Menu dated 26th November 1870
Dinner at the Palace of Versailles, location of the Prussian Royal Headquarters during the Franco-Prussian War, for His Majesty King Wilhelm I of Prussia during the siege of Paris.
From the private Royal Menu Collection of © Jake Smith
Suppe à la jardinière
Spring vegetable consommé
Steinbütte; sauce d'anchovis
Turbot (flat-fish) filets poached in a court-bouillon and served with an anchovy sauce made from a mixture of béchamel sauce blended with anchovy butter made from puréed anchovies and lemon juice
Hambürger Raüchfleisch; Spinat
Thin slices of a specialty smoked beef from Hamburg made from the topside or rump and served with spinach
Rehzimmer, Salat, Compot
Saddle of Venison, salad and compote
Flour based pudding flavored with vanilla-custard and crystallized fruits and raisins macerated in rum
Butter und Käse
Butter and cheese
Parisians were starving. Their Emperor, Napoléon III, had been captured by Prussian forces; and now the enemy surrounded the capital. Starvation was setting in; zoo animals were being slaughtered for meat; and the price of rats had skyrocketed as Parisians scrambled for every scrap of food to the sound of Prussian cannons bombarding their majestic capital to rubble.
The Prussian forces could sniff victory with their entry into Paris now an inevitable formality.
The King of Prussia himself had journeyed from Berlin and was now ensconced on the city’s outskirts at the glorious Palace of Versailles – “The Prefecture” – that was now the Prussian military headquarters.
Here King Wilhelm of Prussia coordinated the final onslaught on Paris with the assistance of his Generals and his favourite and famous legislature, Count Otto von Bismarck.
In contrast to the deprivations of Parisians, life was good at the Prussian King’s headquarters. Bismarck’s adjutant, Count Hatzfeldt, wrote regularly to his wife from the Palace where he was lodging under the same roof as the King.
“We ate with real enjoyment that excellent pheasant pâté that you sent us to-day”, he told his wife in a letter dated 18 November 1870. “I am requested by everybody to express to you our warm thanks for this good idea of yours. It was very nice of you, and it gave me great pleasure... I hope the pâté de foie gras will be as good”.
Just five days earlier Count Hatzfeldt sent another letter to his wife from the Palace saying their dinner had included “poulet aux champignons and rice, spickgans (smoked goose-breast), aux choux-fleurs, pâtés de foie gras, roast venison and salad, roast chestnuts, cheese and butter, dessert. As drinks we had Vienna beer, Bordeaux, champagne and port; and with our coffee we drank Kirsch”.
And then, on 30th November, the Count sends his wife a copy of the royal menu from the Prussian King’s table saying “I dined with the King yesterday; he was charming, as he always is. I send you the menu of the dinner, which you can keep”.
The royal menu was similar to the one on this website, from earlier in the week.
At this dinner the King’s guest was the British Ambassador, Russell Odo, who had been urgently dispatched to the Palace of Versailles, at the express wish of Queen Victoria, to resolve some outstanding issues relating to relations between Britain, Prussia and the Tsar of Russia.
Back in Britain The Times informed its readers of this dinner:
“At five o’clock Mr. Russell dined at the Royal table at the Prefecture, and it was remarked that the King was very gracious, and took occasion several times to enter into conversation with him”.
To the modern eye, the menu is deceptive as it appears the King served Hamburgers to his English guest. In the 1870s however, the dish of Hambürger Raüchfleisch was a speciality smoked beef from Hamburg cut into thin slices. The King’s smoky treat was served between a dish of turbot dressed in anchovy sauce and seared medallions of venison backstrap. It was quite the contrast to the Parisian fare, or lack of, on the other side of the barricades.
This dinner menu is embossed with the royal seal of the King of Prussia and incorporates the royal family’s Hohenzollern crown and includes the royal motto “Gott Mit Uns” (God With Us).
Two months after this dinner, on 18 January 1871, King Wilhelm of Prussia would use his victory to be proclaimed Emperor of Germany at a special ceremony in the Hall of Mirrors, inside the Palace of Versailles.
The Times, 27th November 1870
The King of Prussia and German Emperor, Wilhellm I, in his landau surrounded by family members
Palace of Versailles circa 1870: Otto von Bismarck (seated centre) and Count Hatzfeldt (seated second from left) outside 'The Prefecture' during the siege of Paris. (Photo: Bundesarchiv Bild