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Thursday, 29 January 2015

A genuine Almack's voucher

Ladies voucher for Almack's - used with kind permission  STG Misc. Box 7 (Almack's Voucher),  © The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA
Ladies' voucher for Almack's - used with kind permission
STG Misc. Box 7 (Almack's Voucher)
© The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA
Why was an Almack’s voucher so important?

Almack’s Assembly Rooms were the most exclusive venue in Regency London. Almack’s was the place that ladies and gentlemen of quality went to see and be seen in the hopes of finding a suitable marriage partner. But why was it so exclusive? Because you were only admitted if you had a voucher and you could only get a voucher if you were approved by one of the lady patronesses. You can read more about Almack’s here.

What was an Almack’s voucher like?

My Regency reticule with a printed copy of the voucher for Almack's  Used with kind permission STG Misc. Box 7 (Almack's Voucher),   © The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA
My Regency reticule with a printed copy of the voucher for Almack's
Image of Almack's voucher used with kind permission
STG Misc. Box 7 (Almack's Voucher),
© The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA
Someone recently asked me whether I knew how big an Almack’s voucher would have been and I had to confess that I did not know. I decided to try and find out.

Fortunately, I knew where to start looking. The only Almack’s voucher that I have ever seen on the internet is part of the Stowe Collection held at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, USA. It was included in an exhibition in 2011, Revisiting the Regency: England, 1811-1821.

Vanessa Wilkie, Curator of Medieval and British Historical Manuscripts at the Huntington Library, has the voucher in her care and was able to help me.

She told me that the voucher was printed on very strong cardboard and was about the same size as a business card – approximately 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches (or 6.25cm by 8.75cm). To help me get a feel for what this was like, I printed out the image using these dimensions. As you can see from the photograph, it would easily fit inside my Regency reticule.

My Regency reticule with a printed copy of the voucher for Almack's  Used with kind permission STG Misc. Box 7 (Almack's Voucher),   © The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA
My Regency reticule with a printed copy of the voucher
Image of Almack's voucher used with kind permission
STG Misc. Box 7 (Almack's Voucher)
© The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA
The Marchioness of Buckingham

The voucher was issued to the Marchioness of Buckingham for the balls on the Wednesdays in April 1817. But who was she?

The Marchioness in question was Anna Elizabeth Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville, Duchess of Buckingham and Chandos (1779-1836). Lady Anna Elizabeth Brydges married Richard, Earl Temple, in 1796. He succeeded his father as Marquess of Buckingham in 1813 and was made Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, and Earl Temple of Stowe, in 1822. So in 1817, Anna Elizabeth would have been known as the Marchioness of Buckingham.

Evening dress from Ackermann's Repository (March 1817)
Evening dress
from Ackermann's Repository (March 1817)
Anna Elizabeth's husband does not seem to have had a very good reputation. In June 1816, the Times mentioned an affair of honour between the Marquis of Buckingham and Sir Thomas Hardy "in consequence of a dispute at the Opera-house". (1) He has been described as inept, greedy and extravagant, but his wife seems to have been a very capable woman. In 1828, Anna Elizabeth forced her husband to make a resettlement in her favour after he had sold off lands from her marriage settlement in order to pay his debts.

I cannot help wondering whether any of the patronesses of Almack’s would have granted the unsavoury Marquess a voucher or not.

The Marchioness of Downshire

Vanessa told me that her predecessor, Dr Robertson, had noted that the initials in the bottom right-hand corner ‘M.D’ “might be Mary Marchioness of Downshire who may briefly have been a patroness ca. 1816-17”. (2) 

I have read on several Regency blogs (3) that the Marchioness of Downshire was a patroness of Almack's. This is supported by contemporary correspondence and lists of patronesses in advertisements for the balls at Almack's in the Morning Post.

Evening dress  from Ackermann's Repository (May 1817)
Evening dress
from Ackermann's Repository (May 1817)
Mary Hill, Marchioness of Downshire (1764-1836), was a wealthy and politically influential landowner. In 1802, she was made Baroness Sandys of Ombersley in her own right. She managed the family’s estates in Ireland during her son’s minority, but came to England to live in 1812. During a visit to London in 1819, Ticknor wrote “those that interested and please me most were the Marchioness of Downshire and her daughters”. (4)

What else can we learn from the voucher?

As you can see, there is a red wax seal in the bottom left-hand corner of the card. Vanessa told me that this is intact. Unfortunately the imprint is illegible. (5)

Verso of ladies' voucher for Almack's   Used with kind permission  STG Misc. Box 7 (Almack's Voucher)  © The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA
Verso of ladies' voucher for Almack's
Used with kind permission
STG Misc. Box 7 (Almack's Voucher)
© The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA
A new piece of information that I gleaned from Vanessa is that the back of the voucher is inscribed with the words "Pall Mall" (shown above). Is this where the Marchioness of Buckingham was living and the address to which the voucher was to be delivered?

Carlton House, with its main entrance facing Pall Mall  from Ackermann's Repository (1809)
Carlton House, with its main entrance facing Pall Mall
from Ackermann's Repository (1809)
The faint words written in brown ink on the top of the card are thought to read ‘Third Set’. (5) Various suggestions have been made as to what these words mean - a third set of vouchers, a third sitting for supper or the third set in a dance? It seems most likely that they refer to the third set of quadrilles being danced at Almack's. What do you think they meant?

Notes
(1) From The Times, London, 18 June 1816, The Times Digital Archive accessed 24 Jan 2015.
(2) From the catalogue notes for the voucher at the Huntington Library.
(3) For example, Jane Austen’s World blog, Candice Hern’s Facebook page and Carolyn Jewel’s comment on the Huntington Library’s Flickr image of the voucher.
(4) From an 1819 entry in Life, Letters and Journals of George Ticknor (1876).
(5) From comments by the Huntington Library on their Flickr image of the voucher.

Sources used include:
Thompson, FML, Grenville, Richard Temple-Nugetn-Brydges-Chandos, 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos (1776-1839), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn May 2009, accessed 24 Jan 2015)
Ticknor, George, Life, Letters, and Journals of George Ticknor (1876)
Richey, Rosemary, Hill, Mary, Marchioness of Downshire and suo jure Baroness Sandys of Ombersley (1764-1836), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn Jan 2008, accessed 24 Jan 2015)

Huntington Library's Flickr image of the voucher.

The image of the Almack's voucher is used with kind permission from the Huntington Library: STG Misc. Box 7 (Almack's Voucher), © The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.

If you wish to download a low resolution image of the voucher for your personal use, please follow this link to The Huntington Digital Library.

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

39 comments:

  1. From what I can see online 'third set' refers to one set of dances. That then begs the question whether the card holder was restricted to dancing only this set. This makes sense since they would need to limit the numbers dancing each set.

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    1. Yes, this seems to match with what I have read and what Paul suggests in his comment - that it indicated permission to dance in the third set of quadrilles.

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  2. How glorious to see the voucher in person! And what a lovely blog post. Thanks for sharing all your research.

    I went to that exhibit multiple times, but never worked up the courage to contact the curators and ask for extra information. So I'm full of admiration! :-)

    Perhaps you know the answer to what I was curious about: I'd always thought (before I saw this exhibit) that one received a single voucher once, after which one was "in the club" and could buy tickets to any Almack's ball one wished. But this voucher is specifically limited to one month -- but it does explicitly refer to tickets. So do you know: did one need to renew a voucher every month? Or is the "club membership" part of it indeed a one-time only thing, and the vouchers just came automatically each month? Also, the printed part says "deliver to.." and "tickets" -- which makes me think that perhaps one couldn't say "I'll buy tickets for this Wednesday, but not the next Wednesday." So perhaps one bought tickets for every Wednesday in a month, or for no Wednesdays in a month...? And the perhaps once one was "in the club," if one paid for, say, April 1817 balls, one received a voucher...? In other words, do you know how the detailed functionality went?

    Thanks!

    Cara

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    1. Wow! What a privilege to see the real thing!

      The adverts for Almack's subscription balls would suggest that people had to apply to the patronesses if they wanted to subscribe. I had assumed that the voucher was their ticket to the balls in April rather than a member's card which allowed them to buy tickets, but perhaps I am wrong. I see the process as this: you apply, you're approved, you subscribe and so you are sent a voucher for the subscription balls. The number of these balls varied considerably from season to season. Judging by the actual voucher, there was a set of subscription balls in April 1817 for which a voucher was issued. I think people had to resubscribe for each set of balls.

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    2. Thanks for the info, Rachel! And I admire you for trying to tabulate the patronesses year by year -- what a task!

      The reason I think the voucher and the ticket aren't the same thing is that the voucher pictured says "Deliver to The Marchioness of Buckingham Tickets for the Balls on the Wednesdays in April 1817." So if they are to deliver her tickets, then the voucher wouldn't be the ticket...

      Thanks!

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  3. Maybe the third sitting for dinner? Is that a possibility?

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    1. They only had meagre refreshments at Almack's, so I think that it is unlikely. Paul's suggestion below is that it referred to the 3rd set of quadrilles and this seems the most plausible.

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  4. Great post! The 'third set' reference might imply that she was invited to dance in the 3rd set of Quadrilles - I've heard of similar references on invitations to private balls.

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    1. Thanks - that would make sense. I have read an advert in The Morning Post for 1815 which talks of the ball room being used for waltzing and the adjoining rooms for French and English country dances. The writing on the voucher might indicate to the Marchioness her turn in the ballroom.

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    2. If it helps, I've shared some similar research on the Almack's Band Leader here: http://regencydances.org/paper010.php , including an image of a chalked floor from Almack's. Those newspapers sure are an excellent source of information.

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    3. Thanks for the link, Paul - a very useful article.

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  5. I'm working on tabulating all the patronesses from 1770 to 1837 which is a job and a half. I've been using the Morning Chronicle listing the patronesses at any particular subscription ball. Thing is, a lot of the memes about Almack's are looking a little dodgy. Captain Gronow proves to have had a very fault memory. I have mention of Lady Downshire in 1814 and 1815. I haven't got as far as 1816 yet.

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    1. I have started much the same task, except I am concentrating on the period from 1792 when Almack's changed hands. I was delighted to find that the Duchess of Devonshire was a patroness on occasion - I have never heard of her being included in lists of patronesses before. I will definitely have to revise my original article on Almack's at some point!
      Yes, I agree, Gronow is a much quoted, but inaccurate, source on the subject!
      I am glad you have found reference to Lady Downshire - I have not reached her yet and was beginning to doubt whether she was a patroness!

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  6. What would you consider contemporary evidence that Lady Downshire was a patroness besides the contemporary correspondence that mentions her as being one?
    The marquess of Buckingham would have had no problem getting a voucher even if he weren't married. He was of high rank . IT was the half pay soldiers , the gentry, and young ladies who had to have spotless reputations. If they banned the venial, there would be no attendees to dance with the virginal young things.

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    1. What I was looking for was her inclusion in a list of patronesses at a subscription ball as advertised in eg The Times or The Morning Post. Sarah's comment above says that she has come across Lady Downshire in this context for 1814 and 1815.
      As the Marquess of Buckingham was married, he was not looking for a wife, so he would probably not have bothered with Almack's anyway - no doubt he would have found it insipid!

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  7. Quite a few married people or those not looking to marry went to Almack's for dancing.
    There is some evidence that while the voucher entitled one to buy a ticket, the numbers who could attend any specific night were limited. Also, the number of people to whom each patroness could issue vouchers was limited. I would like to know the dates for the 1815 advertisements as I don't have records for those for 1815. Lady Shelley's letters mention some in 1816 , including Lady Bathurst who is seldom mentioned. Laura Wallace did some research intio Almacks' earlier and discovered that sometime in 1815 things changed. We think this was when Lady Jersey took over. The assembly had met a coupkle of times a year on Tues. and Thursdays bit changed by 1816 t to every Wednesday during the season. Gronow's memory wasn't accurate as to 1814. There isn't much mention of Almacks' nor fear of the patronesses until after 1815. Lady Caroline Lamb , a married woman, was barred from Almacks' in 1816 because of a book she wrote. The rooms in which the assembly was held could be rented for private parties. Many of the town houses didn't have a ballroom so Almacks' rooms were rented for private parties. The assemblies weren't held every night and before 1815 weren't even held every week. Other clubs had patronesses and held assemblies. some were more daring and held masquerades. I understood that the voucher was turned in when one purchased one's ticket but this seems to say not. The third set or other notations could have been made by the lady for her own use.

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    1. Thanks for your comments. I think the history of the balls at Almack's is much more complicated than I used to think and agree that the 'ball every week in season' idea was certainly not valid for the whole of the Regency. I have also found evidence to suggest that the Almack's 'branding' spread to other places eg Bath. There is an 1815 advert from the Morning Post on the Regency Dances website: http://regencydances.org/paper010.php. Sarah (comment above) might be able to supply other references.

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  8. Paul has been helping me in my research which I hope will turn into a definitive history of Almack's. I confess to having found myself quite low at times over the wretched thing, and I am aware that I shan't be popular as I fear a number of memes are going to be debunked - like the balls being on Wednesday night, which seems only to have happened from around 1814. I've been trying to track down how early the Duchess of Devonshire was a patron, and I confess to being very frustrated in finding patrons in the 1780s and early 90s other than Maria Sefton

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    1. The earliest reference I have for the Duchess of Devonshire is March 1801 in The Times. Keep going! I think it is a great idea to put together a fuller picture of what went on at Almack's. Perhaps the patronesses were not such an important aspect of Almack's before it changed hands in 1791.

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  9. Morning Post is the best, it's as well to read the regional papers very carefully though, because some of the upcoming attractions announced are in fact in London, because people in the provinces were very interested in London life and gossip. I've coughed up for a year's subscription to the newspaper archive online which I hope will give me time to track down every last snippet...

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  10. You could be right, I was assuming they would be, as there's the original 'coterie' mentioned by Walpole, including Maria Sefton's mother, Isabella, who introduced Maria Fitzherbert into society, being her husband's cousin. I have a possible earliest 'recent' date of 1790 for Georgiana Lady Bathurst.... then appart from the putative joining of Maria Sefton around 1796, nothing before 1798 with The Marchioness of Salisbury, Countess of Essex & Viscountess Malden. In 1801 Geogiana Lady Bathurst is mentioned so may be assumed to have been a patroness throughout? and yes, the Duchess of Devonshire in that year, along with, amongst others, the controversial duchess of Gordon who isn't there the following year, presumably because she was in France getting her daughter married during the Peace of Amiens. I'm trying to write brief biogs of each of the ladies involved too...

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  11. Thereafter I have 7 or 8 all the way through to 1815

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    1. You are doing a great job! Keep going. We will have to compare notes at some point. :)

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  12. Maybe we can get together one day and pool resources...

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    1. That sounds like a good idea. I have plans to visit your part of the country at some point. :)

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  13. Thank you very much for another superbly well-researched and interesting blog post -- and thank you again for all your help with the voucher, it was extremely kind of you! :)

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    1. My pleasure - you were my inspiration. :)

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  14. Ah, memories! I was lucky enough to see the voucher itself at the Huntington in 2011 - fabulous Regency exhibition, thank you for reminding me, Rachel, and for another splendidly informative blog.

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  15. Sarah, there are names mentioned in the Lady Caroline Case of 1816 in the letters of Frances Lady Shelley.

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  16. Oh splendid! thanks, it's knowing the sources to read...

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  17. In the unpublished diary of Lady Downshire's daughters, it's recorded that she wrote to Lady Castlereagh on 5th February 1818 resigning her office in the administration of the balls at Almacks "which is a considerable relief of trouble to us as well as to herself".

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  18. One of the recurring characters in my novels is an older gentleman who owns seven dogs he named whimsically after the patronesses of Almack's. :-) But I'm afraid your research shows my own to be inaccurate. I will have to revise those names! Thank you for the excellent source, and I hope I can return the favor someday. I see this thread was begun a couple of years ago. Have you published your history of Almack's yet? I'd love to read it.

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    1. Sorry to disappoint you, but I haven't written that one yet. I've been busy writing historical novels and What Regency Women Did For Us.

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  19. I haven't written mine either, I kept hitting brick walls between 1770 and 1802

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  20. Re. the "Third Set", James Grant's 1837 "The Great Metropolis" says: "Sometimes, when the ladies-patronesses are not very decided either in acceding to or rejecting an application, they agree to give a ticket to the party for one night, or three tickets for a set, as they are called, of the balls."

    http://www.victorianlondon.org/publications/thegreatmetropolis1.htm

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    1. How interesting. Thanks for the information.

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  21. Thank you so much for this post!

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