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The Regency Wedding Breakfast

During the Regency, weddings were often held first thing in the morning with the bridal couple and their guests returning home to celebrate with a wedding breakfast, a precursor to the modern wedding reception, before departing to their new home, or perhaps on their honeymoon.

A noisy family breakfast...
A noisy family breakfast…

Jane Austen’s niece Caroline (daughter of James) gave a wonderful description of her sister Anna’s wedding to family friend Benjamin Lefroy on November 8, 1814:

“My sister’s wedding was certainly in the extreme of quietness… The season of the year, the unfrequented road to the church, the grey light within… no stove to give warmth, no flowers to give colour and brightness, no friends, high or low, to offer their good wishes, and so to claim some interest in the great event of the day – all these circumstances and deficiencies must, I think, have given a gloomy air to the wedding…Weddings were then usually very quiet. The old fashion of festivity and publicity had quite gone by, and was universally condemned as showing the bad taste of all former generations…. This was the order of the day. The bridegroom came from Ashe, where he had hitherto lived with his brother (the Rector), and with him came Mr. and Mrs. Lefroy, and his other brother, Mr. Edward Lefroy…. My brother came from Winchester that morning, but was to stay only a few hours. We in the house had a slight early breakfast upstairs, and between nine and ten the bride, my mother, Mrs. Lefroy, Anne, and myself were taken to church in our carriage. All the gentlemen walked.”

She continues: “Mr. Lefroy read the service, and my father gave his daughter away. No one was in the church but ourselves, and no one was asked to the breakfast, to which we sat down as soon as we got back…The breakfast was such as best breakfasts then were. Some variety of bread, hot rolls, buttered toast, tongue, ham and eggs. The addition of chocolate at one end of the table and the wedding-cake in the middle marked the speciality of the day...soon after the breakfast the bride and bridegroom departed. They had a long day’s journey before them to Hendon…. In the evening the servants had cake and wine.”

Edmund Blair Leighton, Signing the Register, 1920.
Edmund Blair Leighton, Signing the Register, 1920.

It should be noted, however, that Caroline was writing in later years. There is some disagreement in how early the term actually came to be applied to what was, in earlier times, thought of as a “wedding feast”. Although it is not specifically mentioned in Jane Austen’s novels, based on Caroline’s descriptions, I personally think it was an accepted term in her day. The first recorded mention of a wedding breakfast in print is in the London Times on January 15, 1838, when a book reviewer quotes from The Veteran, by John Harley, ‘C— and his bride returned to the coffee house, where they were received with great kindness the master and mistress who, notwithstanding the short notice, had a comfortable wedding-breakfast prepared for them’. The implication here is, of course, that by 1838, it was a recognized habit of weddings. In Party-giving on Every Scale (London, 1880) the term is given the respect of tradition,

The orthodox “Wedding Breakfast” might more properly be termed a “Wedding Luncheon,” as it assumes the character of that meal to a great extent; in any case it bears little relation to the breakfast of that day, although the title of breakfast is still applied to it, out of compliment to tradition. As recently as fifty years ago luncheon was not a recognized meal, even in the wealthiest families, and the marriage feast was modernized into the wedding breakfast, which appellation this entertainment still bears.

The important pieces, a gathering of family to celebrate the bridal couple, and cake, remain to this day. In addition to sharing this cake with members of the wedding party, families often sent pieces to friends as a gesture of good will and celebration. Jane mentions this sending about of cake in her letters to Cassandra. In the following note, Jane is referring to Catherine Bigg, sister to Harris Bigg-Wither, who was once an accepted suitor of Jane’s. Catherine, at 33, had just married Rev. Herbert Hill, aged nearly 60, a match Jane seems not to have favored (calling her “poor Catherine” in her letters). The mentioned Martha is, no doubt, Jane’s dear friend Martha Lloyd.

“Do you recollect whether the Manydown family sent about their wedding cake? Mrs. Dundas has set her heart upon having a piece from her friend Catherine, and Martha, who knows what importance she attaches to this sort of thing, is anxious for the sake of both that there should not be a disappointment.”
Jane Austen to Cassandra
October 13, 1808

Elizabeth Raffald's recipe and a modern interpretation can be found in Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, by Laura Boyle.
Elizabeth Raffald’s recipe and a modern interpretation can be found in Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, by Laura Boyle.

Early wedding cakes were similar to Christmas fruit cakes– heavy, dense with dried fruit, and able to be stored for months and even years to come.

The modern practice of saving the top tier of the wedding cake to be eaten on the couple’s first anniversary is taken from the historic practice of saving some cake to be served at the christening of the couple’s first child (an event which often followed in the first year of marriage). Elizabeth Raffald’s 1794 Experienced English Housekeeper was the first cookery book to publish a recipe for cakes specifically for weddings.

Laura Boyle is fascinated by all aspects of Jane Austen’s life. She is the proprietor of Austenation: Regency Accessories, creating custom hats, bonnets, reticules and more for customers around the globe. Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends is her first book. Her greatest joy is the time she is able to spend in her home with her family (1 amazing husband, 4 adorable children and a very strange dog.)



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An Interview with Scott D. Southard, of A Jane Austen Daydream

A self-confessed dreamer, gossip, and matchmaker, Jane emerges from a prophetic meeting with gypsies and sets out to discover her soul mate. As Jane writes through the twists and turns of her turbulent romances, Southard ponders the question faced by many devoted readers over the years – did she ever find love? And what would that be like if Jane could write it? Binding fact with fiction, courting brave new literary twists, and written in the style of Jane Austen herself, A Jane Austen Daydream is the tale of Jane’s life as a novel. It contemplates the eventual fate of Jane’s heart, and uses her own stories to fill the gaps that history left to the imagination.

Scott D. Southard, author of A Jane Austen Daydream, granted an interview with Stella, our Forum Manager. Read on to find out about his perception of Jane Austen, his upcoming novel (available in April, 2013,  from Madison Street Publishing), and sneak a preview of this new work.

1. Which Austen novel influences you the most in your writing style?
Continue reading An Interview with Scott D. Southard, of A Jane Austen Daydream

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Madam Anne Lefroy

Anne Lefroy, known as Madam Lefroy, was born in 1749 to the Brydges family at Wootton Court, near Canterbury.

When George Austen was made rector at Deane by his Uncle Francis, Francis also sold his assets in Ashe to a wealthy man, Benjamin Langlois, so that ten years later in 1783, he could also reward his own nephew, the Reverand Isaac Peter George Lefroy, by giving him the living of Ashe. The very attractive and cultivated Anne married the Reverand in 1778 and they lived as Ashe, making them the Austen’s closest neighbours. They had four surviving children; the eldest Lucy and three sons; John Henry George (who succeeded his father at Ashe), Christopher Edward and Benjamin Langlois (who later married James Austen’s daughter Jane).

Anne was a keen poet and her brother, Egerton Brydges, thought highly enough of her work to get two of her poems published before her marriage. In The Poetical Register and Repository of Fugitive Poetry, there are two poems by a Miss Brydges*. The poems are considered witty and contain issues suited to the feminine mind such as masculine pretension. They show that she was at ease with herself and her feelings.

Anne and Jane, despite their age difference, formed a friendship that was marked by intelligence and respect. This friendship started when the Lefroy’s invited the 11 year old Jane to play with their 7 year old daughter. Due to a mutual love of literature, Anne and Jane began long literary discussions about novels, poetry and plays. It is believed that Jane shared her writing with Anne who acted as her friend and mentor. She was given free reign of their library at the Ashe parsonage. This must have acted as a important source of self-affirmation for Jane who was a child that was of limited confidence and needed encouragement and support in her early years.

Anne was a woman of charm, intelligence and means and soon became hostess to the neighbourhood. She opened a school for the poor children of the surrounding neighbourhood and taught them to read; this shows her determination and strong will, character traits that Jane would have greatly admired. She also personally vaccinated hundreds of people in her husband’s parish against smallpox+. The Lefroy’s had a carriage and Anne would often lend out the carriage to families without, such as the Austen’s. These acts of kindness led her to be named ‘Madam’ Lefroy by all who knew her.

Anne was the aunt of Tom Lefroy who came to visit them in December 1795 after recently graduating from Trinity College in Dublin. It is unclear as to the role she played or her opinion of the loving relationship forming between Tom and Jane. She did organise a ball the Friday evening (15th January 1796) before Tom was to return to London but we are unsure as to what happened at Ashe on this evening. Jane did not receive any proposal, perhaps as she was expecting, or even some kind of assurance of a continued attachment between the two lovers. It has been speculated that Madam Lefroy became aware of the relationship that was forming between her nephew and Jane and promptly packed him off back to London before any more harm could be done. If this was the situation that it can be questioned why she encouraged the friendship between them and organised this ball before he left.

Perhaps out of some kind of guilt or duty to Jane, Madam Lefroy remained very interested in her matrimonial prospects. In the winter 1797 a Reverand Samuel Blackall was invited to stay at Ashe and became acquainted with Jane. Even after he had left, letters support that Anne Lefroy reported of events at Steventon, particularly mentioning Jane. His response ‘It would give me particular pleasure to have the opportunity of improving my acquaintance with that family- with a hope of creating to myself a nearer interest. But at present I cannot indulge any expectation of it.’ Nothing was to develop between Jane and the Reverand and she heard no more about him. Although she was probably not upset over his later indifference, it is sure to have dented her pride as it would any woman’s.

Anne died prematurely in a riding accident on December 16th 1804, Jane’s 29th birthday, when she was just 55 years old. The few months following Anne’s tragic accident must have been a very difficult time for Jane as her father died a month later on January 21st 1805. Jane was mid-way through writing The Watsons which she terminated; this serves to represent the devastation she was experiencing.

Four years later Jane wrote a poem entitled ‘To the Memory of Mrs Lefroy’ which begins with the acknowledgment that her friend died on her own birthday. She expresses her feelings towards, and opinions of ‘Madam’ Anne Lefroy’s character. Here is a poignant extract:

“I see her here with all her smiles benign
Her voice of eager love, her accents sweet;
That voice and countenance almost devine;
Expression, harmony , alike complete.

Listen: ‘tis not sound alone- ‘tis sense,
’Tis genius, taste and tenderness of soul:
‘Tis genuine warmth of heart without pretence,
And purity of mind that crowns the whole.”

Although Anne Lefroy was clearly a dedicated wife and mother, it is clear that she was a very interesting lady who had a sense of independence in her mind and spirit.

Madame Anne Lefroy was written by Rachel Kingston for the Becoming Jane Fansite. It is adapted here with the author’s permission.

*Spence, J. 2003, Becoming Jane Austen, 2007, Second edn, Continuum International Publishing Group, London

Shields, C. 2001. Jane Austen. Published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Collins, I. 1998. Jane Austen. A Parson’s Daughter. Published by The Hambledon Press

+Ray, J.K. 2006. Jane Austen for Dummies. Published by Wiley Publishing Inc.

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To the Memory of Mrs. Lefroy

To the Memory of Mrs. Lefroy who died Dec:r 16 — my Birthday.

The day returns again, my natal day;

What mix’d emotions with the Thought arise!

Beloved friend, four years have pass’d away

Since thou wert snatch’d forever from our eyes.–

The day, commemorative of my birth

Bestowing Life and Light and Hope on me,

Brings back the hour which was thy last on Earth.

Oh! bitter pang of torturing Memory!–

Angelic Woman! past my power to praise

In Language meet, thy Talents, Temper, mind.

Thy solid Worth, they captivating Grace!–

Thou friend and ornament of Humankind!–

At Johnson’s death by Hamilton t’was said,

‘Seek we a substitute–Ah! vain the plan,

No second best remains to Johnson dead–

None can remind us even of the Man.’

So we of thee–unequall’d in thy race

Unequall’d thou, as he the first of Men.

Vainly we wearch around the vacant place,

We ne’er may look upon thy like again.

Come then fond Fancy, thou indulgant Power,–
–Hope is desponding, chill, severe to thee!–
Bless thou, this little portion of an hour,
Let me behold her as she used to be.

I see her here, with all her smiles benign,
Her looks of eager Love, her accents sweet.
That voice and Countenance almost divine!–
Expression, Harmony, alike complete.–

I listen–’tis not sound alone–’tis sense,
‘Tis Genius, Taste and Tenderness of Soul.
‘Tis genuine warmth of heart without pretence
And purity of Mind that crowns the whole.

She speaks; ’tis Eloquence–that grace of Tongue
So rare, so lovely!–Never misapplied
By her to palliate Vice, or deck a Wrong,
She speaks and reasons but on Virtue’s side.

Her’s is the Engergy of Soul sincere.
Her Christian Spirit ignorant to feign,
Seeks but to comfort, heal, enlighten, chear,
Confer a pleasure, or prevent a pain.–

Can ought enhance such Goodness?–Yes, to me,
Her partial favour from my earliest years
Consummates all.–Ah! Give me yet to see
Her smile of Love.–the Vision diappears.

‘Tis past and gone–We meet no more below.
Short is the Cheat of Fancy o’er the Tomb.
Oh! might I hope to equal Bliss to go!
To meet thee Angel! in thy future home!–

Fain would I feel an union in thy fate,
Fain would I seek to draw an Omen fair
From this connection in our Earthly date.
Indulge the harmless weakness–Reason, spare.–

Jane Austen

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