TSAR ALEXANDER III
27 May 1883
(15 May in the Russian Orthodox Calendar)
Banquet for the Sacred Coronation of the Sovereign Emperor Alexander III
and the Sovereign Empress Maria Fyodorovna of Russia,
held in the Palace of Facets, the Kremlin, Moscow.
I certainly shall never see again a soup tureen guarded by soldiers with drawn swords”, recalled the wife of the French Ambassador at the conclusion of this banquet.
The 1883 Coronation of Tsar Alexander III and Tsarina Maria Feodorovna was attended by royalty and dignitaries from across the world.. However, the very first meal consumed by the newly crowned Autocrat of all the Russias, was such a sacred event that foreigners were not permitted to partake in the meal; only Russians.
The diplomatic set was ushered into a corner of the Kremlin’s Palace of Facets where they were only allowed to stand and watch just a portion of the procession of dishes ceremoniously offered to the Imperial couple.
“They told us that when the Emperor raised his glass and asked for wine that was the signal for us to retire; and that it would be after the roast”, recounted the American-born Ambassador’s wife, Mary Waddington.
“Accordingly, as soon as the roast made its appearance all our eyes were riveted upon the Emperor. He raised his glass slowly (very high) to give us time. General Schweinitz, as Doyen, stepped well forward, and made a very low bow. We all bowed and curtseyed low (my knees are becoming more supple) and got ourselves out backwards. It wasn't very difficult, as we had our trains over our arms”.
The artist behind this menu was Viktor Vasnetsov who received an imperial commission to design three menu-cards especially for the Coronation. They included the banquets for May 20th, 24th and 27th.
At the head of the menu-card are the monograms of the Tsar and Tsarina; and across the mast, in an ancient Slavonic font - is written “Священное венчание на царствие Александра III и Марии Федоровны":
"The Sacred Wedding [Coronation] for the Reign of Alexander III and Maria Fyodorovna."
The menu depicts the transfer of the royal regalia from the Kremlin Armoury to the Cathedral of the Dormition, where the Tsar is crowned.
The Emperor and Empress arrived for this banquet at the Palace of Facets at 3:10pm and were met by members of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church.
“Presently we heard a sound of music and trumpets, which told us the Royalties were approaching”, recalled Madam Waddington:
“... and as they came near, we heard the familiar strains of the Polonaise from Glinka's opera "La Vie pour le Czar," which is always played when the Emperor and Empress appear. They came with the usual escort of officers and chamberlains, smiling and bowing graciously to all of us. They seated themselves (always in their cloth of gold mantles, and crowns on their heads) on the two throne chairs; a small table was placed in front of them, and then the dinner began”.
Arranged under a special dais, the throne chairs were those used earlier in the day for the coronation itself at the Cathedral of Assumption.
Standing behind the imperial couple was the Commander of the Chevalier Guard Regiment while, to the side, stood the Emperor’s brothers Grand Dukes Vladimir, Alexei, and Sergei and the Empress’s brother, Prince Waldemar of Denmark.
As the meal began the Tsar removed his crown and placed it on a small table along with the sceptre and globe. The dishes were then served to Their Imperial Majesties by the Grand Marshal of the Court in his capacity as Grand Equerry (Grand Écuyer) along with the Imperial Cup Bearer (Grand Échanson), the Grand Master of Ceremonies and other high-ranking court officials.
“As soon the Sovereigns had taken their places on the thrones”, continued Waddington, “all the Russians at their table sat down too. We couldn't, because we had nothing to sit upon, so we remained standing at the end of the room, facing the estrade”.
“The soupière was preceded by a chamberlain in gold
lace; held by a Master of Ceremonies, and flanked on
each side by a gigantic Chevalier-garde, sabre-à-nu.
There was always a collection of officials, chamberlains,
pages, etc., bringing up the rear of the cortege, so that at
each entree a little procession appeared. We saw three
dishes brought in with the same ceremony — the fish was
so large on a large silver dish that two Masters of Cere-
monies held that… It was really a wonderful sight, like a picture in some old history of the Moyen Age”.
Outside, following The Lord’s prayer, boomed a 61 gun salute for the Emperor followed by 51 for the Empress and 31 each for the imperial family, the clergy and His Imperial Majesty’s subjects.
The banquet was one of traditional Russian celebratory fare. Borscht consommé (Borshchok) made from beetroots and accompanied by Russian pies called pirogki (pirozhki) were followed by platters of stuffed whole steamed sterlet along with roast game birds, saddles of veal and a Russian speciality known as zalivnoe: ornate moulds of jellied meats and vegetables.
At the meal’s finale came yet another dish from the motherland with its deceptively mundane name, Guryev porridge (Guriev Kasha). It was a favourite dessert of Alexander III and owes its name to one-time Finance Minister to Alexander I, Count Dmitry Alexandrovich Guryev. The dish, served in a clay pot with a burnt sugar crust, consists of vanilla and cinnamon flavored semolina with layers of preserved berries and caramelised nuts. Key to the sublimeness of this dessert, each layer of the filling is separated by the golden skin lifted from the top of baked cream that is then drizzled with honey.
As guests dined, they listened to the cantata, “Moscow”, composed by Tchaikovsky especially for the Coronation.
“I don't think we shall see anything more curious than
that state banquet,” confidently predicted the eyewitness, Mary Waddington.
Борщок и похлебка
Borshchok (Borscht consommé made from
beetroots) and/or thick soup
Pirogki (pirozhki): small Russian pies to
accompany the soup
Steamed whole sterlets
Roast saddles of veal
Zalivnoe: ornate moulds of jellied meats
Жаркое цыплята и дичь
Roast chickens and game birds
Guriev Kasha (porridge) a baked dessert with a burnt-sugar crust that consists of vanilla and cinnamon flavored semolina with layers of preserved fruits and candied nuts separated by the skin of baked cream drizzled in honey.
(Above and below): depictions of the Tsar's Coronation dinner in the Palace of Facets as they appeared in the official journal
The throne prepared for the Coronation of Alexander III in 1883