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  • Writer's pictureVictoria Regina

Queen Victoria's Twelfth Cake

Updated: Jan 7

At the beginning of Queen Victoria's reign, the Twelfth Cake was still incredibly popular amongst the Twelfth Night celebrations. The cake was incorporated into the festivities of the Twelfth Night celebrations

The tradition of the cake had been going on for centuries but became associated with Epiphany in the Middle Ages. In the Middle Ages the cake had been a fruit cake that resembled a brioche bun. The cake was incorporated into the games by placing a dried bean within the mixture and the person which found them would be crowned ’King of the bean’, a title which meant they were responsible for organising the entertainment for the final feast. This 'game' was inspired by the Roman festivity of Saturnalia in which master and slave would swap places for the festival. By the time of King Henry VIII the game was altered slightly and introduced a dried pea where as the lucky winner would be declared ‘Queen of the peas’. ( Regardless of their gender they would be encouraged to act out as the King or Queen) a clove was also introduced and the person who came across it whilst digging into the came was pronounced Knave Of The Twelfth for the night, it would be down to them to become some what of the courts jester and provide entertainment.

In the early ninetieth century the bean and pea had been somewhat forgotten and replaced by character sets which where cut out and drawn from a hat instead of the traditional pea and bean gamble. These Twelfth Night characters could be purchased or cut out from magazines and newspapers. Each character would have an illustration, name and description which the party attendees would have to portray during the party. These character cards could also be sent prior to the party in an invitation so the attendee had time to arrange a costume, if one did not stick to the character all night they would face some rather questionable forfeits.

There was even a character set based on Queen Victoria and her court...

There would be accompanying riddle or joke beneath the character which somewhat resembles the modern day joke we find in our Christmas crackers.

By the time Victoria had ascended the throne, baking techniques had advanced. The Twelfth Night Cake no longer contained yeast and the cake was now much more risen and lighter in texture, this was achieved by a baker continuously beating air into the cake mixture . The cake itself would have been heavily decorated with sugar and almond paste.

Queen Victoria's Twelfth Night Cake, 1849 as shown in the Illustrated London News

In 1849, the Illustrated London News described the Queens Twelfth Night Cake as ‘about 30 inches in diameter, and tall in proportion: round the side the decoration consisted of stripes of gilded paper, bowing outwards near the top, issuing from an elegant gold bordering’. According to the article, the top of the cake was decorated with sixteen figures, who’s ’characteristic attitudes were clearly given’. The group consisted of ‘beaux and belles of the last century’, dancing children, servants, a violinist and a harpist.' The cake was designed and carried out by Queen Victoria's confectioner Mr. Mawditt.

By the 1870's the aging Queen became more adverse to the Twelfth Night Celebrations and discouraged it, although she did continue the Twelfth Cake tradition with her grandchildren she preferred a more seldom and reserved celebration. The placement of a bean/pea continued but Queen Victoria had it replaced with silver trinkets, such as fumbles, charms and coins. Over time, the placement of silver gifts migrated into the Christmas pudding in the form of a silver sixpence (or a penny).

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