This shows the tree as decorated at Windsor Castle for the Duchess of Kent (Queen Victoria’s mother) and the royal children in 1850.
The current research suggests that Queen Caroline ,the wife and Queen consort of George III may have been the first to introduce the custom into the country circa 1780. Certainly around 1820 another Queen Caroline, Caroline of Brunswick who was married to George IV had a member of her household erect a tree at Windsor ( Windsor was the place where traditionally the royal family celebrated Christmas) This was remarked upon by A. J. Kempe in his 1836 edition of The Loseley Manuscript:
We remember a German of the household of the late Queen Caroline (1781-1812) at Windsor making what he termed a Christmas tree for a juvenile party at Christmas. The tree was the branch of an evergreen fixed on a board. Its boughs bent under the weight of gilt oranges, almonds etc and under it was a neat model of a farmhouse surrounded by figures of animals. The forming of a Christmas tree is, we believe, a common custom in Germany.
This is the type of tree that Fairfax House recreate every year in their Keeping of Christmas exhibition.
It is a holly branch, set on a board, decorated with preserved candied fruits and spirals of paper inscribed with uplifting messages: Joy to the World,etc.
Under the tree is a sugar paste scene of the nativity, surrounded by a low latted fence.
A very different article than the Victorian one , I am sure you will agree.
The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge visited northern Germany in 1798 a recounted seeing similar trees decorating homes at Christmas there for his local newspaper The Friend (1809-1818).In his experience the tree was decorated with small candles and coloured paper hanging from the twigs of the branches. (A deadly combination….) But it was sufficiently novel for him to comment,which suggests that the custom had not yet been adopted by less exalted homes in England than those inhabited by the royal family.
That situation seems to have changed by the mid 1820s-1830s . From this date Christmas trees were sent to London markets for sale.
This print shows the stage coach the Norwich ” Times” delivering Christmas goods to the London markets. It is James Pollard’s print The Approach to Christmas and the coach is shown laden with trees( which have no roots and have been sawn clean at the trunk,and therefore must be destined to be used as decorations) It is shown proceeding along the Mile End Road into London from Norwich to its final destination, the Bull Inn at Aldgate in the city. Note the coach has no passengers but instead is filled with goods to sell and parcels to deliver. A more economic project at this time of year.
So could Jane Austen have decorated such a tree? Sadly I think the answer is no ,but that had she lived into the 1820s the answer would have been in the affirmative. I think she just missed out on this fashion taking hold.
Tomorrow not only do we commemorate her birthday but we also begin to consider the sort of festive food Jane Austen may have eaten and also wrote about in her novels. Do join me….