Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Question from Sora - Anne Boleyn story and toast

I read today that Alexandre Dumas père wrote a cookbook dictionary, & that he included this story about Anne Boleyn in his cookbook:

"One day Anne Boleyn, then the most beautiful woman in England, was taking her bath, surrounded by the lords of her suite. These gentlemen, courting her favour, each took a glass, dipped it in the tub, and drank her health. All but one, who was asked why he did not follow their example. 'I am waiting for the toast,' he said. Which was not bad for an Englishman."

Is this true? I never read about Anne taking bath surrounded by men.

I also read that the english namead a toast of 'Anne Boleyn'. It is made os black bread with butter, herring and cinnamon. They eat it with tea, as a snack or as a simple meal. I also never head about this toast, and found nothing on the internet about it...

1 comment:

Foose said...

I think Dumas may have ripped off a story originally circulated a century earlier by Joseph Addison, in a 1709 Tatler article in which he explains the origin of the word "Toast" in terms of a fair lady being "toasted" ("Toast of the town," "her beauty is much toasted," etc.)

"But many of the wits of the last age will assert that the word, in its present sense ... had its rise from an accident at the town of Bath, in the reign of King Charles the Second.

"It happened that, on a public day, a celebrated beauty of those times was in the Cross Bath, and one of the crowd of her admirers took a glass of the water in which the fair one stood, and drank her health to the company. There was in the place a gay fellow half-fuddled, who offered to jump in, and swore, though he liked not the liquor, he would have the toast. He was opposed in his resolution; yet this whim gave foundation to the present honour which is done to the lady we mention in our liquors, who has ever since been called a Toast."

Now traditionally, the toast was the sippet of bread in a glass of wine that was passed around; the last one to drink got to eat the toast. Hence the lady functions as the prize in Addison's tale; note she is not naked in a bath (not stated, but rather implied in Dumas' account) but rather "taking the waters" at Bath, an act that was usually accomplished in a specially supplied smock. The water was medicinal, but probably not very nice to drink.

Dumas sexes up the tale by making it a private bath, with the lady presumably naked, and consequently the line "I am waiting for the toast" is rather prurient than gallant. He attaches the name Anne Boleyn - the original French of the cookbook's anecdote notes that elle etait de moeurs facilies, roughly, "her manners were free and easy." There is no substantiation for this incident in contemporary accounts of her life, but Dumas was a purveyor of popular historical tales, many of them based on the sixteenth century, with a strong romantic emphasis, and this may have been his own invention to pique the interest of his readers.

I don't know whether Addison's tale is true or not - there was certainly some free and easy behavior by ladies and gallants under Charles II. On the other hand, the tale might have various antecedents. Probably the basic concept had its roots in the Middle Ages and the extravagant gestures retailed by the Courts of Love - a troubadour named Ulrich von Lichtenstein drank the bathwater of the lady he was in service to. The Frankish chronicler Liudprand accused the Byzantine emperor of "drinking bathwater"; some scholars trace this charge to the emperor drinking medicinal waters (like those at Bath) from thermal springs. There's also the consideration that the bathwater of medieval saints was considered to have miraculous healing properties as well when drunk.

As for the impact of this anecdote on contemporary Dumas readers, the footman of the Marquise du Chatelet (Voltaire's girlfriend) in the 18th century reported that she thought nothing of summoning him to bring fresh water when she was in the bath naked; "this was not the ordinary behavior of an honest woman" (Nancy Mitford) although possibly displaying oneself to "gentleman of one's suite" is less shocking than to male inferiors.

Just some ideas. As for the recipe, I couldn't find anything on it either - which book did you find it in?