In 1849, the Illustrated London News featured Queen's Victoria's Twelfth Night Cake, celebrating the the Epiphany, the coming of the Three Kings, developed from the pagan Roman Feast of Saturnalia. Early cakes contained a bean and a pea, to determine who should be King and Queen of Misrule for the night. By the later eighteenth century, chefs learnt to use eggs as raising agents, and rich fruit mixtures replaced the old fashioned yeast or batter type, fruit decorated cakes, growing ever larger and elaborately iced. The first printed Twelfth Cake recipe* is that of John Mollard, of the London Tavern in Bishopsgate Street, in 1803, and he seems to have been the inspiration for this description from R.H.Horne's Memoirs of a London Doll of 1846:
This cartoon by Isaac Cruikshank of 16th January 1779 refers to Sir Francis Burdett's campaign to reform the dreadful Coldbathfields or Middlesex Prison, known as the English Bastille.
By 1866, the Queen herself pronounced the Twelfth Night celebrations as un-Christian, and Mrs Beeton's recipe book omitted the Bean and Pea. Gradually the outrageous antics and traditional rituals were tamed and transformed (helped along by commercialism) into the iced Christmas cake, the silver coins or charms in the Christmas pudding, and the jokes and paper hats in the crackers.
I am not superstitious, but I still feel compelled to take down the last of my Christmas decorations before midnight tonight!