The wedding cakes in Queen Victoria’s family were magnificent examples of edible ceremony. Once they reached the age of photography, they were faithfully recorded for posterity. These images still have the power to enchant today, even in long ago albums. Just looking at these gorgeous cakes allows us to almost taste them by sight across the centuries. They were luscious creations. Rich in royal and classical allegory, they were delicate works of art conceived in ice and sugar as well as towering tributes to the power of display. Royal christening cakes are more unusual because they seem to have been rarely photographed historically, in British royal terms. Christening cakes within Queen Victoria’s family do not appear to have been photographed at all.
Much later christening cakes within living memory included that of the Prince of Wales in 1948. A silver coat of arms was placed on the tiny cradle which decorated the Royal Christening cake, by engraver and polisher Mr Peter Milton. McVitie and Price made the rich cake for Prince Edward’s christening in 1964, pleasantly also surmounted by a crib. McVitie and Price had of course, created the nine foot, four-tied cake for the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip in 1947. They made the wedding cake for the Duke and Duchess of York – later George V and Queen Mary – in 1893, as they did for the later Duke and Duchess of York – the future George VI and Queen Elizabeth.
Most recently in 2018, Prince Louis of Cambridge’s Christening Cake incorporated one of the three top tiers from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s eight-tier Wedding Cake.
The Christening of the Prince of Wales (detail) by Sir George Hayer (United States Public domain or Public domain, Wikimedia Commons)
We know most about the Royal Christening Cake made for the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, in 1842. Spooner of the Strand made a satirical lithograph of the Royal Family gathered around the cake but sadly, there is no serious equivalent. From what we do know, it was a glorious three-tiered creation by the royal confectioner at Buckingham Palace, John Chichester Mawditt, who had also made the wedding cake of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, known elegantly as the ‘Queen’s own cake’. The Prince of Wales was christened at St George’s Chapel on 25 January 1842; his brother, Prince Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, was christened at Windsor two years later in 1844, although this time in the Private Chapel. Prince Alfred, unlike the Prince of Wales, had the unique distinction amongst the Queen’s children of being both born and baptised at Windsor Castle.
In her journal, Queen Victoria mentioned the particular beauty of this Christening Cake. The cake was decorated with borders of rose, thistle and shamrock as might be expected for the respective national emblems of England, Scotland and Ireland. It featured medallion portraits ‘in silver’ of the Queen and Prince Albert, surmounted by the royal arms of England and the Prince of Wales’ feathers ‘with the arms of Wales over them’, topped by a scroll ‘in dead sugar work’. It was a miracle of fine detail with figures on the pedestals of Ceres, Fortune, Plenty, Clio – the Muse of History – and St David for Wales (Annie Gray, The Greedy Queen, 101).
A proud Britannia held the baby Prince of Wales, as she had stood at the summit of the Royal Wedding Cake blessing the union of his illustrious parents, less than two years earlier. A miniature font was at the centre, surrounded by ‘several small vases, with flowers’. (cit., Ibid, 102). For the dinner, according to the literary and cultural magazine The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, there were also ‘several pieces of most exquisitely prepared confectionary, modelled under the direction of Mr Mawditt…’ which were all decorated with a ‘profusion of flowers’ (The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Vol 1, 1842, 91).
Other glimpses of christening cakes are tantalisingly fleeting. Judging by the Queen’s adjectives, they must have been splendid sugar architecture on the table. Queen Victoria notes that the christening cake made for Prince Alfred of Edinburgh, baptised at Buckingham Palace in 1874, was a large one, when it appeared at the christening luncheon. Touchingly, the baby Prince was sleeping in his cot before his baptism began, covered by a quilt knitted for him by Queen Victoria.
The only other specific mention of a christening cake in the Queen’s (edited) journals is of that made for the first child of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and his wife, Princess Louise Margaret. This baby girl would be Princess Margaret of Connaught, later Crown Princess of Sweden. She was baptised in the Private Chapel at Windsor Castle on 11 March 1882; the Queen admired this cake according to her journal entry, which was brought out for the family luncheon.
Given the fact that Queen Victoria’s children were all christened between 1841 – beginning with the Princess Royal – and 1857, ending with Princess Beatrice – we might only have expected some of the later cakes to have been photographed, in daguerreotype at its earliest. But we have no such images, surprisingly perhaps, not even for the later years when the art of photography was much further advanced.
Brief descriptions are all that seemingly remain, of these lost, beautiful cakes.
©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2019.