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Saturday, 31 December 2011

George IV and the Brighton Pavilion

Brighton Pavilion - the Steyne front
Brighton Pavilion - the Steyne front

George IV's Royal Pavilion, Brighton

George IV delighted in redesigning and developing his royal residences. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. During the first phase of royal occupancy, the original farmhouse was converted into the Marine Pavilion by Henry Holland, but George soon tired of its Neo-classical perfections and commissioned the orientalising of the interiors.

The new stable block

In 1803, George engaged William Porden to build a new stable block. His Indian-influenced design incorporated a huge glazed iron roof based on the domed trading floor of Bélanger’s Halle au Blé and cost £49,871 to build. A contemporary guidebook described it as a “truly magnificent building”.

The Indian influence

However, the new stables and riding school dwarfed the main building, and George was soon seeking new designs for the pavilion itself which would be compatible with their magnificence. Although temporarily halted by lack of funds, in 1815 George was finally able to commission John Nash, his new favourite, to redevelop the pavilion using the picturesque qualities of Indian architecture.

The skyline of the new pavilion

Nash added two square blocks, one at each end of Holland’s Marine Pavilion, crowning each of them with a tent-like roof. In the centre, above Holland’s rotunda, Nash placed a huge onion-shaped dome, and he echoed this feature by adorning the roofs of the adjacent wings with smaller versions of this dome. The concave nature of the tent-like roofs balanced the convex shape of the onion-shaped domes, and, together with the tall Islamic minarets and chimney stacks, cleverly gave height to the long, low profile of the pavilion.

The miniature onion-shaped domes and tall chimney stacks  on the eastern front of the Brighton Pavilion
The miniature onion-shaped domes and tall chimney stacks
on the eastern front of the Brighton Pavilion   
A truly Indian design?

Nash is recorded as borrowing Thomas and William Daniell’s “Oriental Scenery” from the prince’s library and he used inspiration from these pictures of genuine Indian buildings for some of the details of his designs.

One such element was the perforated stone screen based on the Indian “jali”, designed to provide shade and ventilation in the heat of the Indian summer. This was made from Bath stone and was situated between the tall Indian pillars which masked the saloon, music room and banqueting room. The rest of the walls were covered in stucco.

The pierced stone "jali", Brighton Pavilion
The pierced stone "jali", Brighton Pavilion
But although Nash’s design was primarily Hindustan in style, he delighted in pulling together ideas from other places in a truly eclectic manner. The extended pavilion was classically balanced and the way he grouped the tall chimney stacks together was distinctly Tudor in style. Even the “jali” was not truly Indian; the design used in the pierced stone was of a Gothic quatrefoil.

The music room

Nash’s pavilion boasted two exceptional new rooms. The first of these was the music room, which was situated in the new square block to the north with an additional extension for the largest English-made organ of the time. The room was decorated in a the Chinese style with a dramatic colour scheme of “Carmine, Lake, Crome Yellow and other expensive colours”, and a huge marble and ormolu chimney piece, made by Westmacott and Vulliamy which alone cost £1,684.

The music room  with its tent-like roof, Brighton Pavilion
The music room  with its tent-like roof, Brighton Pavilion
Winged dragons sat above the curtain pelmets and huge crimson and gold murals adorned the walls, framed by dragons and serpents. Water-lily chandeliers were suspended from the high vaulted ceiling so that they seemed to float in the air; they were converted to gas in 1821. The whole was topped by a tent-like octagonal cornice and the furnishings included six large Oriental porcelain pagodas made at the Spode factory.

The banqueting room

The banqueting room, to the south, was equally magnificent, with its decorative scheme by Robert Jones. The forty-five foot high dome was painted as if it was open to a tropical sky and was almost completely filled by the representation of a huge plantain tree. From its centre, an enormous dragon was suspended, which held a thirty foot high chandelier in its claws. The chandelier alone cost over £5,600.

Four lotus-leaf bowls also hung from the ceiling, suspended by “Fum” or “F’eng” – Chinese mythological birds. The furniture included two “very large and superbly decorated Sideboards”.

Even the Princess Lieven was overwhelmed, declaring: “I do not believe that, since the days of Heliogabalus, there has been such magnificence and such luxury.”

Sources used include:
Editor of the Picture of London, A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1815)
Huish, Robert, Memoirs of George IV (1830)
Morley, John, The Royal Pavilion, Brighton
Nash, John, Views of the Royal Pavilion with commentary by Gervase Jackson-Stops (1991)
Parissien, Steven, George IV, The Grand Entertainment (2001)

Photographs © Andrew Knowles - www.flickr.com/photos/dragontomato

Saturday, 24 December 2011

George IV and the Marine Pavilion, Brighton

Brighton Pavilion - part of the Steyne front
Brighton House

George, Prince of Wales, first rented Brighton House from his German chef and general factotum, Louis Weltje, in 1786. This “superior farmhouse” was situated on the Steyne, a fashionable promenade, with views of the sea to the south. It was not until 1793 that Weltje formally leased the pavilion to the prince at a cost of £1,000 a year.

The Marine Pavilion

Henry Holland was the architect that George chose to redesign the pavilion. Holland had already completed the transformation of Carlton House into a Neo-classical masterpiece and it was the same Neo-classical inspiration that influenced his designs for the pavilion.

He built a rotunda over the grand saloon to the north of the existing building and then added an extra wing beyond that to balance the original farmhouse, thereby creating a symmetrical building. The old wing contained the prince’s private apartments whilst the new wing provided space for an eating room and a library. The rooms to the north and the south of the rotunda were bounded by a corridor to the west which enabled easier access.

Holland’s design incorporated bow windows and iron balconies which have become indicative of regency style, with French windows along the whole of the Steyne front. He used cream-glazed Hampshire tiles to cover the walls of both old and new buildings to create a uniform whole.

During 1787-8, £21,454 was spent on redecorating the villa and fitting it out with expensive French furniture.

The grand saloon

The rotunda was the centre of the Marine Pavilion, housing a circular drawing room which was the only large reception room in the house. Outside the tall French windows of the saloon, Holland built a row of pillars, giving the rotunda a classical appearance.

It was originally decorated with Neo-classical paintings by Biagio Rebecca. Records show that he was paid the sum of £160 for painting the spectacular sky ceiling.

In 1802-4, the saloon was redecorated in the style of a Chinese garden arbour. A bamboo balustrade was added above the cornice, with the open sky painted on the ceiling above. The walls displayed large panels of Chinese painted wallpaper with a bright colour scheme of blue, red and yellow.

Brighton Pavilion
External view of the grand saloon as it is today
Oriental influence

Even as early as 1800, George was becoming bored of the neo-classical beauty of Holland’s pavilion and was looking for new designs. His taste now showed a marked preference for the Chinese style. It has been suggested that this was provoked by a gift of “very beautiful Chinese paper” in 1802, but drawings from the previous year indicate that the prince was already looking at designs in the Chinoiserie style. It is possible that he was influenced to some extent by Chamber’s Chinese Pagoda at Kew.
 
Chinese wallpaper in Belton House, Lincolnshire
By 1803, £12,799 had been spent on orientalising the interiors of the Marine Pavilion, primarily at the hands of the firm of Crace.

A contemporary guidebook of 1815 declares that the furniture is “Chinese and is uncommonly splendid”.

Further development

Visitor entrance to the Brighton Pavilion
But the prince was not content with the Marine Pavilion for long. Whilst the interiors were being transformed into the oriental style, Holland, and his nephew and pupil, PF Robinson, were extending the main building to include a new eating room and conservatory, and a new entrance hall was created by extending the portico out to the west. The ground floor rooms of the original villa were also amalgamated to form two larger galleries on either side of the central saloon.

In 1815, the prince commissioned John Nash to redesign the pavilion; the result is the Brighton Pavilion as it is today which leaves little of Holland’s Marine Pavilion apart from the grand saloon housed by the rotunda.

Sources used include:
Editor of the Picture of London, A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1815)
Huish, Robert, Memoirs of George IV (1830)
Morley, John, The Royal Pavilion, Brighton
Nash, John, Views of the Royal Pavilion with commentary by Gervase Jackson-Stops (1991)
Parissien, Steven, George IV, The Grand Entertainment (2001)

Photographs by Andrew Knowles - www.flickr.com/photos/dragontomato

Friday, 9 December 2011

The architectural achievements of George IV

Buckingham Palace - view from the gardens
George the architect

George IV was passionate about architecture and delighted in the opportunity of putting his ideas into practice. With little thought of cost, except when his finances dried up, George indulged in extravagant building projects where his taste was allowed free rein. His architectural schemes included the redevelopment of Carlton House, Brighton Pavilion, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.

There is no doubt that George had a keenly developed aesthetic sense. He was an enthusiastic patron of the arts and became involved in his building projects on an intimate level. He did not merely commission the redevelopment of his royal residences; he scrutinised the plans in detail and continually made changes to the designs. Working closely with architects like Henry Holland and John Nash, who would carry out his wishes without demur, he was able to exert a substantial influence on the execution of the plans.

The best design?

Perhaps his greatest achievement was the original redevelopment of Carlton House by Henry Holland which was greatly admired. The French-inspired, Neo-classical villa was deemed by Horace Walpole to be “the most perfect in Europe” and has become indicative of the Regency style of architecture. The interior was fitted out in sumptuous style but with a restrained elegance that was the epitome of classical taste.

Carlton Palace
from Memoirs of George IV by Robert Huish (1831)
The rise and fall of Carlton House

But with a restlessness that is mirrored elsewhere in his personal life, George was never content with the results of his endeavours for long. He was continually redecorating and redeveloping, as clearly illustrated by his relationship with Carlton House.

The Rose Satin Drawing Room at Carlton House had four different chimney pieces between 1784 and 1819, and the colour of its silk wall-hangings and seat upholstery was changed three times during a ten year period.

More fundamentally, Holland’s beautiful classical interiors were later completely obliterated by the designs of the amateur, Walsh Porter, who introduced the Admiral’s Room and the Military Tent Room. The whole was then redeveloped again when George began his regency, this time under the auspices of John Nash.

But the ultimate display of George’s fickleness came in 1826, when, despite the huge costs of its final redevelopment, he ordered that Carlton House be completely demolished.

The changing face of Brighton Pavilion

Skyline of Brighton Pavilion
Brighton Pavilion also suffered from George’s ever-changing inclinations. In the early years of his residency, Brighton House was developed by Henry Holland into the Marine Pavilion – a Neo-classical villa which displayed a similar elegance to the Carlton House of the same period. Tired of the Neo-classical influence, George then commissioned the redecoration of the interiors in the Chinese style by the firm of Crace, and subsequently the addition of a huge domed building, housing a stable block, in the Indian style, designed by William Porden.

The whole of the main building was then redesigned by John Nash, who added the magnificent Music Room and Banqueting Room and a bizarre array of domes and minarets to the roof that gave the Pavilion a distinctly eastern appearance. But true to character, but a few years after his final designs were completed, he abandoned the Brighton Pavilion altogether. It stands, however, as an enduring monument to the frivolity, extravagance and ever-changing taste of George IV.

Extravagance and frivolity

Huge amounts of public money were spent on George’s architectural projects. Costs continually spiralled out of control as his architects failed to keep a check on the ever-increasing costs of incorporating George’s latest whims. For example, in 1785, the costs at Carlton House amounted to £147,293 but Holland estimated that he needed a further £69,700 in order to complete it.

It was not surprising that many people felt that George was not investing his energy and resources for the good of the country. As his biographer, Huish states:
“What occasion was there that His Royal Highness should send to the upholsterer, the furniture man, and other people? No man could suppose that he should occupy his attention with such frivolous objects.”
Sources used include:
Huish, Robert, Memoirs of George IV (1830)
Morley, John, The Royal Pavilion, Brighton
Parissien, Steven, George IV, The Grand Entertainment (2001)

Photographs by Andrew Knowles - www.flickr.com/photos/dragontomato

Saturday, 3 December 2011

George IV’s Brighton

Brighton Pavilion - view from the Steyne
Brighton Pavilion - view from the Steyne

A forty-year love affair

George IV first visited Brighton in 1783 as the young and charming Prince of Wales. Attracted by the freedom that the town gave him, away from the repressive austerity of the court of his father, George III, the prince made Brighton his second home for nearly forty years. Despite growing unpopularity during his Regency and subsequent reign, the town remained loyal to the monarch who had helped bring it into fashion.

Brighton  from A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1815)
Brighton
from A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1815)
Early visits

George first began visiting Brighton in the company of his disreputable uncle, the Duke of Cumberland. By the 1780s, the simple fishing village of Brighthelmstone was growing into a fashionable seaside resort. Brighton could offer the elegant entertainments of ballrooms, card rooms and libraries alongside the natural benefits of Dr Russell’s famous cure – both bathing in, and even drinking, sea-water. George himself came in 1784 to take this sea-water treatment for a bout of ill health.

The Brighton Pavilion

Skyline of the Brighton Pavilion
Skyline of the Brighton Pavilion
George determined to form a permanent establishment in Brighton. From 1786, he rented Brighton House from his chef, Louis Weltje, which was then developed by Henry Holland into the Marine Pavilion. Finally taken on a lease of the property in 1793, George continued to develop it, transforming the interiors with oriental designs in the 1800s through the skills of the firm of Crace.

A magnificent new stable block was added in 1803, designed by William Porden, and in 1815, the prince employed John Nash to extend the main pavilion using Indian influences. Nash added the banqueting and music rooms, and transformed the silhouette of the pavilion with a cacophony of minarets and bulbous, onion-shaped domes.

Mrs. Fitzherbert

Brighton provided a safe haven for the prince and his secret wife, Mrs Fitzherbert, away from the critical eyes of the London ton and, more importantly, the disapproval of George III, who was vehemently opposed to the relationship.
The Steyne, Brighton  from A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1815)
The Steyne, Brighton
from A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1815)
Mrs Fitzherbert did not live at the pavilion, but had her own house on the Steyne. According to a contemporary guidebook, this “elegant modern mansion has a handsome brick-front toward the Steyne, with a colonnade, a double staircase, and a beautiful painted window, leading to an elegant suite of rooms, fitted up with much taste.” The modest residence boasted a long veranda which overlooked the Steyne.

The last years

During the last years of his life, George IV was grossly overweight and suffered from perpetual ill health. He grew reluctant to be seen in public and by 1827, he was virtually a recluse. Brighton had become much too public for his taste and he required the privacy that the Royal Lodge, in the middle of Windsor Great Park, could offer him. His last visit to Brighton was in 1827; he left on 7 March 1827 never to return.

Sources used include:
Editor of the Picture of London, A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1815)
Fry, Plantagenet Somerset, The Kings & Queens of England & Scotland (1990)
Morley, John, The Royal Pavilion, Brighton
Parissien, Steven, George IV, The Grand Entertainment (2001)

Photographs © Andrew Knowles - www.flickr.com/photos/dragontomato

Saturday, 19 November 2011

George IV and Queen Caroline: a disastrous royal marriage

Princess Caroline of Brunswick by Sir Thomas Lawrence (c1804)
© National Portrait Gallery, London
George IV when Prince of Wales by John Hoppner (1792)
© The Wallace Collection
Resigned to an arranged marriage

George, Prince of Wales, and Princess Caroline of Brunswick were married on 8 April 1795. Although they were first cousins, the couple had not met before the marriage was arranged. Neither the Prince of Wales nor the Princess Caroline wanted the match, but they both agreed to it.

Engraving of Princess Caroline
from La Belle Assemblée (1806)
British law had severely restricted George’s choice of bride. (1) His secret marriage to his mistress, Mrs Fitzherbert, was not legal, and, desperate for money, the Prince had agreed to marry his father’s choice of bride.

But George was not the only one to suffer from this arranged marriage. After accepting the Prince’s proposal, Princess Caroline wrote to a friend: 
“I am indifferent to my marriage, but not averse to it; I think I shall be happy, but I fear my joy will not be enthusiastic. The man of my choice I am debarred from possessing, and I resign myself to my destiny.” (2)
An uncouth bride?

Lord Malmesbury was sent to Brunswick to present the Prince’s proposal and describes his first impressions of Caroline in his diary:
“Pretty face — not expressive of softness — her figure not graceful — fine eyes — good hand — tolerable teeth, but going — fair hair and light eye-brows, good bust — short.” (3)
Lord Malmesbury
from Diaries and Correspondence of James Harris,
 First Earl of Malmesbury, Volume III (1834)
He goes on to record his reservations about Caroline’s suitability as a bride for the Prince: 
“Princess Caroline very missish at supper. I much fear these habits are irrecoverably rooted in her — she is naturally curious, and a gossip.” (3)
He was obliged to caution her “to think always before she speaks” (3) and to make improvements in her personal hygiene. He was particularly revolted when she had a tooth drawn and had it sent to him as a gift!

But he was not blind to her good points, noting that “she improves very much on closer acquaintance - cheerful, and loves laughing” and that she “understands a joke and can make one”. (3)

Lord Malmesbury remained very concerned about the suitability of the match:
“We regret the apparent facility of the Princess Caroline's character—her want of reflection and substance— agree that with a steady man she would do vastly well, but with one of a different description, there are great risks.” (3)
First impressions

Neither party was expecting a love match, but Princess Caroline, at least at the start, was hopeful of a good relationship with her cousin. She wrote to her friend:
“I esteem and respect my intended husband, and I hope for great kindness and attention ... I shall strive to render my husband happy.” (2)
Lord Malmesbury records their first meeting:
“I, according to the established etiquette, introduced ... the Princess Caroline to him. She very properly ... attempted to kneel to him. He raised her (gracefully enough), and embraced her, said barely one word, turned round, retired to a distant part of the apartment, and calling me to him, said, "Harris, I am not well; pray get me a glass of brandy." (3)
Caroline was unimpressed. When Lord Malmesbury rejoined her she exclaimed in French, asking if the Prince was always like that and declaring that she found him very fat and nothing like as handsome as his portrait.

Wronged wife

When Princess Caroline arrived in England she hoped for “great kindness and attention”. She received neither. The King was effusive in welcoming her but the Queen was cold and her future husband indifferent. George had never wanted the marriage apart from as a way to secure funds, and he was heavily influenced by his new mistress, Frances, Countess of Jersey, whom he heartlessly appointed as a Lady of the Bedchamber for his new wife.

From the first moment of setting foot on English soil, Princess Caroline was subject to Lady Jersey’s spite. The Prince made no secret of the fact that Caroline was his wife in name only. When she unwisely revealed her previous attachment, Lady Jersey had no scruples in laying this before the Prince and poisoning his mind against his new wife.

Separation

The Prince of Wales’ dislike grew. He wanted to divorce his wife, but the King was emphatically against it. A separation, however, was unavoidable.

In a letter from the Prince of Wales to his wife dated 30 April 1796, the Prince stated that:
“Our inclinations are not in our power; nor should either of us be held answerable to the other, because nature has not made us suitable to each other. Tranquil and comfortable society is, however, in our power; let our intercourse, therefore, be restricted to that.” (4)
Caroline’s reply was also printed, saying that his letter “merely confirmed what you tacitly insinuated for this twelvemonth.” (5) She confirms that this long-standing estrangement between them had been instigated by the Prince and the Prince alone.

Vindictive libertine
George, Prince of Wales
from Memoirs of George IV
by Robert Huish (1830)
The Prince was inconstant in his affections. In time, Lady Jersey was abandoned for a succession of other mistresses, including a return to his long term lover, Mrs Fitzherbert. But at no time did the Prince show any kindness towards his wife. He did not desire her company, and yet, when he could, he restricted her movements and limited her access to her daughter. She could not expect his love, but she deserved his respect and received none.

In 1806, Caroline’s behaviour was examined by parliament after accusations that she had given birth to an illegitimate child; the “Delicate Investigation” exonerated Caroline, who won great public support through the affair.

When George became king in 1820, he publicly accused his wife of adultery and Queen Caroline was put on trial in an attempt to prevent her from being crowned as queen. Public support once again rallied to the Queen and the Bill of Pains and Penalties, which would have dissolved the marriage, had to be abandoned. George did, however, succeed in barring Caroline from his coronation. Popular media of the time represented George as a libertine and Caroline as the wronged wife.

A disastrous marriage

From start to finish, the Prince’s behaviour was unpardonable. He had agreed to marry Princess Caroline, but failed to show her the respect due to her as wife. He paraded his mistresses in front of her and yet accused her of improper behaviour at every opportunity.

Caroline, on the other hand, was an unfortunate choice of bride; her character and person disgusted her husband and her lack of restraint brought his dislike into the open. Their domestic dispute was paraded in front of the British public for over twenty years, causing the royal family acute embarrassment and loss of popularity.

But perhaps the most sobering reflection is that this match was carried forward against the natural inclinations of both parties and as such, was a recipe for marital disharmony before ever the marriage vows had been exchanged.

Notes
(1) The Act of Settlement of 1701 prevented George from marrying a Catholic, and the Royal Marriage Act of 1772 required the King’s consent to his marriage until he was over 25 years of age. As George III was vehemently opposed to his children marrying beneath them, this effectively left only German royalty as potential spouses.
(2) From a letter dated 28 November 1794 quoted in Opinions on Politics, Theology, &c by Henry Brougham (1839).
(3) From Diaries and Correspondence of James Harris, First Earl of Malmesbury, Volume III (1834).
(4) From John Fairburn's account of the trial of Queen Caroline (1820)(see sources for full title).
(5) From Huish's Memoirs of George IV (1830).

Sources used include:
Brougham, Henry, Baron Brougham and Vaux, Opinions on Politics, Theology, &c (1839)
Cobbett, Cobbett's Political Register (1813)
Fairburn, John, The whole proceedings on the trial of Her Majesty, Caroline Amelia Elizabeth, Queen of England, for 'adulterous intercourse' with Bartolomeo Bergami (1820)
Harris, James, First Earl of Malmesbury, Diaries and Correspondence of James Harris, First Earl of Malmesbury, Volume III (1834)
Huish, Robert, Memoirs of George IV (1830)
Parissien, Steven, George IV, The Grand Entertainment (2001)
Watson, J Steven, Oxford History of England: The Reign of George III 1760-1815 (1960)

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

La Belle Assemblée

Front cover of La Belle Assemblée (1806)
An unparallelled periodical

La Belle Assemblée, or Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine addressed particularly to the ladies, was a monthly ladies’ periodical which first appeared in February 1806. It continued under this name until 1832 when it became The Court Magazine and Belle Assemblée and later it merged with the Lady’s Magazine and Museum.

It was the creation of John Bell who published it from 1806 until his retirement in 1821. He recommended his new magazine to its readers with these words: “In introducing the first Number of our Miscellany to the world, we flatter ourselves that we are laying the foundation of a Work, which, in the comprehensiveness of its instruction, the variety of its amusements, and the elegance of its embellishment, has had no parallel in the history of periodical publications.”

It was quite expensive compared to other periodicals at the time. At the beginning of 1807, the magazine cost 2 shillings and 6d, that is, half a crown. An alternative version was then introduced which containing coloured plates for the higher price of 3s 6d. The price advertised at the end of 1811 was 3 shillings for the 1812 series.

A magazine with embellishments

When it was first published, La Belle Assemblée was available in two parts – a magazine section and a fashion section, though this distinction was later dropped. It offered a lot more reading material than other contemporary magazines, like the Lady’s Monthly Museum, and a number of embellishments which usually included an engraving, an original piece of music, a needlework pattern and two fashion plates.

Left: Evening or ball dress
Right: Walking or carriage costume
from La Belle Assemblée (April 1807)
Biographical sketches of illustrious ladies

The magazine section opened with a biographical sketch of an eminent lady accompanied by an expert engraving. During the first volume, the ladies profiled were: Queen Charlotte; the Princess of Wales; Princess Sophia of Gloucester; the Duchess of Devonshire (no engraving); Charlotte, the Princess Royal; Princess Sophia Augusta and Princess Elizabeth. Later issues included profiles of the actress, Mrs Siddons, the Prince Regent’s mistress, Mrs Fitzherbert, and the famous singer, Madame Catalani.
Engraving of the Duchess of Brunswick
from La Belle Assemblée (1807)
Original contents

La Belle Assemblée prided itself on the originality of its contents and within the sections that followed, published a variety of original communications and letters, under section titles that varied over the years. These included miscellaneous anecdotes and pieces of prose such as “A history of the new world” which appeared in the first issue and advice on health, beauty and behaviour, such as “Maxims and rules for the conduct of women”.

Article from La Belle Assemblée (1806)
Lectures on useful sciences were also included covering such subjects as the culinary system, botany, heraldry and gardening.

The serialised novel

It also included short stories and serialised novels, such as Hymenea in Search of a Husband and Oakwood House, later published as Oakwood Hall, by Catherine Hutton. Poetry and music were another important element, with issues including both original and select poetry and an original piece of sheet music.

The cabinet of taste

The first volume included a retrospect of politics which had a section looking at the public amusements currently available in London, including a critical evaluation of what was on at the theatre. This section expanded in later volumes to form a 'cabinet of taste' which gave reviews of paintings, books, music and the theatre. Births, marriages and deaths were also published.

Fashion in the 1800s

The second division of the magazine was devoted to fashion and included the two fashion plates with detailed descriptions. These were originally printed in black and white, for ladies to colour themselves, but from 1807, they were available ready-coloured. As well as general information about fashions for the coming month, this section included detailed descriptions of the dress worn by the social elite at important events, such as the king’s birthday celebrations. It also included a needlework pattern. The periodical finished with a section of advertisements, which included a list of the latest novels.
Walking dress
from La Belle Assemblée (October 1808)
Supplemental numbers

Every volume offered a supplemental number with embellishments which was devoted to art and literature. The supplement to the first volume included a review of the literature of the previous six months but later supplements were sometimes focused on a single subject, such as the works of Alexander Pope.

A list of editions available online with links to fashion plates where available on this page.

Sources used include:
Morison, Stanley, A Memoir of John Bell (1930)
Bell, John, La Belle Assemblée, various (1806-1831)

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Frankenstein's author, Mary Shelley (1797-1851)

Mary Shelley  from The Life and Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley  by Mrs Julian Marshall (1889)
Mary Shelley
from The Life and Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
by Mrs Julian Marshall (1889)
Profile

Mary Shelley (30 August 1797 - 1 February 1851) was an English writer who is most famous for her novel Frankenstein. She was the wife of the Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Family history

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was born in London on 30 August 1797, the daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Godwin was a radical political philosopher and author; his most famous work, Political Justice, was published in 1793. Wollstonecraft was an ardent feminist and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792. In this work, she spoke out vehemently against the position of women in society, most notably describing marriage as “legal prostitution”.

Given their radical views, it is perhaps surprising that Godwin and Wollstonecraft married. However, Godwin’s intent was to provide security for their unborn child, which Wollstonecraft had lacked when her older daughter, Fanny Imlay, had been born and her lover, Gilbert, had deserted them.

After Wollstonecraft’s death, Godwin published Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman; the scandalous book was not received well as the memoirs included details of Wollstonecraft’s affairs and her illegitimate child.

Childhood

Mary’s mother died from complications shortly after her birth leaving her and her half-sister, Fanny, to be raised by Godwin. In 1801, he married Mrs. Claremont, who brought her own children, Charles and Jane - later known as Claire - into the Godwin family unit. Mary resented her step-mother whilst idealising her own mother. Her early years were spent in Scotland, near Dundee, and in London, where her family had a house in Skinner Street, Holborn. The Godwins were often plagued with a shortage of funds.

Godwin describes his daughter in a letter to an unknown correspondent: "She is singularly bold, somewhat imperious and active of mind. Her desire of knowledge is great, and her perseverance in everything she undertakes almost invincible. My own daughter is, I believe, very pretty.”

The house in Skinner Street was a stimulating intellectual environment. Godwin received many visitors including Lamb, Burr and Coleridge, who read his poem, The Ancient Mariner, in Mary’s hearing.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley  from Percy Bysshe Shelley, a monograph  by HS Salt (1888)
Percy Bysshe Shelley
from Percy Bysshe Shelley, a monograph
by HS Salt (1888)
The poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his wife, Harriet, were regular visitors to Skinner Street. Shelley was a much younger man than most of Godwin’s other friends and he revered his work, Political Justice, giving it a fanatical interpretation.

Mary and Shelley fell in love and embarked upon a scandalous affair. Despite his views on marriage, Godwin did not support the relationship; he had fallen out with Shelley who had promised him money which he was not then able to give him due to his own financial situation.

Elopement

Together with Mary’s step-sister, Claire Claremont, Shelley and Mary went abroad in July 1814, travelling throughout Europe. When they returned to England, Mary was pregnant with Shelley’s child, and Godwin refused to receive them. The couple were penniless and found themselves ostracised from society. When her baby daughter died shortly after her birth in February 1815, Mary became depressed and isolated from Shelley who was trying to avoid his creditors.

The birth of Frankenstein

However, Mary fell pregnant again and gave birth to a son, William, on 24 January 1816, which eased her depression. The couple’s monetary problems were pressing, and so in the summer, they decided to go abroad to Geneva in Switzerland in the company of Lord Byron, John Polidori and Claire Claremont. It was while this illustrious company were writing ghost stories together that Mary conceived the idea for her novel, Frankenstein.

Front cover of Frankenstein  (1831 edition)
Front cover of Frankenstein
(1831 edition)
Marriage

On 30 December 1816, Shelley and Mary were married, following the death of Shelley’s first wife. Godwin now became reconciled to the match, but the relationship between them continued to be strained as he regularly demanded financial support from his son-in-law.

Travels in Italy

In 1818, plagued by debt, the couple and their young family – William and baby Clara, who had been born on 2 September 1817 – went abroad again. Over the next three years, the Shelleys travelled around Italy, to Venice, Naples, Rome and Florence, but it was a time of great sadness. First Clara and then William became ill and died. Mary was devastated. “Everything on earth has lost its interest to me,” she wrote to her friend, Miss Curran.

On 12 November 1819, Percy Florence was born, but Mary feared she would lose him just like her other children. The Shelleys were constantly short of money but gained enjoyment from reading and writing and the intellectual stimulus of their own company and that of their many visitors.

Widowhood

On 8 July 1822, tragedy struck: Shelley was drowned when his sailing boat sunk during a storm. Mary returned to England the following year and devoted herself to bringing up her son and continuing her writing. Sir Timothy Shelley provided her with a small income on the understanding that she would not publish any of Shelley’s work or a biography during his lifetime.

Mary never remarried; no one else was Shelley’s equal. "Mary Shelley shall be written on my tomb,” she wrote to her friend and suitor, Trelawney. Her son, Percy, studied at Harrow and Cambridge, but showed no signs of his parents’ genius. Mary struggled with continued social ostracism and friends who continually let her down. Jane St. John, who became Percy’s wife, was a great source of comfort to Mary in the last years of her life.

Illness and death

Mary grew increasingly unwell during the last years of her life and died on 1 February 1851 after a series of strokes. She was buried in St. Peter’s churchyard, Bournemouth, in Dorset.

Mary Shelley's gravestone in St Peter's churchyard, Bournemouth
Mary Shelley's gravestone in St Peter's churchyard, Bournemouth
The works of Mary Shelley

As well as Frankenstein, Mary wrote several other lesser known novels: Valperga (1823), The Last Man (1826), Perkin Warbeck (1830), Lodore (1835) and Falkner (1837). She also wrote a volume of travel studies – Rambles in Germany and Italy (1844). She also edited and promoted the work of her husband, Percy Shelley.

Sources used include:
Marshall, Mrs. Julian, The Life and Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1889) in 2 volumes
Spark, Muriel, Mary Shelley (1988)

Photos © Andrew Knowles

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Princess Caroline of Brunswick (1768-1821)

Princess Caroline of Brunswick  from Huish's Memoirs of her late   royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818)
Princess Caroline of Brunswick
from Huish's Memoirs of her late
 royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818) 


Profile

Princess Caroline of Brunswick (17 May 1768 - 7 August 1821) was the hated wife of George IV. Her reckless behaviour was investigated twice by parliament and although the King failed to divorce her, she was deprived of being crowned as Queen.

Family history

Caroline Amelia Elizabeth was born on 17 May 1768, the second daughter of Karl Wilhelm, the Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel, and Princess Augusta, the eldest sister of George III. She was brought up in the German principality with a great deal of freedom, resulting in unrestrained speech which tended to be vulgar and lacking in respect, particularly towards her mother. Unfortunately, her personal cleanliness also left much to be desired.

A disastrous marriage

On 8 April 1795, Princess Caroline and George, Prince of Wales, were married. From the outset, the prospects of a happy union were slim; in the event, it was an unmitigated disaster. The prince’s motivation for getting married was to appease parliament and persuade them to pay his enormous debts. Although he had separated from Maria Fitzherbert, his long-term mistress, George was at this time infatuated with Frances, Countess of Jersey, who had encouraged him to marry to shield their relationship.
George IV  from La Belle Assemblée (1830)
George IV
from La Belle Assemblée (1830)
George disliked Princess Caroline on sight. He heartlessly made his mistress a Lady of the Bedchamber for his new wife and did not scruple to advertise that she was her rival. Lady Jersey’s behaviour towards Caroline was unkind and cruel; the prince treated Caroline with disdain and rudeness.


The royal couple only remained together as man and wife for a few weeks, but Caroline fell pregnant; she gave birth to a daughter, Princess Charlotte Caroline Augusta, on 7 January 1796.

Princess Charlotte  from La Belle Assemblée (1816)
Princess Charlotte
from La Belle Assemblée (1816)
Separation

By March 1796, George wanted an official separation from his wife, but his father would not allow it. The prince refused to see his wife except on formal occasions, but nevertheless restricted Caroline’s freedom and access to her daughter. In 1805, the king, George III, made her Ranger of Greenwich Park allowing her greater independence and financial security.

The Delicate Investigation

In 1806, Lady Douglas, a former companion of the Princess of Wales, accused her of having given birth to an illegitimate child in 1802. The government made a thorough investigation into the claims which were proved to be unfounded. It appears that the child Caroline was accused of conceiving out of wedlock was William Austin whom she had legally adopted.

Spencer Perceval threatened to publish the findings of the investigation if Caroline was not fully restored to her royal position; “The Book” was printed despite Caroline being hastily received at Court and provided fuel for her supporters for many years.

The wayward wife

In 1814, Caroline was given leave to travel abroad, firstly to Germany and then on to Italy. Her behaviour at this time can only be described as reckless; she publicly engaged in adulterous affairs without the least discretion, the most notable of which was with Barolomeo Bergami, also known as Count Pergami.

The Queen Caroline Affair

When George acceded to the throne in 1820, Caroline technically became the Queen Consort of England and on 5 June, she arrived from Italy, amidst public rejoicing, to claim her rights as queen. George wanted to divorce his adulterous wife and deprive her of her rank.

In response, the cabinet introduced what is commonly known as the Bill of Pains and Penalties, which would have dissolved the king’s marriage and deprived her of her title. Her adultery was easily proven and the bill was passed by a small majority in the House of Lords, but it was dropped because of its widespread unpopularity.

Decline

Although championed by ardent supporters such as Sarah, Lady Jersey, Caroline’s popularity waned; she withdrew from public view, accepting a house and an allowance of £50,000 a year. She made one final attempt to be recognised as Queen; she attempted to enter the abbey for the coronation and be crowned alongside her estranged husband. She was refused admittance, despite the sympathy of the crowd, and gave up the attempt. She died just a few weeks later, on 7 August 1821, at Brandenburg House, the house of Elizabeth, Margravine of Brandenburg-Ansbach-Bayreuth.

Sources used include:
Chedzoy, Alan, Seaside Sovereign - King George III at Weymouth, (2003)
Fry, Plantagenet Somerset, The Kings & Queens of England & Scotland, (1990)
Harris, James, First Earl of Malmesbury, Diaries and Correspondence of James Harris, First Earl of Malmesbury, Volume III (1834)
Huish, Robert, Memoirs of her late royal highness Charlotte Augusta (1818)
Parissien, Steven, George IV, The Grand Entertainment (2001)
Watson, J. Steven, Oxford History of England: The Reign of George III 1760-1815, (1960)

Friday, 4 November 2011

Sarah Child Villiers, Countess of Jersey (1785-1867)

Sarah Sophia Villiers, Countess of Jersey © Rachel Knowles
Profile

Sarah Child Villiers, Countess of Jersey (4 March 1785 – 26 January 1867), was a leading figure in Regency society and one of the patronesses of Almack's Assembly Rooms.

Family history

Lady Sarah Sophia Fane was born on 4 March 1785, the eldest daughter of John Fane, the tenth Earl of Westmorland, and Sarah Anne Child.

Her mother, Sarah Child, was the only daughter and heiress of Robert Child, the senior partner in Child’s bank. He was vehemently opposed to her marrying the Earl and so the couple were forced to elope to Gretna Green, where they were married in 1782.

Heiress to Child’s fortune

Robert Child was so incensed that his daughter had married against his wishes that he cut her out of his will, determined not to let the Earls of Westmorland benefit from his wealth. Under the terms of his new will, everything was left in trust for his daughter’s second surviving son or eldest daughter.

On this basis, on her mother's death in 1793, Lady Sarah became heiress to all her grandfather's wealth, with an estimated income in the region of £60,000 a year. She was a very wealthy lady! (1)  She also inherited his position as senior partner of the Child and Co. Bank, a role which she actively held from her majority in 1806 until her death.

The Earl of Jersey's seat at Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire  from Oxfordshire, The history and antiquities of the hundreds of Bullington and Ploughley by J Dunkin (1823)
The Earl of Jersey's seat at Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire
from Oxfordshire, The history and antiquities of the hundreds
of Bullington and Ploughley
by J Dunkin (1823)
Marriage and family life

Lady Sarah married George Villiers, Viscount Villiers, on 23 May 1804. George Villiers became the 5th Earl of Jersey on his father’s death in 1805. The Earl took his wife’s name in addition to his own by royal licence in 1819 (2) and became known as George Child Villiers. The couple had seven children who survived infancy: George (1808), Augustus (1810), Frederick (1815), Francis (1819), Sarah (1822), Clementina (1824) and Adela (1828).

Although Lady Jersey had inherited Osterley Park from her grandfather, the couple chose rather to live at Middleton Park in Middleton Stoney in Oxfordshire, where Lord Jersey successfully bred and trained racehorses. When in London, they resided at 38 Berkeley Square.

Osterley Park
Osterley Park
“Queen Sarah”

Throughout the Regency period and beyond, Lady Jersey held a leading role in the ton, and was nicknamed “Queen Sarah” in acknowledgement of her position. According to Chancellor:
“Her amiable manners, her interest in politics, her admirable linguistic powers, her kindly, genial nature, all combined to give her a sort of prescriptive right to the exalted sphere in which she moved.” (3)
The first quadrille at Almack's  from The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow (1889)
The first quadrille at Almack's
from The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow (1889)
She was one of the patronesses of Almack’s Assembly Rooms, where she famously refused entry to the Duke of Wellington who turned up at the Rooms at seven minutes after 11pm when the doors were shut. On returning from Paris in 1815, she introduced the quadrille to the Rooms.

“Silence”

In her letters, Harriet, Countess of Granville, refers to Lady Jersey as “Silence”. The nickname does not appear to be used maliciously – it is rather a joke on her friend’s loquaciousness.

Captain Gronow describes Lady Jersey as being “inconceivably rude”, but Sir William Fraser describes her as being “very quick and intelligent, with the strongest sense of humour that I have ever seen in a woman; taking the keenest delight in a good joke, and having, I should say, great physical enjoyment of life."

Sarah Sophia, Countess of Jersey  from The Illustrated Belle Assemblée (1844)
Sarah Sophia, Countess of Jersey
from The Illustrated Belle Assemblée (1844)
Lady Jersey was immortalised as Zenobia in Disraeli’s Endymion. She also featured as Lady Augusta in Lady Caroline Lamb's scandalous novel Glenarvon.

Political activist

For many years, Lady Jersey was an ardent supporter of the Whigs. She was a passionate advocate for Princess Caroline, Princess of Wales, and was her most prominent female supporter during the “Queen Caroline Affair” of 1820-21, when the Prince of Wales sought to prevent his estranged wife from assuming her role as Queen. Lady Jersey found herself under personal attack from John Bull, the most successful and widely circulated contemporary loyalist newspaper, which led to a libel suit against John Bull for impugning her honour.

By the end of the 1820s, she had switched her political allegiance to the Tory party and was championing Wellington and Peel. Her influence as a political hostess faded in the 1840s and she was eclipsed by others, particularly by her old rival Lady Cowper who had married Lord Palmerston in 1839.

Engraving of the Princess of Wales  from La Belle Assemblée (1807)
Engraving of the Princess of Wales
from La Belle Assemblée (1807)
The other Lady Jersey

Lady Jersey is not to be confused with Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey, her notorious mother-in-law, who was once mistress to George IV while he was Prince Regent and was instrumental in encouraging his hatred towards Princess Caroline.

Death

Lady Jersey died on 26 January 1867 at the age of 81 years. She left most of her property to her grandson, the 7th Earl of Jersey, but made generous bequests to her other grandchildren. She was buried at Middleton Stoney in Oxfordshire.

Notes
(1) The estimated income of £60,000 is from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (see below), but it gives no date as to which year it relates to. Taking 1804, the year of Sarah's marriage, as a base point and using the Measuring Worth website, an income of £60,000 would be equivalent to £4.12 million using the retail price index or an even greater £51.5 million using their average earnings method. Either way, it was a huge income!
(2) The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography suggests an earlier date of 1812.
(3) From Memorials of St. James’s Street and Chronicles of Almack’s by E Beresford Chancellor (1922)

For a discussion about relative costs in the Regency period, see my blog post: How much did a ticket to a Regency ball really cost?

Sources used include:
Chancellor, E. Beresford, Memorials of St. James’s Street and Chronicles of Almack’s (1922)
Dunkin, John, Oxfordshire, The history and antiquities of the hundreds of Bullington and Ploughley vol II (1823)
Granville, Harriet, Countess of, Letters of Harriet, Countess of Granville 1810-1845, edited by F. Leveson Gower (1894)
Gronow, Captain, The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow (1889, 1900)
Reynolds, KD, Villiers, Sarah Sophia Child-, Countess of Jersey (1785-1867) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn May 2006, accessed 6 Oct 2012)

Photograph © Andrew Knowles
More photos of Osterley Park by Andrew Knowles on Flickr.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Regency History's guide to Almack's Assemby Rooms

A ball at Almack's 1815
A ball at Almack's 1815
The importance of Almack’s

During the Regency period, Almack’s Assembly Rooms were at the heart of the London season. Their importance cannot be overstated. Possessing a voucher to enter the sacred portals of the Rooms could make or break a young lady’s entrance into the ton and her chances of finding a suitable husband.

Captain Gronow declares in his reminiscences of 1814 that:
“At the present time one can hardly conceive the importance which was attached to getting admission to Almack's, the seventh heaven of the fashionable world.”
According to Lord Lamington: "Almack's was the portal to that select circle of intellect and grace which constituted the charm of Society.”

As the English poet and wit, Henry Luttrell wrote:

“All on that magic List depends;
Fame, fortune, fashion, lovers, friends;
'Tis that which gratifies or vexes
All ranks, all ages, and both sexes.
If once to Almack's you belong,
Like monarchs you can do no wrong;
But banished thence on Wednesday night,
By Jove, you can do nothing right.”

The early days

Almack’s Assembly Rooms opened on 12 February 17651 in King Street, St. James, in the heart of fashionable London. They were situated immediately to the east of Pall Mall Place and, according to Horace Walpole, when they were opened, there were three very elegant rooms, one of which was planned to be 90 feet long.

Almack's Assembly Rooms
Almack's Assembly Rooms
The Rooms were named after their founder, who is thought to have been a Scotsman. No one seems quite sure whether his name was Almack or whether this was a pseudonym to disguise his Scottish origins, as anything Scottish was out of favour at this time. He also founded a coffee house in 1763 which was later to become Brooks' club for gentlemen.

During the first phase of the life of Almack’s, the Rooms were home to a ladies’ club, where both sexes met to gamble, whilst dancing went on in the great room. It rivalled Carlisle House, whose entertainments, run by the redoubtable Madame Cornely, were becoming increasingly scandalous. Almack’s combated the mixed nature of the Carlisle assemblies by developing an exclusiveness that set it apart. Almack’s suffered a loss of popularity when the Pantheon opened in 1772; however, the latter was burnt down twenty years later and although rebuilt, it never rivalled Almack’s again.

The exclusive club of the ton

From the 1790s onwards, Almack’s entered a new phase. The ladies’ club dwindled and the excessive gambling disappeared and the Rooms became entirely given over to dances and assemblies. Almack’s became the place for a young lady to be seen to demonstrate her position in the ton and for a gentleman to go in search of a wife of good social standing. Hence, it became known as “The Marriage Mart”.

Almack’s exclusivity stemmed from the way that it restricted its membership. To attend the weekly balls, held on Wednesday evenings in the season, it was necessary to procure an annual voucher. According to Jesse, the subscription was ten guineas “for which you have a ball and supper once a week for twelve weeks”.

However, in order to obtain a voucher, one needed to be approved by the committee of six or seven high ranking ladies who governed Almack’s. Subscribers were allowed to bring a guest on a “Stranger’s Ticket”, but this guest still had to be approved by the patronesses before admittance.

To be offered a voucher meant acceptance into the ton; to lose one’s voucher indicated social ostracism.

Excerpt from Leigh's New Picture of London (1827)
Excerpt from Leigh's New Picture of London (1827)
The patronesses of Almack’s

Sarah Villiers, Lady Jersey © Rachel Knowles
Sarah Villiers, Lady Jersey © Rachel Knowles
The committee changed over time, but in the middle of the Regency period, Gronow records that they were: Lady Castlereagh, Lady Jersey, Lady Cowper, Mrs. Drummond Burrel, the Countess Esterhazy and the Countess Lieven. According to Ticknor’s diaries, only one lady acted as patroness at a time on a rotation basis, but the members of the committee are usually referred to collectively as the patronesses of Almack’s.

The patronesses met every Monday night during the season to decide who to drop from their membership and who to extend a voucher to. Vouchers were granted to those who met the criteria of the patronesses. This depended more on position in society, address and behaviour than on wealth. If granted a voucher, a young lady would be introduced to suitable partners by the patronesses.

The rules of Almack’s

During the height of the Regency, supper was served at 11pm, after which time no further admittance to the rooms was allowed. According to Gronow, the Duke of Wellington was famously turned away by Lady Jersey for arriving after the cut-off time of 11pm when the doors were closed.

The refreshments on offer were meagre; supper consisted of bread and butter and fairly plain cake, with tea and lemonade to drink. The correct garb for gentlemen at Almack’s at this time was knee breeches, white cravat and chapeau bras.

Only country dances – both Scotch reels and English country dances - were performed until about 1815 when Lady Jersey introduced the quadrille and the Countess Lieven introduced the waltz.

Note:
(1) Gronow states the opening of Almack’s as 12th February; other sources say 13th or 20th. However, they all seem agreed that it opened in February 1765.

Sources used include:
Chancellor, E. Beresford, Memorials of St. James’s Street and Chronicles of Almack’s (1922)
Creevey, Thomas, The Creevey Papers, A selection from the correspondence & diaries of the late Thomas Creevey, MP, edited by Sir Herbert Maxwell (John Murray, 1904, London)
Gronow, Captain, The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow (1900)
Leigh, Samuel, Leigh's New Picture of London (London, 1827)