many tea books with originating the ritual we know as afternoon tea. I just love her hat, don't you? As of late, I have discovered a controversy surrounding her. Her status as the inventor of this delightful repast has been challenged by one Michael Coffey, The Tea Geek (how ironic no?). Historically speaking, she is some what of a mysterious figure, not much is really known about her. She was an elder courtier of Queen Victoria, and her official title was Lady of the Bed Chamber, or a Lady-in-Waiting. She was more of a friend, companion, and confidant, than a servant to her Queen. Therefore, she carried a great deal of influence with the young sovereign she was assigned to serve from 1841-1847. Through careful study, those smarter and more dedicated to research than I, have found that many tea rituals and practices were carried out in courtly society long before the Duchess Anna's time. So why do so many tea authoritarians give the Duchess the honor of being the sole inventor of the lovely pastime of afternoon tea?
What should be observed is, that while Anna may not have began the actual taking of tea in the afternoon per se, she was most likely responsible for its popularity and for the certain way (her way) of taking afternoon tea. Mr. Coffey coined the term, Bedford Orthodoxy, to describe the Duchess' version of afternoon tea. I like it, Bedford Orthodoxy, and I think she would have liked it too. It is said that she instructed her maids to bring her tea, and some light snacks, to her bedchamber to stave off what she called, that sinking feeling, that she suffered between the hours of noon luncheon and the 8 o'clock supper time observed by the aristocracy. In other words, she was in need of an in-between-meal snack, and who can blame her?
But it wasn't just the little sandwiches, puddings (the English term for sweets) and tea that mattered, but rather how they were presented, served, and eaten. The proper attire to wear, etiquette used, conversation spoken, and the social rank of the invited guests, were all factors in Anna's afternoon tea ritual, or her Bedford Orthodoxy. All of which, she would have naturally passed onto Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, as her influential Lady of the Bedchamber! And Queen Victoria had a very long reign indeed, and she has got to be England's most beloved Sovereign. It is dutifully recorded that Queen Victoria loved her afternoon teas, thanks to Duchess Anna no doubt,and a particular tea time favorite of Victoria was sponge cake spread with jam and cream. And as everyone knows, what The Royals do, so does everyone else. I often wonder if the Duchess knew what a huge impact her Bedford Orthodoxy and influence on the Queen would have on society, then and now. Never forget; women reign supreme in the realm of influence!
These days however, like many time honored traditions that fall by the wayside as times change, it appears that the English don't seem to be too keen on having afternoon tea, not in the manner we Americans assume they do anyway. Afternoon tea is no longer the formal affair performed at home when the mantle clock strikes four o'clock. Instead a simple cuppa consumed in a mug, with or without a biscuit, or a bit of cake, might be the norm. The formal tradition is still observed to a degree in some households on special occasions, but if you want the full afternoon tea treatment, then you'll have to call upon the local tea shops that still keep this lovely tradition alive and to the 'tea', in England.