Sep 222018
 

Today is the birthday (1515) of Anne of Cleves (Anna von Kleve), fourth wife of Henry VIII of England. The marriage was declared unconsummated and, as a result, she was not crowned queen consort. Following the annulment, she was given a generous settlement by the King, and thereafter referred to as the King’s Beloved Sister. She lived to see the coronation of Queen Mary I, outliving the rest of Henry’s wives. Anne has suffered in popular history as the “Mare of Flanders” and is often characterized as so ugly that Henry got rid of her as soon as he could once he actually laid eyes on her. Like all popular history, this tale needs correcting.

Anne was born in Düsseldorf, the second daughter of John III of the House of La Marck, Duke of Jülich jure uxoris, Cleves, Berg jure uxoris, Count of Mark, also known as de la Marck and Ravensberg jure uxoris (often referred to as Duke of Cleves), and his wife Maria, Duchess of Julich-Berg (1491–1543). She grew up living in Schloss Burg on the edge of Solingen.

Anne’s father was influenced by Erasmus and followed a moderate path within the Reformation. He sided with the Schmalkaldic League and opposed Emperor Charles V. After John’s death, Anne’s brother William became Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, bearing the promising epithet “The Rich”. In 1526, her elder sister Sibylle was married to John Frederick, Elector of Saxony, head of the Protestant Confederation of Germany and considered the “Champion of the Reformation”. At the age of 11 (1527), Anne was betrothed to Francis, son and heir of the Duke of Lorraine while he was only 10. Thus, the betrothal was considered unofficial and was cancelled in 1535. Her brother William was a Lutheran, but the family was unaligned religiously, with her mother described as a strict Catholic. The duke’s ongoing dispute over Gelderland with emperor Charles V made them suitable allies for England’s Henry VIII in the wake of the Truce of Nice. The match with Anne was urged on the king by his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell.

 

The artist Hans Holbein the Younger was dispatched to Duren to paint portraits of Anne and her younger sister, Amalia, each of whom Henry was considering as his fourth wife. Henry required the artist to be as accurate as possible, not to flatter the sisters. The two versions of Holbein’s portrait are in the Musée du Louvre in Paris and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Another 1539 portrait, by the school of Barthel Bruyn the Elder, is in the collection of Trinity College, Cambridge. Henry might have wished photography had been invented, but he would have been mistaken. Photography can mislead every bit as much as oil painting. From these paintings, Anne seems to look much like Henry’s other wives, maybe even prettier than some. But who knows what she was like in the flesh? Furthermore, attractiveness has as much to do with manner as with physical appearance, and there may have lain the issue for Henry.

Negotiations with Cleves were in full swing by March 1539. Cromwell oversaw the talks and a marriage treaty was signed on 4th October of that year. Henry valued education and cultural sophistication in women, but Anne lacked these. She had received no formal education but was skilled in needlework and liked playing card games. She could read and write, but only in German. Nevertheless, Anne was considered gentle and virtuous, as well as being easily manipulated, which seemed to make her a suitable candidate for Henry.

Anne was described by the French ambassador, Charles de Marillac, as tall and slim, “of middling beauty and of very assured and resolute countenance”. In the words of the chronicler Edward Hall, “Her hair hanging down, which was fair, yellow and long … she was apparelled after the English fashion, with a French hood, which so set forth her beauty and good visage, that every creature rejoiced to behold her”.She appeared rather solemn by English standards. Henry met her privately on New Year’s Day 1540 at Rochester Abbey in Rochester on her journey from Dover. Henry and some of his courtiers, following a courtly-love tradition, went disguised into the room where Anne was staying. Eustace Chapuys reported:

[The King] so went up into the chamber where the said Lady Anne was looking out of a window to see the bull-baiting which was going on in the courtyard, and suddenly he embraced and kissed her, and showed her a token which the king had sent her for New Year’s gift, and she being abashed and not knowing who it was thanked him, and so he spoke with her. But she regarded him little, but always looked out the window…. and when the king saw that she took so little notice of his coming he went into another chamber and took off his cloak and came in again in a coat of purple velvet. And when the lords and knights saw his grace they did him reverence.

Although Anne reportedly “regarded him little” it is unknown if she knew this was the king or not. Henry did reveal his true identity to Anne at the time, although he is said to have been soured on the marriage from then on. Henry and Anne met officially on 3rd January on Blackheath outside the gates of Greenwich Park, where a grand reception was laid out. Most historians believe that he later used Anne’s alleged unattractiveness and failure to inspire him to consummate the marriage as excuses, saying he felt he had been misled: “She is nothing so fair as she hath been reported”, he complained. Cromwell received some of the blame for the portrait by Holbein which Henry believed had not been an accurate representation of Anne and for some of the exaggerated reports of her beauty. The marriage was never consummated.

Henry urged Cromwell to find a legal way to avoid the marriage but, by this point, doing so was impossible without endangering the vital alliance with the Germans. In his anger and frustration the king finally turned on Cromwell, who had been a loyal subordinate in all matters. Cromwell’s enemies, who had long waited for him to make his first false step, began to close in.

Despite Henry’s very vocal misgivings, the two were married on 6th January 1540 at the royal Palace of Placentia in Greenwich by archbishop Thomas Cranmer. The phrase “God send me well to keep” was engraved around Anne’s wedding ring. Immediately after arriving in England, Anne conformed to the Anglican form of worship, which Henry expected. The couple’s first night as husband and wife was not pleasant. Henry confided to Cromwell that he had not consummated the marriage, saying, “I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse.” In February 1540, speaking to the Countess of Rutland, Anne praised the King as a kind husband, saying: “When he comes to bed he kisseth me, and he taketh me by the hand, and biddeth me ‘Good night, sweetheart’; and in the morning kisseth me and biddeth ‘Farewell, darling.'” Lady Rutland responded: “Madam, there must be more than this, or it will be long ere we have a duke of York, which all this realm most desireth.”

Anne was commanded to leave the Court on 24th June, and on 6th July she was informed of her husband’s decision to reconsider the marriage. Witness statements were taken from a number of courtiers and two physicians registering the king’s disappointment at her appearance. Henry had also commented to Thomas Heneage and Anthony Denny that he could not believe she was a virgin. Shortly afterwards, Anne was asked for her consent to an annulment, to which she agreed. Cromwell, the moving force behind the marriage, was attainted for treason. The marriage was annulled on 9th July 1540, on the grounds of non-consummation and her pre-contract to Francis of Lorraine. Henry VIII’s physician stated that after the wedding night, Henry said he was not impotent because he experienced “duas pollutiones nocturnas in somno” (two nocturnal pollutions (ejaculations) while in sleep). On 28th July, Henry married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. On the same day Thomas Cromwell was executed, in theory for treason, but in practice as a scapegoat for the doomed German marriage.

Anne, as former queen, received a generous settlement, including Richmond Palace, and Hever Castle, home of Henry’s former in-laws, the Boleyns. Anne of Cleves House, in Lewes, East Sussex, is just one of many properties she owned although she never lived there. Henry and Anne became good friends—she was an honorary member of the king’s family and was referred to as “the King’s Beloved Sister”. She was invited to court often and, out of gratitude for her not contesting the annulment, Henry decreed that she would be given precedence over all women in England save his own wife and daughters.

After Catherine Howard was beheaded, Anne and her brother, the Duke of Cleves, pressed the king to remarry Anne. Henry quickly refused to do so. Anne seems to have disliked Catherine Parr, and reportedly reacted to the news of Henry’s sixth marriage with the remark “Madam Parr is taking a great burden on herself.” In March 1547, Edward VI’s Privy Council asked Anne to move out of Bletchingley Palace, her usual residence, to Penshurst Place to make way for Thomas Cawarden, Master of Revels. They pointed out that Penshurst was nearer to Hever and the move had been Henry VIII’s will.

On 4th August 1553, Anne wrote to Mary I to congratulate her on her marriage to Philip of Spain. On 28th  September 1553, when Mary left St James’s Palace for Whitehall, she was accompanied by her sister Elizabeth and Anne of Cleves. Anne also took part in Mary I’s coronation procession, and may have been present at her coronation at Westminster Abbey. These were her last public appearances. Because Mary was a strict Catholic, Anne yet again changed religion, now becoming a Roman Catholic. After a brief return to prominence, she lost royal favor in 1554, following Wyatt’s rebellion. According to Simon Renard, the imperial ambassador, Anne’s close association with Elizabeth had convinced the Queen that “the Lady [Anne] of Cleves was of the plot and intrigued with the Duke of Cleves to obtain help for Elizabeth: matters in which the king of France was the prime mover.” There is no evidence that Anne was invited back to court after 1554. She was compelled to live a quiet and obscure life on her estates. From the time of her arrival as the king’s bride, Anne never left England. Despite occasional feelings of homesickness, Anne was generally content in England and was described by Holinshed as “a ladie of right commendable regards, courteous, gentle, a good housekeeper and verie bountifull to her servants.”

When Anne’s health began to fail, Mary allowed her to live at Chelsea Old Manor, where Henry’s last wife, Catherine Parr, had lived after her remarriage. Here, in the middle of July 1557, Anne dictated her last will. In it, she mentions her brother, sister, and sister-in-law, as well as the future queen Elizabeth, the duchess of Suffolk, and the countess of Arundel. She left some money to her servants and asked Mary and Elizabeth to employ them in their households. She was remembered by everyone who served her as a particularly generous and easy-going mistress.

Anne died at Chelsea Old Manor on 16th July 1557, eight weeks before her forty-second birthday. The most likely cause of her death was cancer. She was buried in Westminster Abbey, on 3 August, in what has been described as a “somewhat hard to find tomb” on the opposite side of Edward the Confessor’s shrine and slightly above eye level for a person of average height. She is the only wife of Henry VIII to be buried in the Abbey.

Anne’s epitaph in Westminster Abbey, which is in English, reads simply:

ANNE OF CLEVES

QUEEN OF ENGLAND

BORN 1515 * DIED 1557

Anne has the distinction of being the last of Henry VIII’s wives to die, as she outlived Henry’s last wife, Catherine Parr, by 9 years. She was not the longest-lived, however, since Catherine of Aragon was 50 at the time of her death.

I’ve covered various Tudors in my posts over the years and accompanied the posts with English Tudor recipes which you may search for if you are so inclined. Instead I will take a look at apfelkraut which originated in the northern Rhineland, although these days it is an apple spread (above), much like the apple butter of the US. Originally it was a fermented mix of apples and cabbage, which was then cooked with other ingredients. I cannot claim that this recipe is close to the 16th century version, but it is complex and tasty, and makes a good accompaniment for meat. It is something of a rigmarole to make. You need to start at least 4 weeks before you plan to serve it.

Apfelkraut

Ingredients

Sauerkraut

8 lb cabbage
3 tart apples, peeled, cored, and diced
¼ lb kosher or pickling salt
1 tsp caraway seeds

Apfelkraut

4 strips bacon
1 onion, peeled and chopped
3 cooking apples, peeled, cored and quartered
½ cup chicken broth
½ cup dry white wine
2 potatoes, finely grated
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp brown sugar

Instructions

Begin this process at least 4 weeks, and up to 6 weeks before serving. Begin by making sauerkraut.

Sauerkraut

Remove 2 or 3 of the tougher outer leaves from each cabbage and set them aside. Cut the cabbages in half and slice them very fine by hand or with a shredder or mandolin. In a large bowl, mix the cabbage with the salt, caraway and apples.

Line a gallon ceramic crock with the outer cabbage leaves, saving a few to cover the top. Put in a quarter of the cabbage mixture and tamp it down with a heavy clean object like the bottom of a wine bottle. Repeat until all the cabbage is in. From the tamping, sufficient brine should be released to cover the cabbage. Cover the cabbage with the remaining leaves. The cabbage will swell while fermenting, so it should not reach all the way to the top. Lay a plastic bag or a cloth over the leaves. Cover with a plate and then a weight, such as a heavy can or jar of water, to keep the cabbage under the brine and out of the air.

The cabbage will take anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks to ferment (below 75°F, 4 to 6 weeks; above 75°F, 2 to 3 weeks). Every few days, remove the scum from the top of the brine, replace the plastic bag or cloth, wash the plate and the rim of the crock, and return the plate and weight. When the bubbling stops, fermentation is complete. Cover the crock lightly and store in a cool (38°F) place, or refrigerate. Rinse the cabbage before using.

Apfelkraut

Sauté the bacon in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain. Pour off all but 4 tablespoons fat. Add the onion and sauté over medium heat until translucent. Rinse the sauerkraut, drain well, and stir into the onion. Cover the pan and simmer 10 minutes.

Add the apples, broth, wine, potatoes, vinegar and sugar. Return to the simmer and simmer gently until the apples and potatoes are tender but not mushy (10 to 20 minutes). Serve warm.

Feb 092016
 

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Today is the birthday (1737) [O.S. January 29, 1736] of Thomas Paine, an English-American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary. He was one of the so-called Founding Fathers of the United States, primarily because he published the two most influential pamphlets at the start of the American Revolution, and he inspired the rebels in 1776 to declare independence from Britain. His ideas reflected Enlightenment-era rhetoric of transnational human rights. He has been called “a corsetmaker by trade, a journalist by profession, and a propagandist by inclination.” The “corsetmaker” piece was a deliberate slur by opponents. He was a “stay” maker, for sure, but the stays he made were not the whalebone stiffening of corsets, but thick ropes used on sailing ships.

Paine was born in Thetford, in the county of Norfolk, and emigrated to the British North American colonies in 1774 with the help of Benjamin Franklin, arriving just in time to participate in the American Revolution. Virtually every rebel read (or listened to a reading of) his powerful pamphlet Common Sense (1776), which crystallized the rebellious demand for independence from Great Britain. His The American Crisis (1776–83) was a pro-revolutionary pamphlet series. Common Sense was so influential that John Adams said, “Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”

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Paine lived in France for most of the 1790s, becoming deeply involved in the French Revolution. He wrote Rights of Man (1791), in part a defense of the French Revolution against its critics. His attacks on British writer Edmund Burke led to a trial and conviction in absentia in 1792 for the crime of seditious libel. In 1792, despite not being able to speak French, he was elected to the French National Convention. The Girondists regarded him as an ally. Consequently, the Montagnards, especially Robespierre, regarded him as an enemy (see http://www.bookofdaystales.com/death-of-marat/ .

In December 1793, he was arrested and imprisoned in Paris, then released in 1794. He became notorious because of his pamphlets The Age of Reason (1793–94), in which he advocated deism, promoted reason and free thought, and argued against institutionalized religion in general and Christian doctrine in particular. He also published the pamphlet Agrarian Justice (1797), discussing the origins of property, and introduced the concept of a guaranteed minimum income. In 1802, he returned to the U.S. where he died on June 8, 1809. Only six people attended his funeral partly because he had been ostracized for his ridicule of Christianity, but also because in the 18th century funerals were small affairs for close intimates only.

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Paine’s Common Sense was influential and incendiary for many reasons. Most importantly, it was written in language that common people could easily grasp. Paine’s ideas were not remotely original, but the arguments of the social philosophers of the day, on which he based his writings, were not widely known outside elite circles. He thus popularized growing revolutionary and democratic sentiments. It must be noted, however, that his words met with some resistance from the elite of the colonies, some of whom, such as John Adams, president after Washington, were opposed to democracy as tantamount to rule by the uneducated.

His arguments against British rule of the colonies may be summarized:

It was absurd for an island to rule a continent.

The North American colonies were not a “British nation,” but composed of influences and peoples from all of Europe.

Even if Britain were the “mother country” of North America, that made her actions all the more horrendous, for no mother would harm her children so brutally.

Being a part of Britain would drag the colonies into unnecessary European wars, and impede international commerce.

The physical distance between the two nations made governing the colonies from England unwieldy. If some wrong were to be petitioned to Parliament, it would take a year or more before the colonies received a response.

The New World was discovered shortly before the Reformation. The Puritans believed that God wanted to give them a safe haven from the persecution of British rule.

Britain ruled the colonies for her own benefit, and did not consider the best interests of the colonists when making laws.

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On February 19, 1768, he was appointed excise officer to Lewes in Sussex, on the south coast of England. You can’t visit the town without immediately seeing evidence of his presence there from plaques to place names. Lewes is a town with a tradition of opposition to the monarchy and pro-republican sentiments going back to the revolutionary decades of the 17th century. Paine lived above the 15th century Bull House, the tobacco shop of Samuel Ollive and Esther Ollive. In Lewes Paine first became involved in civic matters, and he appears in the Town Book as a member of the Court Leet, the governing body for the town. He was also a member of the parish vestry, an influential local church group whose responsibilities for parish business would include collecting taxes and tithes to distribute among the poor. On March 26, 1771, at the age of 34, he married Elizabeth Ollive, his landlord’s daughter.

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Paine is known to have attended meetings and dined at the White Hart Inn whose chef/owner, William Verrall, recorded all of his recipes in a book that is still in print. Verrall decried the plain eating habits of the English at the time and trumpeted the tastes of the French. At this time the English gentry had mixed feelings about Frenchified “made” dishes – stews, ragouts, complex sauces &c – preferring steaks, chops, and roasts. What we might call a meat and potatoes diet these days. Verrall advocated fricassees and casseroles as well as delicate pairings of ingredients. Well, Paine, being a common man, loved mashed potatoes. Not much scope there for a recipe of the day. Instead I turn to Anglo-French cooking of the 18th century. Here is a typical recipe for an omelet stuffed with poached sorrel – an underused green vegetable these days. It’s easy to grow, and can get out of hand if you do not watch out. It looks a bit like spinach, but is a perennial. Because of the high oxalic acid content it’s a little sour. To make a ragout, poach shredded sorrel leaves in light stock, then drain it and squeeze out excess liquid.

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Here’s the French recipe for omelette à la gendarme taken from Les Soupers de la Cour, Menon (1755) found here http://18thccuisine.blogspot.it/2015/02/omlette-la-gendarme-military-omelette.html .

Omelette à la Gendarme.

Ayez un petit ragoût de farce d’oseille bien fini & bien lié; ajoutez-y du Parmesan rapé & mies de pain; faites une omelette naturelle, un peu mince; dressez-la dans le plat; mettez dessus le ragoût de farce; couvrez avec une autre omelette; garnissez tout autour avec des filets de pain frit que vous collez avec dublanc d’oeuf, de façon que les deux omelttes n’en fassent qu’une, sans que l’on voie la farce; arrosez le dessus avec du beurre; pannez moitié mies de pain & Parmesan; faites prendre couleur au four.

Loosely translated: Make a little sorrel stew (well finished and well appointed) and add some grated Parmesan and breadcrumbs. Make an omelet, a little thin. Put it in a dish, spread on the sorrel stew, and cover cover with another omelet. Garnish around with slices of fried bread that you stick with down with egg white. Sprinkle the top with butter, and a mix of breadcrumbs and Parmesan. Put it in the oven to give it a little color.

I’d make the omelet first, dot the top with butter, breadcrumbs and cheese, and slip it under the broiler for a minute or two. Then garnish with fried bread or toast.

Nov 222015
 

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Today is the birthday (1819) of Mary Ann Evans commonly known by her pen name, George Eliot. She was an English novelist, journalist, translator and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era. She is the author of seven novels, including Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1871–72), and Daniel Deronda (1876), most of them set in provincial England and known for their realism and psychological insight.

She used a male pen name, she said, to ensure her works would be taken seriously. Female authors were published under their own names during Eliot’s life, but she wanted to escape the stereotype of women only writing lighthearted romances. She also wished to have her fiction judged separately from her already extensive and widely known work as an editor and critic. An additional factor in her use of a pen name may have been a desire to shield her private life from public scrutiny and to prevent scandals attending her relationship with the married George Henry Lewes, with whom she lived for over 20 years.

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As much as anything else I want to take note of her life as one seemingly perpetually peppered with sexism, especially because of her looks. According to Henry James, “She had a low forehead, a dull grey eye, a vast pendulous nose, a huge mouth full of uneven teeth and a chin and jawbone ‘qui n’en finissent pas’… Now in this vast ugliness resides a most powerful beauty which, in a very few minutes, steals forth and charms the mind, so that you end, as I ended, in falling in love with her. Yes, behold me in love with this great horse-faced bluestocking.” Hmmmm . . . “horse-faced bluestocking” eh? I don’t think Victorian men were treated in quite the same way (though I am ready to be proven wrong).

Eliot was born near Nuneaton in Warwickshire, a few miles north of Coventry. She was the second child of Robert Evans (1773–1849) and Christiana Evans (née Pearson, 1788–1836), the daughter of a local mill-owner. Her given name, Mary Ann, was sometimes shortened to Marian. Her father was the manager of the Arbury Hall Estate for the Newdigate family in Warwickshire, and Eliot was born on the estate at South Farm. In early 1820 the family moved to a house named Griff, between Nuneaton and Bedworth.

Because she was not considered physically beautiful, and thus not thought to have much chance of marriage, and because of her intelligence, her father invested in an education not often afforded women in those days. From ages five to nine, she boarded with her sister Chrissey at Miss Latham’s school in Attleborough, from ages nine to thirteen at Mrs. Wallington’s school in Nuneaton, and from ages thirteen to sixteen at Miss Franklin’s school in Coventry. At Mrs. Wallington’s school, she was taught by the evangelical Maria Lewis—to whom her earliest surviving letters are addressed.

After age sixteen, Eliot had little formal education. Thanks to her father’s role on the estate, she was allowed access to the library of Arbury Hall, which greatly aided her self-education and breadth of learning. Her classical education left its mark; Christopher Stray has observed that “George Eliot’s novels draw heavily on Greek literature (only one of her books can be printed correctly without the use of a Greek typeface), and her themes are often influenced by Greek tragedy”. Her frequent visits to the estate also allowed her to contrast the wealth in which the local landowner lived with the lives of the often much poorer people on the estate, and different lives lived in parallel would reappear in many of her works. The other early influence in her life was religion. She was brought up within a low church Anglican family, but at that time the Midlands was an area with a growing number of religious dissenters.

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In 1836 her mother died and Eliot (then 16) returned home to act as housekeeper, but she continued correspondence with her tutor Maria Lewis. When she was 21, her brother Isaac married and took over the family home, so Evans and her father moved to Foleshill near Coventry. The closeness to Coventry society brought new influences, most notably those of Charles and Cara Bray. Charles Bray had become rich as a ribbon manufacturer and had used his wealth in the building of schools and in other philanthropic causes. Eliot, who had been struggling with religious doubts for some time, became intimate friends with the progressive, free-thinking Brays, whose “Rosehill” home was a haven for people who held and debated radical views. At the Brays’ house she met, among others, Robert Owen, Herbert Spencer, Harriet Martineau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Through this society Eliot was introduced to more liberal theologies and to writers such as David Strauss and Ludwig Feuerbach, who cast doubt on the literal truth of Biblical stories. In fact, her first major literary work was an English translation of Strauss’s The Life of Jesus (1846), which she completed after it had been left incomplete by another member of the “Rosehill Circle”. As a product of their friendship, Bray published some of Eliot’s earliest writing, such as reviews, in his newspaper the Coventry Herald and Observer.

When Eliot began to question her religious faith, her father threatened to throw her out of the house, but his threat was not carried out. Instead, she respectfully attended church and continued to keep house for him until his death in 1849, when she was 30. Five days after her father’s funeral, she traveled to Switzerland with the Brays. She decided to stay on in Geneva alone, living first on the lake at Plongeon (near the present-day United Nations buildings) and then on the second floor of a house owned by her friends François and Juliet d’Albert Durade on the rue de Chanoines (now the rue de la Pelisserie). She commented happily that, “one feels in a downy nest high up in a good old tree”.

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On her return to England the following year (1850), she moved to London with the intent of becoming a writer, and she began referring to herself as Marian Evans. She stayed at the house of John Chapman, the radical publisher whom she had met earlier at Rosehill and who had published her Strauss translation. Chapman had recently purchased the campaigning, left-wing journal The Westminster Review, and Eliot became its assistant editor in 1851. Although Chapman was officially the editor, it was Eliot who did most of the work of producing the journal, contributing many essays and reviews beginning with the January 1852 issue and continuing until the end of her employment at the Review in the first half of 1854. Women writers were common at the time, but Evans’s role as the female editor of a literary magazine was quite unusual.

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The philosopher and critic George Henry Lewes (1817–78) met Eliot in 1851, and by 1854 they had decided to live together. Lewes was already married to Agnes Jervis. They had an open marriage, and in addition to the three children they had together, Agnes also had four children by Thornton Leigh Hunt. Because Lewes allowed himself to be falsely named as the father on the birth certificates of Jervis’s illegitimate children, he was considered to be complicit in adultery, and therefore he was not legally able to divorce her. In July 1854, Lewes and Eliot travelled to Weimar and Berlin together for the purpose of research. Before going to Germany, Evans continued her theological work with a translation of Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity, and while abroad she wrote essays and worked on her translation of Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics, which she completed in 1856, but which was not published in her lifetime.

The trip to Germany also served as a honeymoon as they now considered themselves married, with Eliot calling herself Marian Evans Lewes, and referring to Lewes as her husband. It was not unusual for men and women in Victorian society to have affairs; Charles Bray, John Chapman, Friedrich Engels, and Wilkie Collins all had extra-marital relationships, though they were much more discreet than Lewes and Eliot were. It was this lack of discretion and their public admission of the relationship which created accusations of polygamy and earned them the moral disapproval of English society .

While continuing to contribute pieces to the Westminster Review, Eliot resolved to become a novelist, and she set out a manifesto for herself in one of her last essays for the Review, “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists” (1856). The essay criticized the trivial and ridiculous plots of contemporary fiction by women. In other essays, she praised the realism of novels that were being written in Europe at the time, and it became clear in her subsequent fiction that she placed an emphasis on realistic storytelling. She also adopted a nom-de-plume, the one for which she would become known: George Eliot. This pen-name was said by some to be an homage to George Lewes.

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In 1857, when she was 37, “The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton”, the first of the Scenes of Clerical Life, was published in Blackwood’s Magazine and, along with the other Scenes, it was well received (it was published in book form early in 1858). Her first complete novel, published in 1859, was Adam Bede; it was an instant success, but it prompted intense interest in who this new author might be. Scenes of Clerical Life was widely believed to have been written by a country parson or perhaps the wife of a parson. With the release of the incredibly popular Adam Bede, speculation increased, and there was even a pretender to the authorship, one Joseph Liggins. In the end, the real George Eliot stepped forward: Marian Evans Lewes admitted she was the author. The revelations about Eliot’s private life surprised and shocked many of her admiring readers, but this did not affect her popularity as a novelist. Eliot’s relationship with Lewes afforded her the encouragement and stability she needed to write fiction, and to ease her self-doubt, but it would be some time before they were accepted into polite society. Acceptance was finally confirmed in 1877 when they were introduced to Princess Louise, the daughter of Queen Victoria. The queen herself was an avid reader of all of George Eliot’s novels and was so impressed with Adam Bede that she commissioned the artist Edward Henry Corbould to paint scenes from the book.

After the success of Adam Bede, Eliot continued to write popular novels for the next fifteen years. Within a year of completing Adam Bede, she finished The Mill on the Floss, dedicating the manuscript: “To my beloved husband, George Henry Lewes, I give this MS. of my third book, written in the sixth year of our life together, at Holly Lodge, South Field, Wandsworth, and finished 21 March 1860.”

Her last novel was Daniel Deronda, published in 1876, after which she and Lewes moved to Witley, Surrey. By this time Lewes’s health was failing, and he died two years later, on 30 November 1878. Eliot spent the next two years editing Lewes’s final work, Life and Mind, for publication, and she found solace and companionship with John Walter Cross, a Scottish commission agent whose mother had recently died.

On 16 May 1880 Eliot courted controversy once more by marrying John Cross, a man twenty years her junior, and again changing her name, this time to Mary Anne Cross. The legal marriage at least pleased her brother Isaac, who had broken off relations with her when she had begun to live with Lewes, but now sent congratulations. While the couple was honeymooning in Venice, Cross, in a fit of depression, jumped from the hotel balcony into the Grand Canal. He survived, and the newlyweds returned to England. They moved to a new house in Chelsea, but Eliot fell ill with a throat infection. This, coupled with the kidney disease she had been afflicted with for several years, led to her death on 22 December 1880 at the age of 61.

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I was a frequent visitor to Nuneaton when I lived for a while in Royal Leamington Spa. There were a number of traditional Warwickshire dishes to be had them, as I am sure there still are with the renaissance of regional cooking in Britain. Pork pies were once a celebrated specialty of the region, and from what I can tell, still are although I have not visited in decades. This pie is from Chadwick’s of Nuneaton:

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Here’s Mrs Beeton’s recipe.

PORK PIES (Warwickshire Recipe).

  1. INGREDIENTS.—For the crust, 5 lbs. of lard to 14 lbs. of flour, milk, and water. For filling the pies, to every 3 lbs. of meat allow 1 oz. of salt, 2-1/4 oz. of pepper, a small quantity of cayenne, 1 pint of water.

Mode.—Rub into the flour a portion of the lard; the remainder put with sufficient milk and water to mix the crust, and boil this gently for 1/4 hour. Pour it boiling on the flour, and knead and beat it till perfectly smooth. Now raise the crust in either a round or oval form, cut up the pork into pieces the size of a nut, season it in the above proportion, and press it compactly into the pie, in alternate layers of fat and lean, and pour in a small quantity of water; lay on the lid, cut the edges smoothly round, and pinch them together. Bake in a brick oven, which should be slow, as the meat is very solid. Very frequently, the inexperienced cook finds much difficulty in raising the crust. She should bear in mind that it must not be allowed to get cold, or it will fall immediately: to prevent this, the operation should be performed as near the fire as possible. As considerable dexterity and expertness are necessary to raise the crust with the hand only, a glass bottle or small jar may be placed in the middle of the paste, and the crust moulded on this; but be particular that it is kept warm the whole time.

Sufficient.—The proportions for 1 pie are 1 lb. of flour and 3 lbs. of meat.

Seasonable from September to March.