Guest Post by Ella March Chase & Giveaway of The Queen's Dwarf

Please welcome Ella March Chase to Passages to the Past!  Ella's novel, The Queen's Dwarf, hits stores today so join me in congratulating her on the release!

After you enjoy the post, be sure to enter to win a copy of The Queen's Dwarf!

How to Delight Your Guests with a Dwarf in a Pie

By Ella March Chase

It isn’t every day someone ‘bakes’ you in a pie, even if you are going to be served to the Queen of England. One of the pivotal historical scenes in the life of Jeffrey Hudson, hero in my novel, The Queen’s Dwarf, involved being hidden in a pie and being served to Charles I’s French born Catholic Queen, Henrietta Maria. Jeffrey was the climax of the royal banquet’s entertainment. He was supposed to delight the homesick and somewhat surly teenage queen who comforted herself with ‘pets’: monkeys and dogs, and human curiosities of nature. What better present for such a young queen than a living doll? What better way to smooth rocky relationship between the king’s best friend, the duke of Buckingham and the queen whose influence over the king Buckingham was determined to limit?

So how does one ‘bake’ an eighteen-inch-tall lad from the village shambles into a culinary showpiece worthy of a queen?

Bulwark pies, or coffin pies were part of every cook’s repertoire, expected for their flash and sense of drama at the end of a banquet. The crust was not intended to be eaten, but rather was viewed as a container, since, during Jeffrey’s time, pie tins had not yet been invented. So how did the bakers get the crust into the correct form to hold “four and twenty blackbirds” as in the nursery rhyme, or, as in Jeffrey’s case—a queen’s dwarf?

The crust was rolled out thick then molded up over a wooden pie dolly, which can still be bought to make a pork pie. It basically looks like the flat end of a mallet that would have been made to the circumference of the pie. The wooden pie dolly would have been gently placed in the center of the rolled out dough, then the edges of the crust would have been folded up around the wooden sides and smoothed to make the pie shape. The pie dolly would have been gently lifted out and set aside. A hole would have been cut in the bottom of the crust then the whole pie shape filled with flour to hold it in shape while baking. It would have been baked, removed from the oven and then the flour removed through the hole in the bottom.

That baked crust would now be used as the ‘pan’ for a second layer of crust, which would be carefully laid inside it and smoothed up the sides. This would be baked, and you would have the bottom and sides of the crust, a fairly sturdy ‘coffin’ or a ‘bulwark’ of crust. Often these ‘bulwarks’ could be shaped into the form of whatever filled them, for example a fish shaped pie, or could be made in other fanciful shapes. The top of the pie would be baked separately and often decorated with piping and cut out shapes from extra crust in elaborate designs.

Once all the pieces were cooled, the cook would assemble the pie with filling to be eaten, black birds to sing, or Jeffrey Hudson, dressed in his miniature suit of armor, ready to entertain a queen. The cook would tuck in the ‘filling’ then, in what must have been a tense kitchen moment, gently lift the whole top crust and lay in place. Final decorations would then be affixed and gold leaf painted on. The masterpiece would be delivered on a silver tray as the high point of the banquet, with a flourish of trumpets.

It could not have been comfortable for Jeffrey—or the blackbirds! Waiting, entombed in that bulwark of crust. One wrong move, and Jeffrey could break the crust. George Villiers, duke of Buckingham would not take Jeffrey’s mistake lightly. Especially since he planned to place Jeffrey into Queen Henrietta Maria’s household as a spy.

And so. . . prepare to share Jeffrey’s experience of being entombed in the pie that could carry him to royal favor or disaster.

Excerpt from The Queen’s Dwarf:
The cook led Ware to where a piecrust was cooling in two separate pieces, the bottom crust upon a silver tray. The master cook signaled and two of his underlings lifted me above the bottom crust.

My feet instinctively searched for purchase. “Do not move under your own power!” the cook snapped. “Go limp so we can fold you up tight.” Hands began to wedge my limbs into positions that made them ache. When I grunted protest, the cook ignored me. “I do not care how you force his leg to fit. It must seem impossible that this dwarf emerged from such tiny space.”

My breastplate gouged my armpit and my teeth all but embedded in my knee. I could taste silk and hoped my spittle would not leave a blotch on my blue hose. When I could not be wedged any tighter, the Cook jammed in the red-and-gilt-striped pole on which pennons were strung, the man forcing it between my legs and the curve of my arms like a bodkin.

“You must not spring out until the perfect moment or the effect will be spoiled,” Ware warned. “Burst from the crust with these pennons waving and march up and down the table.”

With apprentices tucking fabric around my legs, I was more likely to stumble around like a prisoner in shackles. “My foot is going numb,” I said, my hands slickening with sweat where they gripped the wooden pole…

“Seal the coffin lid, boys,” the master cook commanded.

Two underlings scrambled to do so. I watched, helpless, as the crust blotted out the smoke-blackened ceiling, the stone walls, then all the world. It forced all the air from the tiny space allowed me, entombing me in darkness.

About The Queen's Dwarf

Publication Date: January 21, 2014
Thomas Dunne Books
Hardcover; 384p
ISBN-10: 1250006295

A richly imagined, gorgeously written historical novel set in the Stuart court featuring a unique hero: Jeffrey Hudson, a dwarf tasked with spying on the beautiful but vulnerable queen

It's 1629, and King Charles I and his French queen Henrietta Maria have reigned in England for less than three years. Young dwarf Jeffrey Hudson is swept away from a village shambles and plunged into the Stuart court when his father sells him to the most hated man in England—the Duke of Buckingham. Buckingham trains Jeffrey to be his spy in the household of Charles’ seventeen-year-old bride, hoping to gain intelligence that will help him undermine the vivacious queen’s influence with the king.

Desperately homesick in a country that hates her for her nationality and Catholic faith, Henrietta Maria surrounds herself with her "Royal Menagerie of Freaks and Curiosities of Nature"—a "collection" consisting of a giant, two other dwarves, a rope dancer, an acrobat/animal trainer and now Jeffrey, who is dubbed "Lord Minimus."

Dropped into this family of misfits, Jeffrey must negotiate a labyrinth of court intrigue and his own increasingly divided loyalties. For not even the plotting of the Duke nor the dangers of a tumultuous kingdom can order the heart of a man. Though he is only eighteen inches tall, Jeffrey Hudson's love will reach far beyond his grasp—to the queen he has been sent to destroy.

Full of vibrant period detail and perfect for fans of Carrolly Erickson and Philippa Gregory, The Queen's Dwarf by Ella March Chase is a thrilling and evocative portrait of an intriguing era.


To enter to win one hardcover copy of The Queen's Dwarf please complete the form below. Giveaway is open to US residents only and ends on January 31st.

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  1. My heart shudders for that poor guy being stuffed into a pie crust and being put into an environment so different from what he was used to. Thanks for sharing about this fascinating story and for the giveaway opportunity.

  2. How fascinating! It still amazes me that someone like Jeffrey existed. I understand why you chose him for the centerpiece of your book. Watching him emerge from that pie must have really been something to see. And kudos on the book!


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