Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/Maids of honour


Who has e’er been at Paris must needs know the Morgue,” so sings dear Mat Prior in the “easy jingle,” so welcome to the heart of Cowper. Who has e’er been at Richmond in Surrey must needs know—guess gentle reader? The Star and Garter? No! The Castle? No! “Thy hill, delightful Shene?” No! The Park and the Stone Lodge? Neither! The house of the Poet of “the Seasons?” No! Edmund Kean’s grave? Still wrong! Earl Russell’s house? Still off the scent! . . . .} Now, then, I have it! “Who has e’er been to Richmond must needs know the shop” where Mr. Billett and Mrs. Billett dispense wholesale and retail a peculiar pastry known far and wide as “Maids of Honour,”—known to school-boys and school-girls—known to dignitaries of the church and law—to chiefs out of war, and statesmen out of place—to all who are willing to partake of, and, above all, who can pay for a pastry palateable to “youths of both sexes,” and men and women of all ages. We know, to our cost, that most enticing shop. We, when young, once treated some dozen of our school companions to a feast of Maids of Honour. A yellow Geordie of Wyon’s make—one that would ring—was in our pocket, and we (not nineteen at the time) were somewhat ostentatious of a coin so little known to schoolboys. Tray upon tray came up of “Maids” in pastry. Such Scylla and Charybdis appetites we never remember to have seen. Brave old Dando did not dismiss newly-opened oysters more summarily than Mr. W—ie’s schoolboys dismissed the inviting banquet. Bath buns? pooh! Chelsea buns? pooh! Banbury cakes? pooh! Shrewsbury cakes? pooh! Scotch buns? Sally Luns? nonsense! Nought can compare with the Maids of Honour manufactured and sold at Richmond. Thy cakes, O Richmond! will not bear carrying; they must be eaten on the spot. Ask any schoolboy, if after a determined resolution to take a shilling’s-worth of Maids of Honour home to dear mamma, or sister Mary, he has ever reached home with them intact, or at all. They will not cross the Thames at Kew Bridge without turning sour (inquire of any schoolboy), and at Turnham Green they are fit only for the pigs. Exquisitely delicate is this divine pastry, and not to be made by uneducated hands. The original receipt is locked in an iron box, not unlike that in Westminster Abbey wherein are kept the standards for the once well-known Trial of the Pix. The descent of this box is curious. It was given to Anne Boleyn, when Maid of Honour, and the article itself was first tasted—devoured we should say—by Henry Tudor, better known as King Henry the Eighth, when, at Reading in Berkshire, he knighted that portion of John Bull known till then as Loin alone, but now known wherever genuine English beef is to be had, as “Sir Loin.”

“Arise, Sir Loin,” cried the King, with his sword-of-state carving-knife, duly dubbing the loin, and helping himself at the same time, right royally and merrily, to a third, or very possibly a fourth helping. He quaffed, at the same time, from a goblet of gold, in sack of the best, a health to fair Anne Boleyn, Maid of Honour to his sister, Mary Tudor, wife to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk; and as he led her to the withdrawing chamber, he is known to have used these Shakespearian words: “I were unmannerly to take thee out, and not to kiss thee.” Charles the Second would have acted in the same right-royal manner, and who could have found fault with him? Who finds fault with bluff King Harry? Holbein has left us an ample apology for his seeming rudeness.

The noblest captain in the British fleet
Might envy William’s lips those kisses sweet.

Lord Chesterfield, if we remember rightly, has said nothing by way of disapprobation of such a course in his Letters of advice to his illegitimate and ill-bred son.

And here it is proper to relate a little incident, for which fair authority may be found; one leading to far greater results than the loss of Belinda’s hair in Pope’s “Rape of the Lock.” Miss Anne Boleyn (we ask pardon of antiquaries for the designation) was observed by King Harry on this Reading progress seated on a dais, with a silver dish of cheese-cakes, or tartlets, before her and her honourable fellows. The cakes were disappearing, as good cakes will disappear when young ladies are alone. The king asked what they were eating. No one knew. Let them be called, said “the Defender of the Faith,” Maids of Honour, and Maids of Honour they were then called, and are happily so called to this day. If any one has a doubt of the truthfulness of this origin of so appetite-provoking a name they are at liberty to ask Sylvanus Urban, or the editor of “Notes and Queries” in person, for a more trustworthy solution.

We have been unable to compile a satisfactory catalogue of the Maids of Honours—from Queen Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni, to Queen Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. Beatson should have had one, and so should Haydn in his “Book of Dignities.” Who waited on Adeliza, on Berengaria, on Eleanor of Castille, on Philippa of Hainault, Margaret of Anjou, or Katherine of Arragon, we are unable to tell. We are at a like loss for the names of the fair attendants upon Bloody Mary and Good Queen Bess. Nearer our own time, we shall be found more at home with the names of the fair attendants upon Anne of Denmark, Henrietta of France, Catherine of Portugal, Mary of Modena, Anne Hyde, the two Carolines, old Queen Charlotte, the still regretted Queen Adelaide, and our Gracious Queen—whom God long preserve. Honoured names are among them—recalling fair faces of noble families—fair girls budding into future duchesses, the destined transmitters of many a lovely face, or doomed to die unmarried without even the brevet privilege (to be explained hereafter) of acting as married women. Anne Boleyn herself (the mother of Queen Elizabeth) was a Maid of Honour,

When Gospel light first dawn’d from Bullen’s eyes.

Anne Hyde, the mother of two queens—Queen Mary and Queen Anne—was once a Maid of Honour. Ladies of the Bedchamber—we care not for them: for Mistresses of the Robes we care still less: but for the “Maids of Honour” to our Queens we have a kind of sneaking affection—fast forming into “right honourable love,” the more we learn about them.

The Maids of Honour to our Queens have always been a laughing and light hearted race. The earliest account we have of them is a little incident provocative of laughter. The Maids of Honour to Eleanor of Castille tossed King Edward the First in a blanket. The hammer of the Scottish nation was tossed in a blanket by a parcel of lasses. What a picture for Frith or Maclise! These Maids of Honour were always pert, giggling, and boisterous girls. The wife of Sir Walter Raleigh, the fair Elizabeth Throgmorton, one of Queen Bess’s maids, “delighted much” in relating some of the knavish tricks wrought among the maids by Sir Walter himself when young, and when there was no visionary El Dorado flitting falsely before his eyes. The girls were eternally at their tricks, in spite of the scolding looks and tongues of the grave matrons, under whose care they were placed, and who bore in the Royal household the honourable name of “Mothers of the Maids.” I have recovered the names of three of these English duennas. Elizabeth Jones, gentlewoman, Mother of the Maids under Queen Elizabeth, was buried in the church of St. Clement Danes, in London, on the 22nd of January, 1607-8. Lady Sanderson was “Mother of the Maids” to the Queen of Charles the Second, and she could have told many curious stories about old Rowley and Rochester. What an annotator of De Grammont and of Pepys! Mrs. Lucy Wise, “Mother of the Maids” to Anne Hyde, wife of the Duke of York (we may fairly assume), was well up in stories about the two brothers, Charles and James—to say nothing of the rest of the worthies who live in the pages of Pepys, and smile so charmingly on the canvas of Lely.

I have often wondered that the subject has not been taken up by some of our many writers, as a serious subject. What a volume for Mudie or Smith of the Strand, “Lives of the Maids of Honour.” Here is a title “to let”:—

“TE HE!”

Board of Green Cloth, 12th June, 1681.
Order was this day given that the Maides of Honour should have Cherry Tarts instead of Gooseberry Tarts, it being observed that Cherrys are at Three Pence per pound.—MS. Warrant Book of King Charles the Second’s Lord Steward of the Household.

Such grace the King of Kings bestowed upon her,
That he’s promoted her—a Maid of Honour.
Old Epitaph.

And all the Maids of Honour cry “Te He!”
Mason and WalpoleHeroic Epistle.

Swift amused “Stella” with a like notion. Hear what he says in his famous “Journal,” under the 19th of September, 1711. He had been laughing with the Maids about their lodgings in “the Round Tower” at Windsor, and wrapping up little witticisms in charming innuendoes about their lodgings.

The Queen was “Great Anna,” and Mrs. Hill (I may mention in passing) was Mrs. Abigail Hill, whose name of Abigail has become, through her alone, a cant or common name for a chambermaid or bedchamber woman.

In this work I purpose giving some curious particulars of the Maids of Honour who danced attendance on Elizabeth Tudor (Queen Elizabeth). Some of their names I may here mention, “to book subscribers.” There will be Blanche Parry, who has a monument at Backton, in Herefordshire; Lucy, Lady Latimer, who lies buried at Hackney; Sir Walter Raleigh’s wife, Elizabeth Throgmorton; Miss Fitton, to whom Kemp the actor dedicates his famous “Nine Days’ Wonder;” Lady Catherine Stanley, afterwards Lady Griesly, whose jewelled portrait (with the real jewel lent by Lady des Vœux) was one of the attractions of the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition. In this part of the work I rely mainly for a sale on the materials I have discovered relating to the Lady Elizabeth Russell, whose monument is shown in Westminster Abbey (not erroneously, as I shall prove) as that of the lady who died from the prick of a needle. Lady Elizabeth kept a richly embroidered volume, in which she entered several recipes for heart-ache, head-ache, quince pies, Warden pies, light venison pasties, and from this I purpose extracting largely for future editions of Mrs. Rundell and Miss Acton. A curious entry in this precious volume I may mention in passing. It relates to the three rumps of beef for breakfast, allowed to the Maids in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, as Sir Richard Steele assures us in No. 148 of “The Tatler,” and readers have hitherto been found unwilling to believe.

My materials at present for the lives of the Maids attached to the household of Anne of Denmark, the queen of James I., are few and not very interesting. I am sorry for this. A few lives, however, will prove of value to (d.v.) our future queen, the Princess Alexandra, and to her I purpose seeking permission to dedicate my work.

Of the Maids to Henrietta Maria I have full and entertaining particulars. This part of my work will include Cecilia Crofts (Tom Killigrew’s wife). Miss Porter (Endymion’s daughter), Mrs. Kirk, that delightful blue-stocking, and Margaret Lucas, Duchess of Newcastle, whose life of her husband no casket is too good to contain. I claim particular attention for the life of Anne Hyde, the future mother of the two Queens of England, Mary and Anne.

When I come to Catherine of Braganza, my materials are ample and readable. The reader will find plenty of true gossip and Court scandal touching Britannia Stewart (afterwards Duchess of Richmond and Lenox), Mrs. Simena Carew, Mrs. Catherine Boynton, Mrs. Henrietta Maria Price, Mrs. Winifred Wells, Mademoiselle de la Garde, and Mademoiselle Bardon. Tom Thynne’s intended bride, Mary Trevor, will be found acceptable seaside and Christmas fireside reading in this portion of my work.

Equally rich (if not more so) will be found those chapters in my work which relate to the Maids of Honour connected with the court of Anne Hyde, Duchess of York. Arabella Churchill (Marlborough’s sister) will be seen to advantage; Jennings, Duchess of Tyrconnell (Sarah of Marlborough’s sister), will supply some choice and delicate chapters; not to omit Elizabeth Godolphin, made memorable by the good John Evelyn, and also by the Right Reverend Father in God Samuel Wilberforce, Lord Bishop of Oxford.

In this part of my prospectus I must not omit the correspondence I am promised for the life of that virgin daughter of the skies, Mrs. Anne Killigrew, “excellent,” as Dryden sings in imperishable verse, “in the two sister arts of Poesy and Painting.” The pious and active life of this young lady will be found to rebuke the sneer of Horace Walpole, who in his account of Sir Peter Lely has censured the “sleepy eye”—and “melting soul”—female portraits of that master. “His nymphs,” says the old bachelor of Strawberry Hill, “generally reposed on the turf, are too wanton and too magnificent to be taken for anything but—Maids of Honour.” Surely old Queen Charlotte’s Maids could never have read this passage, or they would not have chosen “Strawberry Hill” as their usual and convenient carriage-airing distance from Kew.

My readers will naturally expect some account of the Maids of Honour, and the Maids of Taunton, referred to by Mr. Penn and Lord Macaulay. My work, under all these heads, will be found more than apologetical.

My limits will, I fear, restrict me to the lives of only three of the Maids to King William’s Consort Mary, viz,, Ann Granville, aunt of Lady Llanover’s Mrs. Delany; Anne Villiers, the first wife of King William’s Earl of Portland, and mother of the first Duke of Portland; and Elizabeth Villiers, afterwards Countess of Orkney, called by Swift “the wisest woman he ever knew.”

The Maids of Honour to Queen Anne I shall include under one life, that of Jenny Kingdom, of whom Duke Disney said, that since she could not get a husband, the Queen should give her brevet to act as a married woman. Here will be found “a full, true, and particular account” of Swift’s vindication of “Gulliver’s Travels” from the criticisms and complaints circulated freely by the Maids of Honour, and communicated to Swift by King George the Second’s all-enduring Mrs. Howard. My friend, Mr. John Forster is keeping back his edition of Swift for this very curious vindication.

I purpose being full in what I have to say touching ennobled Maids, such as Mary Berkeley, who became Viscountess Chetwynd; Mary Howard, afterwards Lady Deloraine; Mrs. Collier, the future Duchess of Dorset; Mrs. Warburton, afterwards Duchess of Argyll and Greenwich. I trust to be found ample and accurate in my descriptions of bridal dresses, bridal presents, christenings, caudle-cups, &c.

The public may foresee the treat that is in store for them, by reading over the mere list of names of the fair and young personages who waited on George II.’s Queen Caroline, when princess and when queen. What pleasant reminiscences must I awaken when I name Madge Bellenden, Molly Lepel, Mary Meadows, Dolly Dyves, Nan Pitt (the great Lord Chatham’s sister), Bess Pitt (the fair Circassian), Elizabeth Lucy Mordaunt, a Countess of Deloraine, and two Countesses of Pembroke—Mary Howe and Mary Fitzwilliam. Some of the “playfulnesses” of Swift, and Pope, and of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu about the Maids will be found discreetly used in this and the following chapters of my work.

A pleasant memorial of the “Maids” to Augusta, Princess of Wales, mother of King George III., will be found related under my narrative of one of the Maids,—the famous Miss Chudleigh, afterwards Duchess of Kingston.

As we approach our own time I shall be treading on ashes that are hardly cold, and parties interested may rest assured that I shall tread tenderly.

Bon mots of the Maids will be scattered thickly through my volume. I conclude with one as a sample of my stores:—

“I fear,” said the polite Lord Chesterfield to Lord Chatham’s unmarried sister, Miss Maid-of-Honour Pitt,—“I fear that I am growing an old woman.” “I am glad of it,” was Miss Pitt’s reply; “I was afraid you were growing an old man, which you know is a much worse thing.”

Peter Cunningham.