Monday, May 2, 2011

Royal wedding - Prussian style

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the death of Sir George Jackson, a 19th century diplomat of quiet distinction. Though little-remembered today, his diaries and letters were edited by his wife (a slightly better-remembered author) and published not long after his death. Typically, the diaries describe his diplomatic life. One interesting entry focuses on the marriage of Prince William to Princess Amelia - a royal wedding, Prussian style.

Jackson was born in 1785, the youngest son of Dr Thomas Jackson, one of the canons of the Abbey of Westminster at the time, and subsequently canon residentiary of St Paul’s. Although initially destined to follow his father into the church, he went instead, in 1801, to Paris. There he acted as unpaid attache to his much older brother, Francis, who had been appointed minister during negotiations that were to lead to the Treaty of Amiens (and a temporary halt in the ongoing war between France and Britain).

In 1805, during his brother’s temporary absence, George Jackson was presented at the Prussian court as charge d’affaires. The following year, he was sent to north Germany to oversee a renewal in friendly relations with Prussia, and, in 1807-1808, he helped with the negotiations and ratification of a new treaty with the Kingdom of Prussia. He was subsequently appointed as one of the secretaries of legation in the mission to the Spanish Junta.

Later, Jackson was posted to the headquarters of the allied armies in Germany throughout the campaigns of 1813-1814; finally entering Paris with the allies. On the return of the King of Prussia to Berlin, he was charge d’affaires to that court, remaining until 1816, when he was appointed to St Petersburg. Subsequently, he was sent to Madrid, and, from 1823 to 1827, he was posted to Washington, as commissioner, under the first article of the Treaty of Ghent, for the settlement of American claims.

After several years in Sierra Leone, as Commissary Judge, he was appointed, in 1832 (the year he was knighted), Chief Commissioner for the convention on the abolition of the African slave trade. This took him first to Rio Janeiro, until 1841, then to Surinam, and, from 1845, to St Paul de Loanda. He retired in 1859, having married only three years earlier; and he died at Boulogne-sur-Mer on 2 May 1861. There is very little information about Jackson online, not even a Wikipedia article - although there is one about his wife, Catherine, who went on to become author.

After Jackson’s death, Catherine edited her husband’s diaries and letters from when he was still a young man in the early days of his diplomatic career. These were published in 1872 by Richard Bentley in two volumes as The Diaries and Letters of Sir George Jackson K C H - From the Peace of Amiens to the Battle of Talavara. A year later, two more volumes were published: The Bath Archives - A Further Selection from the Diaries and Letters of Sir George Jackson K C H from 1809 to 1916.

Lady Jackson says in her introduction to the first volume: ‘The great interest taken by Mr G Jackson in public affairs, from the very outset of his career, and the especial advantage he possessed of a thorough diplomatic training, under his brother - a man of considerable talent, and distinction in his profession - give to the observations and opinions contained in the diaries and letters of this young attache, a certain value, as outlines of the events of the above-named period, which are traced, it is thought, with sufficient firmness to convey a fairly correct notion of the scenes depicted and the characters portrayed.’

Here is one long extract from Jackson’s diary (available at Internet Archive) about a Prince William getting married - though the royal family is Prussian, and the wedding took place in Berlin.

13 January 1804
‘Yesterday, the marriage of Prince William and the Princess Amelia took place at the palace. The royal diadem was placed on the head of the bride by the queen mother, in the presence of the royal family. They then went in procession to the state rooms, fitted up by Frederick I, and where all royal marriages are performed.

The prince, in the uniform of a Prussian general, with the princess, dressed in white satin and silver - four maids of honour bearing her train - walked first; the king, with the queen mother; the queen, with Prince Henry, and eight other royal couples followed. Each was preceded by gentlemen of their respective courts, and followed by their chief officers, with the maids of honour attending the royal ladies.

The procession passed through the old court chapel and the gallery - two hundred feet in length - to the White Hall, in which are the statues, in white marble, of the old electors.

Here the Court chaplain, M Sack, was waiting, under a canopy of red velvet, to perform the marriage ceremony. All the royal family, with the exception of the queen mother - for whom a velvet-covered chair was provided - stood in a half circle round the bride and bridegroom; the rest of the company formed a second half circle outside the royal one.

At the moment when the rings were exchanged, a signal was given, and the twenty-four cannon before the palace were fired in succession three times.

The Court then proceeded to the card-room, where the newly-married couple sat down to whist with the king and the queen mother. The Queen, Prince Henry, the bride’s mother - the Landgravine of Hesse - and the Prince of Orange, formed another table; the rest of the company made up four others. When they had finished their rubber, they adjourned to the state-room, and the royal party took supper; which was served on gold plate, and under a canopy of red velvet. During the repast a band of music was stationed in the silver orchestra. This orchestra is, in fact, only plated; the original one was of solid silver, but at the commencement of the Seven Years’ War, the Great Frederick, finding his coffers rather empty, melted it down for crowns, and supplied its place with the present one.

The meats served to the royal table were cut up by Generals Elsna and Beville - standing - and were afterwards distributed, or handed round, by the marshal, and officers of the Court, les grandes maƮtresses, and maids of honour. These menial offices are performed by them only on such exceptional occasions, and their duties end when the royal party have drunk their first glass, which, according to court etiquette, is always immediately after the first course is served. Their distinguished attendants then retire to take supper also, with the rest of the company, at adjoining tables. There were five of those extra tables, each presided over by a person of high rank.

Supper ended, they returned to the White Hall, and the ministers of state, each with a fourfold burning torch of white wax in his hand, assembled near the throne to await the arrival of the Court to commence the Fackel dance, with which the marriage ceremony concludes; a custom observed only at this Court, and supposed to have been originally intended to represent the Court of Hymen conducting the new-married pair to the nuptial chamber.

As soon as the royal party entered, the trumpets and kettle-drums of the king’s Garde du Corps, and the regiment of Gendarmes, struck up a sort of polonaise. The grand marshal, with his long black wand, led off first. The ministers, with their flaming torches, followed. Then came the prince and his wife, and the four maids of honour bearing the train. Slowly marching towards the royalties, ranged in a circle round the throne, the princess left the arm of her husband, and advancing towards the king, curtseyed profoundly, thus inviting him to make the first tour with her. This over, the same ceremony was gone through with all the princes, according to the order observed in the marriage procession. The prince then commenced his tours, first with the queen mother, then the queen, and all the princesses in succession; the ministers, with their hymeneal torches, preceding each couple. To some of the festive torch-bearers these numerous tours seemed to be tours de force they were hardly equal to; and they must surely have succumbed if Providence had not spared them the minuets with which they at first were threatened. But at length the tours were ended; and the royal bride and bridegroom were then escorted to their apartments to undress; the former by the queen mother and the other royal ladies, the latter by the king and princes.

When the princess was supposed to be in bed, the company assembled in the ante-room to receive from her grande maĆ®tresse small pieces of embroidered riband, representing her royal highness’s garter.

Thus ended this royal wedding, which put me in mind of an old drama, got up with new scenery, dresses, processions, banquets, trumpets, kettle- drums, &c, &c.

We take our share of the general fuss, and celebrate the happy event by a ball on the 18th.’

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