Saturday, 20 December 2014

What is the haut ton?

The first quadrille at Almack's c1815 from The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow (1889)
The first quadrille at Almack's c1815
from The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow (1889)
An obsolete expression

If you read a Georgian or Regency romance, there is a very good chance that you will come across the term ‘haut ton’ or simply, ‘ton’. In my Georgian novel, A Perfect Match, which is currently undergoing its final edit, I refer to the ton in the opening paragraph. I have read so many period romances that talk about the ton that I did not think twice about using the word. Until, that was, my husband, who has not read a great many Regency romances (if any), asked me what it meant. I immediately perceived the need for a glossary! So what does the phrase haut ton or ton mean?

What is the haut ton?

According to The Chambers Dictionary, ton is a noun meaning fashion or people of fashion. Haut means high, and so haut ton means high fashion or people of high fashion.

The phrase haut ton is derived from the French and literally means high tone. According to etymology online, the word tone has meant the “prevailing state of manners” since 1735 and ton has referred to the “prevailing mode, style, fashionable ways” since 1769.

Who were the haut ton of Georgian London?

The haut ton or ton, were the fashionable elite of Georgian society. They exhibited the high tone and refined manners which characterised those of good breeding and fortune. They represented that part of society that was able to live in luxury and spend a large amount of their time pursuing pleasure. They were families with rank, connections and wealth.

The Opera House
from The Microcosm of London (1808-10)
A definition from 1823

John Bee’s dictionary of slang of 1823 provided the following definitions:
The haut ton: The highest orders of society, who see life; they are so denominated by the bon-ton and bon-genre, and are all of high breeding and large fortune. Money alone does not confer the haut-titre, nor giving a ball in a fine house; nor commanding a play, nor driving four-in-hand, but these together may constitute haut-ton with very little trouble.
The bon-ton: Highflier Cyprians, and those who run after them; from Bon – good, easy – and ton, or tone, the degree of tact and tension to be employed by modish people; frequently called ‘the ton’ only. Persons taking up good portions of their hours in seeking pleasure, are of the Bon-ton, as stage-actors and frequenters of play-houses, visitors at watering-places, officers, &c &c.

In Paris they are both called le bon genre. The appellation is much oftener applied than assumed. High life, particularly of whoredom: he who does not keep a girl, or part of one, cannot be of the Bon-ton; when he ceases, let him cut. Bon ton – is included in haut-ton, and is French for that part of society who live at their ease, as to income and pursuits, whose manners are tonish, and who, like other divisions of society, employ terms of their own, which rather sparingly they engraft on the best King’s English. Mascul et Fem Terms which denote the ton: ‘The go, the mode, or pink of the mode; bang-up, the prime of life, or all prime; the thing, the dash, and a dasher; quite the Varment – a four-in-hand, a whip, a very jarvy; a swell, a diamond of the first water.’ None can expect to attain perfection in all these, unless he could obtain the same assistance that Faustus had, viz Leviathan; and then he could not begrudge to meet the same end. (1)
A masquerade at the Pantheon from The Microcosm of London (1808-10)
A masquerade at the Pantheon
from The Microcosm of London (1808-10)
Under his definition for life, John Bee went on to say:
Life: To live joyously, is ‘life’. ‘Seeing life’, is said of the boarding-school miss, when she is first introduced to a ball-room. ‘Going up to town, to see a bit of life’, is a common expression with those who come up to visit the theatres, piazzas, and shows. ‘Life in its varieties’, high and low life, but chiefly a softened expression for the latter.

‘High life’, is properly – living among the great and titled ones. ‘A bit of high life’, would be a visit to Almack’s or the masquerade, and taking a stroll into – a hell. (1)
He went on to say that:
No two pursuits can differ more than ‘Life' in the several classes of society: with the haut-ton, routs, cards, and up-all-night, constitute 'life’; whereas the cobbler's wife considers no higher enjoyment of life exists, than taking a drop of heavy-wet on a St. Monday with her dear Mr. Lapstone, while he plays at skittles and blows a cloud. (1)

Playing cards

Note
(1) Quotes from John Bee's Slang, a dictionary of the turf, the ring, the chase, the pit, of bon-ton and the varieties of life (1823)

Sources used include:
Bee, John, Slang, a dictionary of the turf, the ring, the chase, the pit, of bon-ton and the varieties of life (1823)
The Chambers Dictionary (1998)

Etymology online
All photographs © Andrew Knowles - www.flickr.com/photos/dragontomato

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Perdita and Florizel - Mary Robinson's affair with the Prince

Left: Florizel - George, Prince of Wales from The Lady's Magazine (1792)  Right: Perdita - Mary Robinson from The Poetical Works of   the late Mrs Mary Robinson (1806)
Left: Florizel - George, Prince of Wales from The Lady's Magazine (1792)
Right: Perdita - Mary Robinson from The Poetical Works of 
the late Mrs Mary Robinson (1806)
Who was Perdita?

On Saturday 20 November 1779, Mary Robinson first played the part of Perdita at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Perdita was the female lead in Perdita and Florizel, David Garrick’s adaptation of the last two acts of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale.

Rather than the flowing pretty dress usually worn by Perdita, Mary sported a closely fitted jacket with the red ribbons of a common milkmaid. Although this costume was criticised in some of the papers, it was undoubtedly contributed to Mary’s success.

Mary Robinson

Mary had been about to launch her theatrical career in 1773 but had been persuaded to get married instead. Her husband was Thomas Robinson, an indigent solicitor’s clerk, who had lied about his future prospects. The couple lived beyond their means and, desperate for money, Robinson agreed to Mary becoming an actress.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan engaged Mary to perform at his theatre in Drury Lane. David Garrick, who had coached her for her 1773 debut that had never taken place, loyally came out of retirement to prepare her for the part of Juliet. Mary gave her first performance on 10 December 1776 to widespread acclaim.

  Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, from The Microcosm of London (1808-10)
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, from The Microcosm of London (1808-10)
The royal command performance

Perdita and Florizel was well-received and the King commanded a royal performance which took place on 3 December 1779. The King’s eldest son, George, Prince of Wales, accompanied his parents to the theatre. The royal box was very close to the stage and gave the 17 year old Prince a close view of the actors on the stage and in the wings.

George IV from Huish's Memoirs of her late royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818)
George IV
from Huish's Memoirs of her late
royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818)
George made flattering comments that were loud enough for Mary to hear whilst Mary performed her lines as if for the Prince alone. George was dazzled. The next morning, he declared to his confidante Mary Hamilton, one of the ladies in waiting at court, that he
had fallen madly in love with Mary Robinson.

Florizel in love

Adopting the name Florizel, the Prince started a passionate correspondence with ‘Perdita’. His friend, George Capel, Viscount Malden, acted as messenger, urging Mary to meet the Prince. Mary wrote back, encouraging the Prince to be patient and offering sisterly advice.

Writing table at Hampton Court Palace
Writing table at Hampton Court Palace
Although for many months, George’s affair with Mary was no more than a passionate correspondence, the press was quick to comment on their relationship.

In order to quash this unfavourable publicity and comply with the Prince’s wishes, Mary agreed to leave the theatre. On 31 May 1780, she gave her farewell performance, playing the cross-dressed part of Eliza/Sir Harry Revel in The Miniature Picture and Widow Brady in The Irish Widow.

  Mrs Robinson - the celebrated Perdita  from The Memoirs of George IV by R Huish (1830)
Mrs Robinson - the celebrated Perdita
from The Memoirs of George IV by R Huish (1830)
Reputation at risk

The Prince continued to push for a meeting. Mary knew that she was risking her entire reputation if she agreed. It was not until George enclosed a bond for £20,000 to be paid on his reaching his majority in one of his letters that Mary eventually agreed to an assignation.

George and Mary probably did not meet until as late as June 1780. The chosen venue was Kew, near to the house where the Prince lived with the Duke of York. Over the next few months, they met many times at Kew, either in the gardens or at one of the servants’ houses or at the inn on nearby Eel Pie Island in the River Thames.

The Old Palace at Kew  from Memoirs of HM Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg Strelitz, Queen of Great Britain, by WM Craig (1818)
The Old Palace at Kew
from Memoirs of HM Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg Strelitz,
Queen of Great Britain
, by WM Craig (1818)
Celebrity status

Mary’s relationship with the Prince pushed her into the limelight even more than her acting career had done. People were interested in what she wore and where she went. She had become a Georgian celebrity!

The Prince established Mary in a house in Cork Street where she lavishly entertained him and his male friends. She wore a miniature of George around her neck and paraded around town in a variety of carriages. One carriage in particular was emblazoned with her initials encircled by a wreath of rosebuds which at a distance gave the appearance of a royal coronet.

Vauxhall by T Rowlandson  - Mary is on the right in a white dress with the Prince of Wales  at her side © British Museum
Vauxhall by T Rowlandson
- Mary is on the right in a white dress with the Prince of Wales
at her side © British Museum
The end of the affair

Mary continued to receive bad press. Cartoons were printed lampooning the Prince and his lover. There was outrage when Mary had dared to take a side box at the Opera House as if she was one of the nobility and not merely a courtesan. There was an unfortunate incident at Covent Garden where Mary flew into a rage on finding her husband with another woman. The King did not like all the bad publicity and wanted the affair finished, promising George his own establishment.

Opera House from The Microcosm of London (1808-10)
Opera House from The Microcosm of London (1808-10)
The Prince’s interest began to wane. The bad press was uncomfortable and George doubted Mary’s faithfulness to him. And with good cause; Mary was intimately involved with his friend, Lord Malden. By the end of 1780, Mary’s charms had been superseded by those of the courtesan, Elizabeth Armistead. All at once, it was over. Mary did not see it coming.

The price of a reputation

Mary was determined not to go quietly. She had been living expensively and had massive debts. The Prince’s desertion was disastrous. She had a large number of the Prince’s love letters which she threatened to publish, using them as leverage in negotiations to compensate her for the loss of her reputation and her career. Eventually Mary agreed to give up the letters in return for £5000 and the promise of an annuity.

George IV coin
George IV coin
The papers continued to link their names together for years, perhaps encouraged by Mary’s persistence in wearing the Prince’s miniature, now encrusted with diamonds, around her neck.

It is a sad reflection that Mary Robinson, an acclaimed actress and later a feminist writer and poet, is remembered today for her brief affair with the Prince of Wales and not for her other achievements.

Sources used include:
Ackermann, Rudolph, and Pyne, William Henry, The Microcosm of London or London in miniature (1808-1810, reprinted 1904)
Byrne, Paula, Perdita, the life of Mary Robinson (2004)
Huish, Robert, Memoirs of George IV (1830)
Levy, Martin J, Robinson, Mary (Perdita) (1756/8-1800) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn Jan 2008, accessed 2 July 2013)
Robinson, Mrs Mary, The Poetical Works of the late Mrs Mary Robinson: including many pieces never before published (1806)

All photographs © Andrew Knowles - www.flickr.com/photos/dragontomato

Friday, 28 November 2014

What is an equerry?

Statue of George III on horseback, Cockspur Street, London
Statue of George III on horseback,
Cockspur Street, London
While I was reading Fanny Burney’s diaries, I came across frequent references to the post of equerry. But what exactly was an equerry?

What is an equerry?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, an equerry is: “An officer of the British royal household who attends or assists members of the royal family.” (1)

Members of the royal family still have equerries today who help them fulfil their public duties. The role is equivalent to that of an aide-de-camp and an equerry is seconded to the role from the armed forces for a period of three years.

The role of equerry in the Georgian period

Historically, an equerry was an officer in charge of the stables of a member of the royal family. Today, the Crown Equerry is in charge of the Royal Mews, but the Queen’s Equerry personally assists the Queen with her duties.

Royal Mews, London
Royal Mews, London
Thoms made this connection with the control of the stables in his Book of the Court written at the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign:
“The Chief Equerry was formerly always styled Gentleman of the Horse, as the first Gentleman of the Bed-chamber was entitled Groom of the Stole.
He is the next officer to the Master of the Horse, and in his absence presided over all affairs relating to the Royal Stables. His salary is now fixed at 1000l per annum. That of the remaining Equerries, of which there are four, at 750l per annum.” (2)
What did an equerry do?

Fanny Burney was second keeper of the robes for Queen Charlotte from 1786 to 1791. In her diaries, she regularly mentioned George III’s equerries and what they did. Their role entailed personal attendance on the King. It was a tiring and physically demanding role.

Fanny Burney from Diary and letters of Madame D'Arblay (1846)
Fanny Burney
from Diary and letters of Madame D'Arblay (1842)
Major Price was the equerry in waiting when Fanny Burney first took up her post. On a visit to Oxford University she noted that it was Major Price’s:
“business to attend and guard the king, but he was determined to take almost equal care of some of his majesty's subjects: he was everybody's equerry during the whole expedition, assisting and looking after every creature, seeing us all out of our carriages and into them, and addressing the people, when they pressed too forward, with a steadiness and authority that made them quicker in retreat than all the staves of all the constables, who were attending by dozens at the entrance of every college”. (3)
She also recorded that:
“Major Price, who, as equerry, always brings up the rear, walks at a distance from the group, and keeps off all crowd from the royal family”. (4)
It was the equerry's role to attend the King whenever he required. Normally the King had an equerry with him whenever he walked out, but at Kew the royal family were very informal: “The king has not even an equerry with him.” (5)

Even after George III had escaped an attack on his life, he insisted on walking on the terrace at Windsor “with no other attendant than his single equerry”. (6)

Close up of statue of George III, Weymouth seafront
Close up of statue of George III, Weymouth seafront
Fanny Burney used the term “equerry in waiting” to refer to the equerry currently in attendance.

Periods of service

The equerries worked on a rotation basis. They were in constant attendance for three months of the year and then had nine months off before another period of service. Fanny Burney wrote:
“One evening, when we were all, as usual, assembled, he [Colonel Manners, one of the King’s equerries] began a discourse upon the conclusion of his waiting, which finishes with the end of June: - ‘Now I don't think,’ cried he, ‘that it's well managed: here we're all in waiting for three months at a time, and then for nine months there's nothing!’
‘Cry your mercy!’ cried Colonel Goldsworthy [another equerry], ‘if three months - three whole months - are not enough for you, pray take a few more from mine to make up your market!’
‘No, no, I don't mean that; - but why can't we have our waitings month by month? - would not that be better?’
‘I think not! - we should then have no time unbroken.’
‘Well, but would not that be better than what it is now? Why, we're here so long, that when one goes away nobody knows one! - one has quite to make a new acquaintance! Why, when I first come out of waiting, I never know where to find anybody.’” (7)
A very demanding role

Being an equerry to George III was hard work! He rose early, seemed to have boundless energy and spent much of his time outdoors, whatever the weather.

The White Horse, Osmington, depicting George III on horseback
The White Horse, Osmington, depicting George III on horseback
Wraxall wrote:
“George the Third never enjoyed his existence so much as when in the open air; at times on foot; but generally on horseback; either following the hounds which he did with great ardour; or at a review, where he was always animated; or inspecting his farms, or visiting his various improvements and embellishments round Windsor. It was his delight to mount his horse before the equerry in waiting could possibly be aware of it; often in severe or unpleasant weather, which rarely deterred him; always at an early hour. One of his equerries has assured me, that when thus surprized, he has been compelled to follow the king down Windsor Hill with scarcely time to pull up his stockings under his boots. No place about his majesty's court or person, so long as he retained his intellect, could indeed be less of a sinecure than the office of an equerry. The appointments were very inadequate to the fatigue and exertions of the post: a fact of which the king himself was so well aware, that he used to say he had fewer applications for the employment of equerry than for any other in his donation.” (8)
Forced to smile

Fanny Burney recounted the sufferings of Colonel Goldsworthy. He warned Miss Burney of the draughty corridors she would have to face in the winter, but claimed that his life was worse as she would not:
“have the hunting, to be sure, nor amusing yourself with wading a foot and a-half through the dirt, by way of a little pleasant walk, as we poor equerries do! It's a wonder to me we outlive the first month”. (9)
He went on to complain:
"of the chase, all the riding, the trotting, the galloping, the leaping, the—with your favour, ladies, I beg pardon, I was going to say a strange word, but the—the perspiration—and—and all that—after being wet through over head, and soused through under feet, and popped into ditches, and jerked over gates, what lives we do lead! Well, it's all honour! that's my only comfort! Well, after all this, fagging away like mad from eight in the morning to five or six in the afternoon, home we come, looking like so many drowned rats, with not a dry thread about us, nor a morsel within us—sore to the very bone, and forced to smile all the time!” (9)
George III on horseback - on display in Weymouth Museum
George III on horseback - on display in Weymouth Museum
Standing as furniture

When on duty, the equerries had very little freedom or time to call their own. Fanny Burney remarked that:
 “for them to be absent from the Lodge was contrary to all known rules”. (10)
Fanny Burney wrote that after the royal family had walked on the terrace at Windsor, she went:
“down again to the eating-room. There the equerry, whoever he is, comes to tea constantly, and with him any gentleman that the king or queen may have invited for the evening; and when tea is over, he conducts them, and goes himself, to the concert-room. This is commonly about nine o'clock.” (11)
Fanny Burney recorded a conversation with Colonel Goldsworthy about the equerries required attendance in the concert room in the evening. He remarked that they:
“go no farther than the fiddling-room. As to the queen, we don't see her week after week sometimes. The king, indeed, comes there to us, between whiles, though that's all as it happens, now Price is gone. He used to play at backgammon with Price."
"Then what do you do there?"
"Just what I tell you—nothing at all, but stand as furniture. (12)
George III’s equerries included:

• William Chetwynd, 4th Viscount Chetwynd of Bearhaven
• Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Fulke Greville, brother of Charles Greville
• General Thomas Garth - who was rumoured to have fathered a child by Princess Sophia.
• General Charles Fitzroy, 2nd son of 1st Baron Southampton - who was loved by Princess Amelia.

General Charles Fitzroy,  from The Romance of Princess Amelia  by WS Childe-Pemberton (1911)
General Charles Fitzroy,
from The Romance of Princess Amelia
by WS Childe-Pemberton (1911)
• Lieutenant-Colonel Stephen Digby
• Major Price
• Major Goldsworthy
• Colonel Manners

George IV’s equerries included:

• Lieutenant-Colonel Lake
• Lieutenant-Colonel Hulse
• Sir John Dyer, Baronet
• Lieutenant-Colonel Stevens
• Sir William Congreve, 2nd Baronet of Walton

Notes
(1) From Oxford Dictionaries online.
(2) From The Book of the Court by WJ Thoms (1838).
(3) From an entry dated 13 August 1786 in Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay by Fanny Burney (1842).
(4) From an entry dated 7 August 1786 in Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay by Fanny Burney (1842).
(5) From an entry dated 28 July 1786 in Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay by Fanny Burney (1842).
(6) From an entry dated 2 August 1786 in Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay by Fanny Burney (1842).
(7) From an entry dated 8 June 1787 in Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay by Fanny Burney (1842).
(8) From Wraxall’s Posthumous Memoirs of his own time Volume III p137 (1836).
(9) From an entry dated 6 October 1786 in Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay by Fanny Burney (1842).
(10) From an entry dated 10 December 1786 in Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay by Fanny Burney (1842).
(11) From an entry dated 24 July 1786 in Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay by Fanny Burney (1842).
(12) From an entry dated 26 December 1786 in Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay by Fanny Burney (1842).

Sources used include:
Burney, Fanny, Diary and letters of Madame D'Arblay, edited by her niece, Charlotte Barrett (1842)
Wraxall, Sir Nathaniel William, Posthumous Memoirs of his own time (1836) Volume III
Thoms, William J, The Book of the Court (1838) (2nd edition 1844)

All photographs © Andrew Knowles - www.flickr.com/photos/dragontomato