The Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle inspired Cliveden to share its own royal history and look at the roles the Chew women played.
Cliveden’s royal connection dates to March 13, 1840 when Anna Maria Rush (1820-1887), granddaughter of Dr. Benjamin Rush, sent Anne Sophia Penn Chew (1805-1892) a letter and some crumbs of Queen Victoria’s wedding cake:
My dear Miss Ann,
I do not know that you will value any thing [sic] so trifling as Queen Victoria’s wedding cake; but as Mrs. Stevenson who was at this marriage has kindly sent us a [illegible], I beg leave to enclose to you a portion of the crumbs that fill to my share, as a curiosity at least.
It is chiefly worth sending for this opportunity it affords me of sending Mamma’s affectionate love to Mrs. Chew, and adding the hope that you are all well at Cliveden. I am happy to say we are all so [sic] at Sydenham; and I remain my dear Miss Ann.
Anna Maria Rush
March 13, 1840
Modern wedding cakes made from sponge cake probably wouldn’t last very long through multiple mailings. Queen Victoria’s wedding cake, however, was a “plum cake,” or a fruit cake. Fruit cakes were perfect for royal cakes because they could withstand not being refrigerated for extensive decorating. This also meant it could be mailed to both Anna Maria and Anne Sophia without turning into dust.
Queen Victoria’s wedding cake crumbs were highly valued as souvenirs and would have been passed between members of only the highest social circles, like the Stevensons, Rushs, and Chews. Social wealth for women of elite families was about who you knew, who you married, and how you presented yourself. When Anne Sophia received this letter, she was 35 years old and unmarried. The duty of an unmarried daughter was to stay and help her mother around the house. Her only sister Eliza (1798-1874) married James Murray Mason at Cliveden 18 years earlier and resided in Maryland with her husband. Though unmarried, Anne Sophia made sure to always present herself and Cliveden to the best she could, even if it meant borrowing money from her cook, Hannah Welsh, in order to make payments.
Looking at the letter and Anne Sophia’s life together brings up interesting questions about the societal constraints on upper class women’s lives. Share your thoughts to the following questions in the comments section below:
- Queen Victoria’s wedding was a public spectacle. What role does a royal wedding play in the public eye, especially one of an unmarried woman monarch?
- During the colonial period and early American Republic, women could only own property once they were widows. Anne Sophia never married but claimed full financial responsibility for Cliveden’s upkeep and renovations as its owner, plus the social obligations of “entertaining” friends at the house. How does the legal and social contract of marriage affect a woman’s ability to entertain guests and maintain her social wealth?
- How is marriage and ‘social wealth’ still important today?
To encourage productive conversation, please use “I” statements.