07 September 2010

7 September - Elizabeth I

Born today, 1533, the long-awaited son of Henry VIII and his wife, Anne Boleyn - except that the newborn wasn't a son, but a daughter, and the clerks holding the proclamations ready to be sent out to the crowned heads of Europe had to squeeze in the letters "ss" after the word "Prince", before filling in the name "Elizabeth".

At first, Henry seems to have put a good face on his disappointment, taking comfort in the fact that the baby was healthy, and if it was daughter this time, well, sons would follow.

Only, they didn't.  Instead of a brother for Princess Elizabeth, the Queen miscarried - and you all know the rest of the story...  *

With 'er 'ead tucked underneath 'er arm
She walks the bloody Tower
With 'er 'ead tucked underneath 'er arm
At the midnight 'our.

Princess Elizabeth, not yet 3 years old, was demoted down to Lady Elizabeth, another of the King's bastard daughters, with a reduction in household and income to match.

*If you don't know the rest of the story, go here or here or here.  Actually, I could have a two inch paragraph of 'here's - there are a goodly amount of sites.

In an account of Elizabeth's christening at Greenwich, the refreshments are given as "wafers, confects, and ipocrasse".

Wafers were, as the name suggests, thin, crisp, pressed 'cookies', made of batter spooned into wafer irons and baked (much as we make the thicker waffle today - for those that still make waffles).  The wafer was either left flat or rolled up.

Medieval and Renaissance wafer irons can be seen here, which will give you an idea of the shapes and sizes of the wafers likely to have graced the christening. 

Confects are defined as "a sweet confection, such as candy; a rich sweet made of flavored sugar and often combined with nuts or fruit." Another name for them is comfits (of which you can find extensive background information here), familiar to most of us in the form of the pastel-colored French Almonds often found wrapped in tulle net as favors for weddings.  Several sites have recipes for them, such as this one for Sugared Almonds.

Ipocrasse or Hippocras, the Wine of Hippocrates, was a spiced wine used as a digestive aid.  Red or white wine would receive an infusion of "hot" spices, such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and pepper and lesser known (to us) spices like grains of paradise, galingale, and the flowering buds of Balsam of Judea.  Spices being expensive, this was only offered on special occasions and celebrations by the wealthy.

The recipe below can be found on the website Historic Food, which showcases the exhaustive research of Ivan Day. (And he offers courses in the preparation of these old recipes!)

The christening account doesn't say what the King and Queen ate, only that the mayor and his crew, having waited around to offer Henry their congratulations, were finally dismissed by the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk with the King's thanks.  Very likely, neither Henry or Anne was in the mood to eat anything.

Image: Detail of The Family of Henry VIII, c. 1545.  The Royal Collection
Accessed from Tudor History.org, Lara E. Eakins.