam at Burns Cottage by Burns’s friends, on 21 July 1801, the fifth anniversary of his death; it has been a regular occurrence ever since. The first still extant Burns Club was founded in Greenock in 1801 by merchants who were born in Ayrshire, some of whom had known Burns. They held the first Burns supper on what they thought was his birthday, 29 January 1802, but in 1803, they discovered the Ayr parish records that noted his date of birth was actually 25 January 1759. Since then, suppers have been held on or about 25 January.

No Burns supper would be complete without a “Haggis.” Before you read any further, you should know that “Haggis” is a traditional Scottish dish, considered by many the National Dish of Scotland, and the Scots make it from a pluck (a sheep’s stomach) and lights (the lungs, heart, and liver). That said, the following recipe is a summary of the one from Mistress Margaret Dods’ Cook and Housewife Manual, which was first published in 1826. In reality, Meg or Margaret Dods was the pseudonym of Christian Isobel Johnstone, a writer and editor who lived from 1781-1857. People originally considered the book a literary farce because Johnstone used the name of the fictional landlady of Cleikum Inn from Sir Walter Scott’s novel St. Ronan’s Well. Research, however, proved the book to be legitimate, and for many years it was considered a useful household manual.

Ingredients:
pluck and lights of a sheep
4-5 onions (chopped)
pepper, salt, cayenne pepper
2 cups finely ground oatmeal, toasted
beef gravy
450 g (or 1 lb.) beef suet
lemon juice

Procedure:
Soak the stomach in salted water overnight. Turn it inside out. Pour boiling water over it and scrape out any residue. Boil the pluck for at least 45 minutes. Then remove from the pot.
Wash the heart, liver and lungs (which should still be attached to each other). Pierce the heart and lungs to drain any blood remaining in the organs. Parboil the 3 organs, letting the windpipe hang from the pot. Change out the water for fresh.
Cut the liver in half. Remove the gristle. Then chop (a food processor) the heart, half liver and lungs into a very fine mixture. Blend in 2 cups of oatmeal and the onions.  Add in the beef suet. Grate the other half of the liver into the mixture. Season to taste and use the mixture to stuff the stomach bag. Pour in the beef gravy. Be sure to leave some room because the oatmeal will swell. Add the juice of one lemon. Secure the bag’s opening to hold in the mixture. Return the pluck to the pot in which you originally boiled it. Prick the bag when it begins to swell and boil for three hours.

The supper customarily follows a certain procedure:

Pipes or traditional Scottish music is played while the guest gather in an outer room.

A host welcomes the participants with an explanation of why they have gathered such.

Once the guests are seated, the Selkirk Grace, a Scottish “prayer” of thanksgiving is pronounced, customarily in the Scots language. Although the Selkirk Grace had been known since the 1600s as the “Galloway Grace” or the “Covenanters Grace,” it is often attributed to have been produced by the hand of Robert Burns. It received the name of “Selkirk Grace” because Burns recited it at a dinner given by the Earl of Selkirk.

 Some hae meat an canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

A Scottish soup is customary served for the beginning course: Scotch broth, potato soup, cullen skink, or cock-a-leekie.

When the Haggis is brought in, the attendees stand. With tradition, a piper leads the way, followed the cook or server, to the host’s table. “A Man’s A Man for A’ That”, “Robbie Burns Medley” or “The Star O’ Robbie Burns” might be played. The host, or perhaps a guest, then recites the “Address to a Haggis.”

“Address to a Haggis” 
Fair fá your honest, sonsie face, Is there that owre his French ragout
Great chieftan o’ the pudding-race! Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Aboon them a’ yet tak your place, Or fricassee wad make her spew
Painch, tripe, or thairm: Wi’ perfect sconner,
Weel are ye wordy o’a grace Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’
As lang’s my arm. View on sic a dinner?
The groaning trencher there ye fill, Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,  As feckles as wither’d rash,
Your pin was help to mend a mill His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash
In time  o’need His nieve a nit;
While thro’ your pores the dews  Thro’ bloody flood or field to dash,
distil, Like amber bead. O how unfit!
His knife see rustic Labour dight But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed
An’ cut you up wi’ ready sleight, The trembling earth resound his
Trenching your gushing entrails tread. Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
bright, Like ony ditch; He’ll make it whissle;
And then, O what a glorious sight, An’ legs an’ arms, an’ hands will
Warm-reekin’, rich! sned, Like taps o’ trissle.
Then, horn for horn, they stretch Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your
an’ strive: Deil tak the hindmost! care, And dish them out their
on they drive, Till a’ their bill o’ fare, Auld Scotland wants
weel-swall’d kytes belyve nae skinking ware
Are bent like drums That jaups in luggies;
Then auld Guidman, maist like But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer
to rive, Bethankit! hums. Gie her a haggis!      (1786)

Haggis served wi tatties an neeps (with potatoes and swede) ~ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burns_supper#/media/File:A_haggis_serving.JPG

Burns Supper describes the remainder of the supper procedure as such: “At the line His knife see rustic Labour dicht, the speaker normally draws and sharpens a knife. At the line An’ cut you up wi’ ready slicht, he plunges it into the haggis and cuts it open from end to end. When done properly, the ‘ceremony”‘ is a highlight of the evening. At the end of the poem, a whisky toast will be proposed to the haggis, and the company will sit down to the meal. The haggis is traditionally served with mashed potatoes (tatties) and mashed swede (neeps).

“A dessert course, cheese courses, coffee, etc., may also be part of the meal. The courses normally use traditional Scottish recipes. For instance, dessert may be cranachan or tipsy laird (whisky trifle), followed by oatcakes and cheese, all washed down with the “water of life” (uisge beatha), Scotch whisky. When the meal reaches the coffee stage, various speeches and toasts are given. The main speaker gives a speech remembering some aspect of Burns’s life or poetry. It may be either light-hearted or serious and may include the recitation of a poem or a song by Burns. A toast to the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns then follows.”

An address to the Lassies follows. “This was originally a short speech given by a male guest in thanks to the women who had prepared the meal. However, it is now much more wide-ranging and generally covers the male speaker’s view on women. It is normally amusing and not offensive, particularly since it will be followed by a reply from the “lassies” concerned. The men drink a toast to the women’s health.”

Reply to the Laddies might also be added. “This is occasionally (and humorously) called the ‘Toast to the Laddies’. Like the previous toast, it is generally now quite wide-ranging. A female guest will give her views on men and reply to any specific points raised by the previous speaker. Like the previous speech, it should be amusing but not offensive. Quite often, the speakers giving this toast and the previous one will collaborate so that the two toasts complement each other.

“After the speeches there may be singing of songs by Burns (such as Ae Fond Kiss, Parcel o’ Rogues and A Man’s a Man) and more poetry (such as To a Mouse, To a Louse, Tam o’ Shanter, The Twa Dogs and Holy Willie’s Prayer). Finally, the host will call on one of the guests to give the vote of thanks. Then, everyone is asked to stand, join hands, and sing Auld Lang Syne to bring the evening to an end.”

Needless to say, sheep lung is a bit hard to find in modern day supermarkets.That is because many Scottish sheep have been infected with Lung Worm, which makes the lungs inedible. Sandy Clark of the Scottish Agricultural College said, “…the changing climate and availability of the parasite is becoming a problem.” So, Scottish butchers are securing their sheep lungs from Irish farms instead. For vegetarians, such as I, there are meatless versions. Haggis is also available in the canned variety.

This work is released under CC-BY-SA  http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/
Posted in British history, food and drink, legends and myths, poetry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Strict Social Structure of Jane Austen’s Novels

Overall, the early 19th Century novels were those that expressed society in realistic terms. Austen’s novels, as well as others of her time, immerse the reader in the various levels of society, the social strata, so to speak. Austen does not spend much time in addressing the issues of the lower classes, for she likely knew little of their struggles. Like her most popular character, Elizabeth Bennet, Austen was a “gentleman’s daughter.” She was also a writer of satire. She looks at her world by employing humor, exaggeration, irony and a bit of ridicule in the context of what she knew. Why is that? Does the life she must lead frustrate her? Isolate her? Malign her? Is Austen concerned with politics? Other contemporary social issues? 

Social class and money and a good marriage and rules of propriety controlled Austen’s world. She is part of the English landed gentry, and all the “very” essential characters of her novels are from that class. There are few mentions of the aristocracy. Fitzwilliam Darcy, for example, is the nephew of an earl, and we meet Sir William Lucas, who has been knighted, and Sir Thomas Bertram, who is a baronet, but Austen’s characters do not, as a rule, interact with the aristocracy. Austen’s characters are creatures of their surrounding. They live in rural England. They do not work. They have more money at their disposal than does the working class or the peasants, but they are not usually wealthy.  

51HecSmq+ML._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg Richard Posner in Subversion and Sympathy (edited by Martha Nussbaum and Alison LaCroix, Oxford Press, 2013, p. 86) tells us “Their incomes consist of rent paid by tenant farmers, but some of them also own bonds. They are remarkably candid, by our standards, about their incomes, with the result that everyone seems to know everyone else’s income almost to the shilling. It appears that ‘fortunes,’ whether in land or in bonds, yield about 5 percent annually, so that if you know the size of a person’s fortune you know his income, and vice versa. A fortune of £200,000, yielding an income of £10,000 a year, would be immense; that is the lower-bound estimate of Fitzwilliam Darcy’s fortune in Pride and Prejudice. In the same novel Mr. Bennet’s fortune of £40,000, which yields an income of £2,000 a year, is adequate—it is the average income of a baronet—but not princely. (Colonel Brandon, in Sense and Sensibility, lives very comfortably on £2,000 a year, but he is a bachelor, whereas Mr. Bennet has six dependents.) Adequacy is relative; a laborer or farmer would have earned only about £15 to £20 a year, a servant less (and even the least affluent members of the landed gentry have servants). It is impossible to estimate a modern equivalent of any of these incomes.84151-600full-matthew-macfadyen

“The fact that members of the landed gentry cannot work without sacrificing their position in society has enormous consequences. It means that if your fortune (plus any confident expectation of an inheritance) is inadequate to enable you to sustain the standard of living expected of a person of your social standing, your only, or at least your main (I am about to note an alternative), recourse is marriage. A poor man (poor by the standard of the gentry, though wealthy, as we have just seen, by the standards of the wider English society at the time) must marry a rich woman, and a poor woman a rich man. A poor man who cannot find a rich woman to marry will have to get a job—which will spell expulsion from his class, though, if he prospers he may be able upon retirement to buy his way back into his former social class, as Captain Wentworth, having obtained prize money as a naval officer, does in Persuasion. That option was not open to a poor woman because so few occupations were open to women. A poor woman who failed to land a rich husband would either have to work as a teacher or as a governess (the fate narrowly avoided by Jane Fairfax in Emma) for negligible wages, or live at home with her parents—often just the widowed mother—becoming an ‘old maid’ and imposing upon them (or her) what might be an intolerable expense.” Persuasion-jane-austen-12301145-360-348

Posted in Austen Authors, British currency, British history, customs and tradiitons, estates, Georgian England, Inheritance, Jane Austen, literature, Living in the Regency, marriage, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, primogenture, real life tales, Regency era | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments