Menu dated: 19th November 1891
Dinner at the Hofburg Palace, Vienna, hosted by His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary in honour of a visit by Their Majesties King Albert and Queen Carola of Saxony
Puff-pastries oozing with a lobster and truffle mousse were offered to imperial guests at this palace dinner in 1891, ahead of plates of tiny boned spit-roasted larks that had been stuffed full of foie-gras.
Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary was the host of this dinner which celebrated a unique 'renunciation' ceremony that belongs to an era long gone.
Prince Friedrich August of Saxony, who would later become the last King of Saxony, was betrothed to Archduchess Louise of Tuscany, who was a member of the Habsburg Imperial Family. But before any Habsburg Princess could marry into a foreign royal family, they first had to partake in a ‘renunciation’ ritual to forgo any rights to the throne of Austria-Hungary.
And so it was, earlier on this November day in 1891, that the engaged couple accompanied Emperor Franz Joseph to the throne-room of the Hofburg Palace where they were read the Deed of Renunciation before being administered oaths by the Prince-Archbishop of Vienna, and signing the imperial parchment.
There were 173 guests attending this 14-course dinner that was so large, it began at four o’clock in the afternoon. Sitting at the head table alongside the Emperor and the engaged couple was the reigning King and two future Kings of Saxony. Also at the head table was the then heir to the Habsburg throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and the Emperor’s brother Archduke Carl Ludwig. To the side of the head table sat another 14 Archdukes and four Archduchesses and all number Princes – foreign and local – mingled with an array of Counts, Barons, and Archbishops.
Down the length of three grand tables, guests devoured the huge silver platters stacked high with roast pheasants and stuffed artichoke hearts for the main course; before a sublime imperial Viennese treat of strawberry ice-creams was served after the platters of cheeses. These were no ordinary ice-creams: they appeared in edible baskets and were shaped as life-sized strawberries with a centre of white-coffee ice-cream: perfect for being daintily plonked into the mouth in one or two bites. Desserts were always a highlight at the table of the Emperor Franz Joseph who was renowned for both his sweet tooth and love of coffee.
Not surprisingly, the Emperor was not joined by his wife Empress Elisabeth who had set sail for Corfu in September. Her attendance at court functions was becoming infrequent and it was left to the Emperor's sister-in-law, Archduchess Maria Theresa, to take on the duties as hostess alongside Emperor Franz Joseph.
While this imperial banquet may have been a stunning success, the marriage would not be. Two days after this banquet the Archduchess, having now renounced her rights, married Prince Friedrich August. In just over a decade he would ultimately become King Friedrich August III of Saxony, but she would never become Queen.
As the Archduchess sat just three seats down from her soon-to-be father-in-law and future King George of Saxony, it would have been hard for her to ever imagine that he would one day attempt to have her sent to a "lunatic asylum" when it was discovered she was having an affair with her children’s tutor. The future King would also decree a civil divorce without consulting the couple who were the stars of this pre-marital banquet. Wisely, the Archduchess would flee to Geneva.
The Archduchess would never return to Saxony; her husband would never forgive her; he would never recognise the imposed civil divorce or remarry; and she would never become Queen.
If palace gossip was to be a guide, it seems the marriage held no hope from the start. A former Governess to the imperial court recounted how she stood:
"... in the corridor at the Hofburg to see the wedding procession of the Archduchess Louise of Tuscany and Prince Frederick Augustus of Saxony... No happiness is predicted as the outcome of to-day's wedding. It is said that Louise was in love with and desirous of marrying Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, but for political reasons the Emperor refused to sanction the match, in fact, there had been no end of a row, and she was sequestered in the Convent of the Sacred Heart until she consented to marry Frederick Augustus".
"At any rate", the Governess continued "the sympathy all seems to be with Louise. She is not by any means pretty, though she has a bright face, and looked extremely well in her magnificent wedding dress".
And even more ominously the Governess recounted:
"It was a scene which I shall always remember, but the thing that impressed me most deeply was that amid all this splendour, all this magnificence, no one, from Emperor and bride down to the ladies-in-waiting of the Royal suite, looked happy".
Strangely, for a banquet designed to bring the imperial Habsburg House and the Royal Family of Saxony (House of Wettin) closer together, the menu pays honour to members of the British royal family with dishes including Croustades à la Victoria, Suprême de poulardes à la George IV and Potage à la Wynnstay, named after the childhood home of Britain’s then reigning Queen Victoria.
From the private Royal Menu Collection of © Jake Smith
Fresh oysters from Ostende on the Belgian coast
Potage à la Wynnstay
Cream of leek soup named after the Wynnstay estate in Wales where Queen Victoria, as a child, spent much time with her mother
Croustades à la Victoria
Puff pastries filled with a lobster and truffle mousse
named after Queen Victoria
Darnes de saumon, sauce ravigote
Salmon steaks dressed in Ravigote flavoured with capers, onions, mustard and chervil
Pièce et filet de bœuf
Filet of beef
Suprême de poulardes à la George IV
Chicken breasts, with wing attached, braised in almond milk named after King George IV
Chaud-froid de mauviettes
Cold boned larks stuffed with foie-gras before being coated in a white sauce, decorated with shaped truffle slices and herbs; and sealed in a thin layer of aspic jelly.
Faisans rôtis, salade, compote
Roast pheasants with salad and fruit compotes
Fonds d’artichauts aux petits pois
Artichoke hearts with young garden peas
Crême aux ananas à la Mazarin
Génoise cake filed with pineapple cream and crystallised pineapple segments
Glaces aux fraises et au café blanc
Strawberry and white-coffee ice-creams
Standing in for the Empress: Archduchess Maria Theresa assists the Emperor with 'hostess' duties while Empress Elisabeth spends time in Corfu.
Click (above) to enlarge details of the Imperial Austro-Hungarian crest that appears atop the menu-card.