Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle," in The lllustrated London News, Christmas, 1848
Folio (15 x 10 in.; 381 x 255 mm, sight). Fine hand-colored wood-engraved illustration depicting the royal family standing by an illuminated Christmas tree laden with sweetmeats, cakes, and confections, the scene enclosed by a cartouche, the cartouche decorated with fruit and arrangements of fish, fowl, and wild game at the bottom, punctuated by roundels depicting winter scenes and acts of charity to the poor. Matted, glazed, and framed.
Grolier/Elliott 39; Elliott, Inventing Christmas, pp. 73--74
The Royal Tannenbaums. While Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's consort, is commonly credited with introducing the Christmas tree to England, this was not case, although he played a major role in popularizing the custom.
Decorating with boughs began in pagan times, a practice that was discouraged by the early church. One of the earliest accounts describing a tree comes from German Alsace and is dated 1521: "At Christmas fir trees are set up in the rooms at Strasbourg and hung with roses cut from paper of many colors, apples, wafers, spanglegold, sugar, etc." The record is a fragment, so it is not known whether the trees were lighted with candles. It is generally accepted that Christmas trees began as a local custom in the Alsatian capital, possibly as early as the seventeenth century (Elliott, Inventing Christmas, p. 74). Queen Charlotte, wife of George III and Victoria's aunt, treasured her tree at Christmas as the focal point of holiday table. Victoria at the age of thirteen recorded having had her own tree.
The image in the Christmas 1848 edition of the Illustrated London News depicted the fashionable and handsome royal couple and their brood of five small children standing near a tree set upon a table laden with toys, fruits, sweets, cakes, and all manner of sumptuous confection must have excited the public's imagination with the warm notion of an intimate family gathering amidst the extraordinary abundance of the season.
The illustration bears the following description: "The Christmas Tree represented in the above Engraving is that which is annually prepared by her Majesty's command for the Royal children. Similar trees are arranged in other apartments of the Castle for her Majesty ... and the Royal household. The tree employed for this festive purpose is a young fir about eight fee high, and has six tiers of branches. On each tier, or branch, are arranged a dozen wax tapers. Pendant from the branches are elegant trays, baskets, bonbonnieres, and other receptacles for sweetmeats . . . . Fancy cakes and gilt gingerbread and eggs filled with sweetmeats are also suspended by variously-coloured ribbons from the branches. The tree, which stands upon a table covered with white damask, is supported at the root by piles of sweets of a larger kind, and by dolls and toys of all descriptions . . . . On the summit of the tree stands the small figure of an angel, with outstretched wings, holding in each hand a wreath. Those trees are objects of much interest to all visitors at the Castle, from Christmas Eve, when they are first set up, until twelfth night when they are finally removed . . . These trees are not accessible to the curiousity fo the public; but her Majesty's visitors accompany the Queen from room to room to inspect them when they are illuminated.