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Tuesday, 8 December 2020

Ice skating in Regency London

Skating Lovers (1800)  Drawn by Adam Buck; published William Holland; engraved by   Piercy Roberts & JC Stadler © British Museum no. 1932,1019.1
Skating Lovers (1800)
Drawn by Adam Buck; published William Holland; engraved by
Piercy Roberts & JC Stadler © The Trustees of the British Museum
Used under Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) 
I love to use real historical events in my novels and in A Reason for Romance, book 2 in The Merry Romances series, set in 1810, some of my characters go skating on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, London. The downside of wanting to be historically accurate is my sometimes-frantic searching for details. In this instance, amongst other things, I wanted to know whether it would have been possible for a lady to go skating. 

Skating on the Serpentine

Winter, figures skating (1790-1811)  Drawn by Isaac Cruikshank  © British Museum no. 1931,1114.105
Winter, figures skating (1790-1811)
Drawn by Isaac Cruikshank
© The Trustees of the British Museum
Used under Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)  
According to Feltham’s Picture of London for 1810 under almanac of amusements:
In time of frost, the Canal in St. James's park, and the Serpentine River in Hyde-park, are covered with skaiters; here a stranger will find much amusement.1
The Picture of London for 1810 gave more details under Promenade of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens:
In severe winters, when the Serpentine River is frozen over, the ice is almost, covered with people. In one winter there were counted more than 6000 people at one time on the ice. A number of booths were pitched for the refreshment of the populace; and here and there was a group of six, eight, or more, fashionable young men, skaiting, and describing difficult figures, in the manner of a country dance, with peculiar neatness and facility of execution. In general, however, the English do not excel in this exhilarating and wholesome exercise.2
The London freeze of January 1810

Fashionable figures ice skating (c1795-1810) French school (?)  © British Museum no. 1931,1114.556
Fashionable figures ice skating (c1795-1810) French school (?)
© The Trustees of the British Museum
Used under Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)  
On 13 January 1810, the temperature dropped below freezing and continued to fall. The Serpentine River froze, attracting skaters from all walks of life, both beginners and experts.

The Morning Post on Monday 22 January reported:
The Serpentine River
Was yesterday a scene of attraction. The banks on the north-side were lined with elegant equipages, and those on the south with numerous groups of pedestrians. The day was cheered by the rays of the sun having dispersed the fog. The air, although keen, was invigorating. The ice was good, and the skaiters were in numbers incalculable. 

A subscription of several guineas having been made for the sweepers (they forming a strong phalanx) the circles were kept in good order. As is customary the best performers were confined within a very narrow space next to the edge nearest the carriages. 

Here exhibited their skill in circles and figures; on Saturday, the Honourable Mr Byng, of the Torrington Family, Mr Cavendish Bradshaw, Colonel Arthur Upton, Mr Stanhope, and Mr Grant. Mr Upton particularly excelled in what school-boys call a Turk’s-cap ie cutting the figure of three, three times, and thus forming an entire circle. We have seen Mr Cavendish Bradshaw skait more adventurously, but never with a greater degree of elegance and precision. – Lord Cochrane performed very well for a British tar; his efforts never exceeded a straight forward movement. Mr Chisholm, that elegant young man of fashion, and Mr Scott, were among the learners.3
The only mention of a lady was as a pedestrian, not a skater:
The beautiful Mrs Russell Manners was among the humble pedestrians on the ice on Saturday. She was habited in buff kerseymere, with a broad margin of blue velvet; the costume was strictly a la Spaniola.4
A female skater

Winter Amusements - A Scene in France (1803)  Published by Laurie & Whittle © British Museum no. 1931,1114.287
Winter Amusements - A Scene in France (1803)
Published by Laurie & Whittle © The Trustees of the British Museum
Used under Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)  
I was delighted when I discovered the following newspaper report from a few days earlier. It confirmed that there were a few ladies who skated, and in this instance, the lady ‘decidedly excelled’ her companions. The report is from The Morning Post on Friday 19 January 1810:
Among the fashionables who took the diversion of skaiting on the Serpentine River on Wednesday was the Duke of Argyle. An elegant female, in a green spotted dress, with a scarlet Spanish mantle, was attended by two Gentlemen. They were allowed by the amateurs to be perfect masters of the art; but the Gentlemen were decidedly excelled by the Lady, who cut out the letters O.P. with a precision and neatness truly astonishing.5
It does not say what the letters meant. Though I suppose the letters O P could have been her initials, I wondered whether it was a reference to the Old Price riots which had plagued Covent Garden Theatre during the preceding months. You can read about the OP riots here.

A sliding swan

Not everyone skated on the ice. Sliding was also very popular. The Morning Post on Saturday 20 January 1810 mentioned a young lady slider, notable because of her dress:
Serpentine River
The skaiters continue to be very numerous. A young Lady made a very conspicuous appearnce yesterday. She was attended by a servant, and appeared to take particular delight in sliding. The peculiarity attached to her was her dress, which resembled the covering of a swan, being a pelisse made entirely of swan’s down, and white feet.6
The Persian ambassador

During his stay in London, Mirza Abul Hassan, the Persian ambassador, observed the skating on the Serpentine River:
I went in the carriage with Sir Gore Ouseley and some other friends to the park. The weather was so cold that the river was frozen over and a large crowd of men and women was gathered there. Some of them had razor-sharp iron blades fixed to the soles of their boots and they moved like arrows across the ice. They say that ice-skating is a healthy winter exercise. If the ice should break and someone fall in, small boats are at hand to come to the rescue.

I conceived a fancy to slide on the ice in the English manner and we got out of the carriage. But there was such a crowd of milling people that I soon lost courage.7
The Humane Society

Boat house of the Royal Humane Society from The story of the London Parks by J Larwood (1874)
Boat house of the Royal Humane Society from
The story of the London Parks by J Larwood (1874)
Skating on the Serpentine was not without mishap. Sometimes people fell through the ice. Feltham’s Picture of London for 1810 wrote:
From the number of accidents which happen annually on this river when frozen over, his majesty gave the Humane Society a spot of ground on its banks, on which they have erected a most convenient receiving-house for the recovery of persons apparently drowned; it cost upwards of 500l and is worthy the inspection of the curious. The society, during the time of frost, keep men on the river to guard the unwary from danger, and to relieve those who may require their aid.8
Cold Broth and Calamity by Thomas Rowlandson  after Henry Wigstead (1792) The Met Museum DP885280
Cold Broth and Calamity by Thomas Rowlandson
after Henry Wigstead (1792) The Met Museum DP885280
The great frost of 1813-14

The winter of 1813-14 was particularly harsh. George Davis’s book Frostiana gave a first-hand account of the freeze and the Frost Fair on the frozen River Thames. Davis wrote:
All the ponds and rivers in the neighbourhood of London were completely frozen, and skating was pursued with great avidity on the Canal in St James’s, and the Serpentine in Hyde Park. On Monday, the 10th of January, the Canal and the Basin in the Green Park were conspicuous for the number of steel-shod heroes who covered their glossy surfaces, and who, according to their respective qualities, administered to the pleasure of the throng which crowded their banks; some by the agility and grace with which they performed their evolutions, and others by the tumbles and other accidents which marked their clumsy career. There was, as usual, a motley collection of all orders of his Majesty’s subjects, engaged in the busy scene, who seemed all alike eager candidates for the applause of the multitude, and whether sweep, dustman, drummer, or beau, each seemed conscious of possessing some claim, not only to his own good opinion, but to that of the fair belles who viewed his movements. There were several accidents in the course of the day, but none we believe of a serious nature.

While these Parks were thus numerously attended, Hyde park had to boast of a more distinguished order of visitors, who, in the course of the afternoon, flocked in prodigious crowds to the banks of the Serpentine, which was covered with most excellent ice. Notwithstanding the keenness of the breeze, several females of dash, clad in robes of the richest fur, bid defiance to tis chilling embrace, and, on the fragile bosom of the river ventured their fair frames. The skaters were in great numbers, and were of first-rate note. Some of the most difficult movements of the art were executed with an agility and grace which excited universal admiration.

A lady and two officers performed a reel with a precision scarcely conceivable, and attracted a very numerous circle of spectators, whose boisterous applause so completely terrified the fair cause of their ecstasy, as to induce her to forego the pleasure she herself received from the amusement, and to put an end to that which she afforded to such as were disposed to admire her in silence.

Two unfortunate accidents occurred; one skating lady dislocated the patella or kneepan, and five gentlemen and a lady were immersed in the icy fluid, but received no farther injury than a severe ducking.9
It continued:
On the 22d of January, and for some days afterwards, the ice on the Serpentine River exhibited a singular appearance, from the mountains of snow which the sweepers had collected together in different situations. The spaces allotted for the skaters were in the forms of circles, squares, and oblongs. Next to the carriage ride (on the north side) were many astonishing evolutions displayed. Skipping on skates, and the Turk-cap backwards, were among the most conspicuous.10
What did Regency skates look like?

English skates from Skating by JM Heathcote et al (1892)
English skates from Skating by JM Heathcote et al (1892)
The skates were not separate shoes but fixed to the boots by way of straps. Early skates were wooden but by around 1800, blades were generally made of metal.

Frostiana stated:
The English, though often remarkable for feats of agility upon skates, are very deficient in gracefulness; which is partly owning to the construction of the skates. They are too much curved in the surface which embraces the ice, consequently they involuntarily bring the users of them round on the outside upon a quick and small circle; whereas the skater, by using skates of a different construction, less curved, has the command of his stroke, and can enlarge or diminish the circle according to his own wish or desire.11
It compared the English to the Dutch:
To the native of Holland, skating is quite as familiar as walking, and he puts on his skates with the same indifference as we do our shoes; - the instruments, indeed, are indispensable to the Dutch in the winter season; and are used by men, women and children, constantly … Skating is pursued in England as an amusement only, and for a single week, perhaps, in the course of the year; but in Holland, it is absolutely necessary, and supplies a cheap and commodious method of transport to all classes of people.

The Dutch skates are not so finely shaped as those we use; and the skaters are more remarkable for the ease, than elegance of their execution.12
How fast could they go?

Skaters on the reservoir at La Villette (1813)  Fashion in Paris (1898) from British Library
Skaters on the reservoir at La Villette (1813)
Fashion in Paris (1898) from British Library
Frostiana stated:
We have heard that some skaters in the fens of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, have skated two miles in two minutes, the strokes on an average being each ten yards. This velocity exceeds that of most race horses, and the fatigue occasioned by it is much less.
A very remarkable skating-feat is said to have taken place during the late frost. A Mr Maxwell, celebrated for his skill and dexterity in this useful art, skated from Long Acre to St James’s Park in four minutes and fifty seconds. This was for a wager, and the given time was five minutes.13
Did Jane Austen skate?

I have not come across anything to say that Jane Austen skated, but her brother Frank loved to skate. Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra from Southampton in January 1807:
We did not take our walk on Friday, it was too dirty, nor have we yet done it; we may perhaps do something like it to-day, as after seeing Frank skate, which he hopes to do in the meadows by the beech, we are to treat ourselves with a passage over the ferry. It is one of the pleasantest frosts I ever knew, so very quiet. I hope it will last some time longer for Frank's sake, who is quite anxious to get some skating; he tried yesterday, but it would not do.14
1. Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1810 (1810).
2. Ibid.
3. The Morning Post, Monday 22 January 1810 from British Newspapers Archive.
4. Ibid.
5. The Morning Post, Friday 19 January 1810 from British Newspapers Archive.
6. The Morning Post, Saturday 20 January 1810 from British Newspapers Archive.
7. Hassan Khan, Mirza Abul, A Persian at the Court of King George 1809-10, edited by Margaret Morris Cloake (1988)
8. Davis, George, Frostiana; or a history of the River Thames in a frozen state (1814)
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid.
14. Jane Austen to Cassandra, January 7, 1807 in Austen, Jane, The Letters of Jane Austen selected from the compilation of her great nephew, Edward, Lord Bradbourne ed Sarah Woolsey (1892)

Sources used include:
Adams, Douglas, Skating (1892)
Andrews, William, Famous Frosts and Frost Fairs in Great Britain (1887)
Austen, Jane, The Letters of Jane Austen selected from the compilation of her great nephew, Edward, Lord Bradbourne ed Sarah Woolsey (1892)
Brokaw, Irving, The art of skating (1915)
Davis, George, Frostiana; or a history of the River Thames in a frozen state (1814)
Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1810 (1810)
Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1818 (1818)
Hassan Khan, Mirza Abul, A Persian at the Court of King George 1809-10, edited by Margaret Morris Cloake (1988)
Heathcote, John Moyer; Tebbutt, CG; Buck, Henry A; Kerr, John; Hake, Ormond; Witham, T Maxwell, Skating (1892)
The Gentleman’s Magazine (1810)
The Morning Post (January 1810 from British Newspapers Online, British Library)

Saturday, 31 October 2020

Duels - a Regency History guide

A duel by Robert Cruikshank from The English Spy by B Blackmantle (1825)
A duel by Robert Cruikshank from The English Spy by B Blackmantle (1825)
What was a duel?

A duel was a planned combat between two gentlemen using lethal weapons in the presence of witnesses. Duels were often referred to as affairs of honour because a gentleman fought to ‘remove the stain which he conceives attaches to his honour.’1

In his 1821 book on ‘ordeals’, Gilchrist described a duel:

The term 'Duel' signifies a single combat originating in a feeling of personal offence, and followed by a regular Cartel, or challenge, fixing a time and place, mutually convenient to the combatants. These individuals are termed principals, and are usually accompanied to the field, by two gentlemen, in the quality of friends, or seconds, for the purpose of arranging, and superintending, all the preliminaries, and proceedings of the combat.2

The challenge

If a gentleman took offence at another gentleman's actions or words, he could challenge that gentleman to a duel. The challenger demanded satisfaction from the offender. It was considered more gentlemanlike to meet each other in a duel than to descend into a fist fight like the lower classes.

In The Duelling Handbook (1829), Hamilton’s third rule in the royal code of honour stated:

In a case which appears to require recurrence to a duel, the challenge should always emanate from the individual who first conceives himself offended. 3

Did a gentleman have to accept a challenge?

Hamilton’s first rule in the royal code of honour said:

No duel can be considered justifiable, which can be declined with honour, therefore, an appeal to arms should always be the last resource. 4

In Principles of Politeness (1798), Trusler wrote:

I am happy to find that gentlemen, men of honour, and even military men in some cases, appeal to the civil laws of their country, when challenged, instead of the sword; and they appear to be countenanced in so doing. 5

The trouble was that most gentlemen found it hard to decline a challenge ‘with honour’, afraid of being labelled a coward.

In a speech against duelling in 1830, Crampton said:

No man loves to fight for fighting sake; he fights because he fears he cannot honourably decline the combat. 6

There was no slur on a gentleman’s character if he refused a challenge from a man who he deemed unworthy in rank (such as a servant) or character (such as a known criminal).

Two gentlemen duelling with pistols W Sams (1823) Wellcome Collection
Two gentlemen duelling with pistols W Sams (1823) Wellcome Collection
Could an apology be made?

It was the first duty of the seconds to try to effect a reconciliation between the parties. True gentlemanlike conduct was for the challenger to accept an apology if he could do so with honour.

Hamilton’s code of honour stated that:

Every apology which may be proposed, should be as dignified as the nature of the circumstances will admit of, it being inconsistent with true honour, to attempt the unnecessary degradation of an adversary. 7

The first offence required the first apology, even if the retort was more offensive than the insult.

If blows had been exchanged, no verbal apology could be given.

Hamilton stated:

An apology, with its usual accompaniment, the offer of a whip or switch, should always be accepted for a blow, or for any other offence, which may be considered an assault. 8

The weapons

Most Georgian duels used duelling pistols, but some were fought with swords. It is not clear whether the challenger or the challenged chose the weapon.

Hamilton quoted The Practice of Duelling and the Point of Honor, settled at the Clonmel summer assizes in 1777 and adopted throughout Ireland. These rules stated that the challenged party had the right to choose the weapon, though the challenger could decline swords if he gave his honour that he was no swordsman.

However, Trusler disagreed and said that it was the challenger who could choose:

Duelling is called demanding, and giving satisfaction; and it is the etiquette generally on these occasions that the challenger or party aggrieved, has the choice of weapons; and if pistols are determined on, to have the first fire; and the party challenged, being the aggressor, is to stand quietly to be shot at; when, if he is not killed; or rendered unable to return the fire, it is at his option either to fire at his antagonist, or discharge his pistol in the air; if he does the latter, the affair ends, and the challenger has had the Christian satisfaction of trying to murder his enemy, whom his Redeemer directs him to love. 9

Was it legal?

No! As a result, duels tended to happen at out of the way places, usually very early in the morning. Gentlemen considered that the etiquette surrounding a duel distinguished it from cold-blooded murder should one or both combatants be mortally injured.

In theory, the law made no such distinction, and a man could be sentenced to death for murdering his opponent in a duel, but the courts tended to be lenient, unless there were signs of impropriety.

Gilchrist made a study of duels from the accession of George III up to 1821. He wrote:

It appears, that in one hundred and seventy-two combats (including three hundred and forty-four individuals,) sixty-nine persons were killed; that in three of these neither of the combatants survived; that ninety-six were wounded, forty-eight of them desperately, and forty-eight slightly; that one hundred and eighty-eight escaped unhurt.

From this statement it will be seen that rather more than one-fifth of the combatants lost their lives, and that nearly one-half received the bullets of their antagonists.

It appears, also, that only eighteen trials took place; that six of the arraigned were “acquitted,” seven found guilty of “manslaughter,” and three of murder; that two were executed, and eight imprisoned during different periods. 10

Trusler disapproved of this leniency. He wrote:

The duellist who puts his antagonist to death, to support his honour; and thro' fear of being branded with cowardice, is no less criminal than the woman who puts her child to death, to preserve her honour, and conceal her and though the law punishes the latter with death, and winks at the former, in compliance with prejudice, reconciling it under the idea of self-defence; yet God, who sees not as man seeth, will punish both one and the other. 11

The dance of death: the duel by T Rowlandson (1816) Wellcome Collection
The dance of death: the duel by T Rowlandson (1816) Wellcome Collection
The role of the second

Each gentleman in a duel appointed one or two seconds – friends who would stand by them in the duel.

The first duty of a second was to effect a reconciliation without resort to violence, but failing this, the formal challenge was delivered to the challenged gentleman’s second.

Trusler advised:

If you are reduced to the necessity of giving a challenge, never commit it to writing, but convey it by the friend you have appointed your second; the letter conveying it will be evidence against you in a court of law. 12

It was the responsibility of the seconds to arrange the meeting and ensure fair play. The second of the challenged party set the ground and place of meeting.

In The Practice of Duelling and the Point of Honor (1777) used in Ireland and quoted by Hamilton, it stated that the challenger chose the distance, but it is not clear whether this was the case in England. Hamilton’s code of honour stated that parties should never be allowed to fight at less than ten yards distance.

For pistols, the seconds fixed the time and terms of firing, measured out the paces and loaded the guns.

For swords, the seconds ensured that the ground was clean, dry and even, and similar for both parties, and that the swords were of equal length to ensure fair play.

It was the duty of the seconds to step in and stop the duel after satisfaction had been gained. However, this was not always the case as sometimes the seconds joined in the duel.

Where were duels fought?

The challenged party had the choice of ground. A remote location was generally sought as duels were illegal and the parties did not want the meeting to be stopped by a constable of the law. London duels were fought in places like Hyde Park, Putney Heath, Wimbledon Common and Chalk Farm, north of Camden.

When did the duel stop?

It varied at what point a duel stopped, depending on what the seconds had agreed. would give the challenger satisfaction. Once honour had been satisfied, the parties were reconciled, and the matter considered closed.

For pistols, typically they fired one or more shots each, either together or taking it in turns starting with the challenger. Alternatively, they could continue until one or both parties were disabled. It was the duty of the seconds to try to end the duel after each round.

For swords, the duel continued until one party was badly wounded, disabled or disarmed, or until blood was drawn and the challenged party begged pardon.

Hamilton wrote:

He must have a truly murderous spirit who will fire at any gentleman after he discharges his pistol in the air, and whether swords or pistols are selected, the appearance of blood should generally terminate a duel. 13

Why were duels fought?

Many duels were fought over serious offences, such as the defence of a woman’s honour, or a gentleman’s character. But sometimes challenges were given for less honourable causes, such as gambling disputes or words spoken rashly, particularly under the influence of alcohol.

From Cecilia by Fanny Burney (1825 edition)
From Cecilia by Fanny Burney (1825 edition)
Colonel Brandon and Willoughby

In Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen referred to the duel fought between Colonel Brandon and Willoughby over his ward Eliza’s honour:

“Have you,” she [Elinor] continued, after a short silence, “ever seen Mr Willoughby since you left him at Barton?”

“Yes,” he replied gravely, “once I have. One meeting was unavoidable.”

Elinor, startled by his manner, looked at him anxiously, saying, “What? have you met him to—"

“I could meet him no other way. Eliza had confessed to me, though most reluctantly, the name of her lover; and when he returned to town, which was within a fortnight after myself, we met by appointment, he to defend, I to punish his conduct. We returned unwounded, and the meeting, therefore, never got abroad.”

Elinor sighed over the fancied necessity of this; but to a man and a soldier she presumed not to censure it.14

Lord Paget and Captain Cadogan

In 1809, Captain Cadogan challenged Henry Paget, Lord Paget, later 1st Marquess of Anglesey, to a duel for eloping with his sister Charlotte, who was married to Henry Wellesley, a younger brother of Arthur Wellesley, Duke ofWellington.

They met at 7am on 30 May 1809 on Wimbledon Common. Twelve paces apart, they fired together. Cadogan fired; Paget did not aim.

Gilchrist reported Paget as saying:

Nothing could ever have induced me to add to the injuries I have already done the family, by firing at the brother of Lady Charlotte Wellesley.15

William Pitt the Younger and George Tierney

In 1798, George Tierney objected to an expression used by William Pitt in the House of Commons and challenged him to a duel. They met on Putney Heath on 21 May 1798 at 3pm. At twelve paces, they fired two pistols each to no effect. Pitt fired his pistol in the air bringing the matter to a close with perfect honour on both sides.

Lord Castlereagh and George Canning

In 1809, Lord Castlereagh challenged Canning to a duel complaining that he had secretly tried to get him removed from office because of incapacity while continuing to work with him in the open.

The meeting took place on 21 September 1809 on Putney Heath at ten yards. The first shot missed, but in a second, Canning received a flesh wound in his left thigh.

Sir Robert Floyer and Mr Belfield in Cecilia

In Fanny Burney’s Cecilia, Sir Robert Floyer and Mr Belfield fought a duel prompted by a dispute for the right to escort Cecilia out of the pit of the Opera House. Sir Robert refused to make an apology for his rudeness. In the duel, Mr Belfield was wounded but not fatally.


1.                   Hamilton, Joseph, The Duelling Handbook (1829).

2.                   Gilchrist, James P, A brief display of the origin and history of ordeals (1821).

3.                   Hamilton op cit.

4.                   Ibid.

5.                   Trusler, Rev Dr John, and Chesterfield, Lord, Principles of Politeness and of knowing the world (1798).

6.                   Crampton, Philip Cecil, Speech of P C Crampton, Esq, at a public meeting of the Association for the Suppression of Duelling held in Dublin on Thursday June 10th 1830.

7.                   Hamilton op cit.

8.                   Ibid.

9.                   Trusler op cit.

10.               Gilchrist op cit.

11.               Trusler op cit.

12.               Ibid.

13.               Hamilton op cit.

14.               Austen, Jane, Sense and Sensibility (1811, London)

15.               Gilchrist op cit.

Sources used:

Austen, Jane, Sense and Sensibility (1811, London)

Burney, Fanny, Cecilia or Memoirs of an Heiress (1782)

Crampton, Philip Cecil, Speech of P C Crampton, Esq, at a public meeting of the Association for the Suppression of Duelling held in Dublin on Thursday June 10th 1830

Edgeworth, Maria, Belinda, this edition (1848)(1850)(1896)

Gilchrist, James P, A brief display of the origin and history of ordeals (1821)

Hamilton, Joseph, The Duelling Handbook (1829)

Hopton, Richard, Pistols at Dawn (2007)

Steinmetz, Andrew, The Romance of Duelling in All Times and Countries (1868)

Trusler, Rev Dr John, and Chesterfield, Lord, Principles of Politeness and of knowing the world (1798)

 Pictures from the Wellcome Collection are used under Creative Commons Licence (CC BY 4.0)


Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Thomas Hope – art collector and author of Anastasius (1769-1831)

Thomas Hope by Sir William Beechey (1)
Who was Thomas Hope?

Thomas Hope (30 August 1769 – 2 February 1831) was both an art collector and an interior designer with enough money to indulge his passions for both. He is best known as the author of the acclaimed but racy novel Anastasius, originally thought to be the work of Lord Byron.

Family background

Thomas Hope was born in Amsterdam on 30 August 1769, the eldest son of John Hope and Philippina Barbara van der Hoeven. John Hope was from a wealthy family of Dutch merchant bankers who owned the firm Hope & Co. On his death in 1784, Thomas and his brothers shared their father’s fortune.

Addicted to architecture

After working briefly for the family firm, in 1787 Hope took himself on a Grand Tour – for most of the next eight years. Much of that time was spent in the Levant, in countries like Turkey, studying architecture and civilisation. He appreciated the beauty of classicism and became a great proponent of the Neoclassical style but was also drawn to the romanticism of Mediterranean culture.

Duchess Street

When Amsterdam was occupied by the French in 1795, Hope moved to London, establishing himself in a house in Duchess Street in 1799. He made extensive changes to the house adding large galleries to display his ever-increasing collections of antiquities and art.

Interior of Thomas Hope's picture gallery, Duchess Street (2)
The Persian ambassador, Mirza Abul Hassan, wrote in the journal of his visit to England in 1809-10:

I was invited to the house of Mr Hope…His house is magnificent, with a forecourt like a palace. Inside, there was a large assembly of English ladies and gentlemen, but the house is so vast it seemed almost empty!1

In A Reason for Romance (the sequel to A Perfect Match) Georgiana attends a rout at Mrs Hope’s house in Duchess Street. This rout was a historical event and took place on 5 April 1810.2

Marriage and family

Louisa Beresford, Viscountess Beresford (3)
On 16 April 1806, Hope married the Irish beauty Louisa Beresford. Louisa was the youngest daughter of William Beresford, Archbishop of Tuam and Lord Decies. The marriage was not of her choosing.

The Persian ambassador wrote in his journal:

They say that she was married to him for his money – that her father was a ‘padre’ who forced her into a union she was not eager to accept.3

The couple had four sons and a daughter: Henry Thomas (1807), Charles William (1808), Louisa Elizabeth (1810), Adrian John (1811) and Alexander James Beresford (1820).4

Tragically, Charles died in 1817 at the age of eight, during a tour of Italy.


Deepdene (4)
In 1807, Hope bought Deepdene, an estate near Dorking in Surrey with picturesque views of Box Hill and the nearby estates of Norbury Park and Denbies.

In his Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey (1828), Prosser wrote:

The estate of the Deepdene now consists of above four hundred acres of pleasure ground, so artfully disposed that a walk, admitting a pleasing transition of view of upwards of twelve miles, may be taken without retracing a step.5

Hope enlarged the house and commissioned rooms and furniture based on his own designs. According to Prosser, Deepdene boasted a sculpture gallery and a sculpture room and a theatre with a pavement ‘partly composed of a mosaic, from the Villa Hadriana at Rome.’6

In the grounds of Deepdene, Hope built a mausoleum where his son Charles’s ashes were laid and Hope himself was buried.

Deepdene (5)
Antiquarian and patron of the arts

Hope started building his collections on his Grand Tour and continued to add to them throughout his life. He acquired a collection of Sir William Hamilton’s antique vases in 1801 for £4,500 and by 1806, he had over 1,500 vases. Other pieces included Greek statues of Hygeia and Athene found at Ostia in 1797.

As well as collecting antiquities, Hope patronised the arts, recognising and commissioning works from sculptors such as Bertel Thorvaldsen and John Flaxman, and artists such as Thomas Daniell and Roberts Smirke.

Prosser’s Select Illustrations lists numerous works of art in Hope’s ownership in 1828 including sculpture by Thorvaldsen and Flaxman; portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Benjamin West and George Dawe; and paintings of Venice by Canaletto.

Illustration from Household Furniture by T Hope (6)
A man of influence

Hope’s standing as a specialist in art and design was recognised by his acceptance into the Society of the Dilettanti in 1800, and his membership of the Royal Academy, the Royal Institution, the Royal Society, the Society of Arts and the British Institution.

But it was not enough for Hope to become a connoisseur of art and design. He wanted to educate others and influence their taste. His Duchess Street house became a show home, with rooms lined with sculpture, painting and vases. From 1804, he even issued tickets to visit his collections, though this was viewed as rather patronising by the fellow Royal Academy members whom he offered them to.

In 1807, Hope published an influential book: Household Furniture and Interior Decoration – a compilation of his own designs for the rooms and furnishings in his home.

He published Costumes of the Ancients in 1809, and finished Essay on the Origin and Prospects of Man before he died in 1831.

Illustration from Household Furniture by T Hope (1807)
What was Thomas Hope like?

In his entry on Thomas Hope in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, John Orbell noted that Hope ‘was described as ill-looking and effeminate in manner.7

The Persian ambassador was very rude about Hope’s appearance. He wrote in his journal:

Mrs Hope is an Irish beauty – her mouth and teeth are particularly striking. Her husband, on the contrary, is incredibly ugly – if you were to see him in a dream, you would never wake again!8

Although an educated and talented man, I get the impression that Hope was rather full of himself. Not only did he think his ideas superior, but he also felt the need to educate others in matters of taste and design. Orbell described him as conceited and lacking in tact.9

When the Duke of Wellington was Prime Minister, Hope plagued him for a peerage, but he never got one.

Grecian female (8)
Beauty and the Beast

The following story must have been an embarrassment to Hope.

In 1810, the French artist Antoine Dubost quarrelled with Hope over the price of a picture. Feeling hard done by, he was out to seek revenge.

Dubost painted a caricature of Hope and his wife. He named it La Belle et la Bête – Beauty and the Beast – and included it in his Pall Mall exhibition in June.

It must have been obvious who Beauty and the Beast represented as artist Joseph Farington wrote in his diary on 15 June 1810:

Dubost’s Exhibition I went to, & saw his picture representing Mr & Mrs Thomas Hope as a Beast & a Beauty.10

According to Farington’s entry for 23 June:

Thomas Hope was caricatured as a Beast, holding His beautiful wife by the hand, she represented as terrified and distressed – which we thought a natural & proper way of treating it.11

Louisa Hope’s brother, Mr Beresford, was so angry about the picture that he went to Dubost’s exhibition and cut it to pieces with a knife.

The Morning Post for 23 June stated:

Amongst the pictures was one which attracted the notice of all the fashionables, called ‘La Belle et la Bête’, an allegorical painting, most beautifully executed, but supposed to be a satirical representation of a scene in high life…The picture, being a chef d’oevre, was estimated at great value; and as Mr Dubost intends to bring an action for the damage sustained, this case, which we believe to be unprecedented, will soon come before a Jury.12

In the end, Dubost was the loser. In his action for damages, he obtained only £5.

Gilded-wood bench designed by Thomas Hope pre 1807 (9)
Anastasius – the novel that made Byron cry

In 1819, Hope’s novel Anastasius: or, Memoirs of a Greek; written at the close of the eighteenth century, was published anonymously by John Murray. This tale of the immoral adventures of a young Greek was based on his own travels in the Levant. The novel was an instant success and was rumoured to have been written by Lord Byron.

Lady Blessington claimed that Byron was upset that he had not written Anastasius:

Byron spoke today in terms of high commendation of Hope’s ‘Anastasius;’ said that he wept bitterly over many pages of it, and for two reasons – first, that he had not written it, and secondly, that Hope had; for that it was necessary to like a man excessively to pardon his writing such a book – a book, as he said, excelling all recent productions, as much in wit and talent, as in true pathos. He added, that he would have given his two most approved poems to have been the author of ‘Anastasius.’13

Murray persuaded Hope to put his name to the second edition to put an end to speculation.

In the preface to this edition, Hope wrote:

TO you, my LOUISA; to you, the sole partner of all my joys and sorrows; to you, whose fair form but enshrines a mind far fairer, I inscribe not these pages. Composed of materials collected ere I knew you, ere I was inspired by your virtues, or could portray your perfections, they are not worthy of bearing your name: they were not even intended to divulge that of the writer, had his secret been preserved as inviolate as he wished.14

The novel was acclaimed by Sydney Smith, writing for the Edinburgh Review in 1821:

There are few books in the English language which contain passages of greater power, feeling, and eloquence, than this novel, - which delineate frailty and vice with more energy and acuteness, or describe historical scenes with such bold imagery, and such glowing language.15

Smith’s main criticism of the book was its length.

It abounds in eloquent and sublime passage, - in sense, - in knowledge of history, - and in knowledge of human character; but not in wit. It is too long; and, if this novel perishes, and is forgotten, it will be solely on that account.16

He attributes the particularly vivid description of the death of Anastasius’s child to Hope’s own devastation at the loss of his son Charles:

…above all, to the landing of Anastasius with his sick child, and the death of the infant. It is impossible not to see that this last picture is faithfully drawn from a sad and cruel reality.17

Illustration from Anastasius by T Hope (10)
Despite having his name on the cover, many still struggled to believe that Hope had written Anastasius because it was so unlike his other works. Smith wrote:

Mr Hope will excuse us, -- but we could not help exclaiming, in reading it, Is this Mr Thomas Hope? - Is this the man of chairs and tables — the gentleman of sphinxes — the Oedipus of coal boxes-- he who meditated on muffineers and planned pokers? - Where has he hidden all this eloquence and poetry up to this hour? - How is it that he has, all of a sudden, burst out into descriptions which would not disgrace the pen of Tacitus — and displayed a depth of feeling, and a vigour of imagination, which Lord Byron could not excel? We do not shrink from one syllable of this eulogium. The work now before us places him at once in the highest list of eloquent writers, and of superior men.18

Illness and death

Hope became ill and died on 2 February 1831 in his Duchess Street home. He was interred in Deepdene mausoleum.

His estate was inherited by his eldest son Henry and his widow Louisa married her cousin William Carr Beresford, Viscount Beresford, the following year.

I first came across Thomas Hope when investigating a possible miniature of Lady Jersey which had been given to his wife Louisa. You can read about my investigations here.

Detail of pictures

1.       Thomas Hope by Sir William Beechey © NPG 4574 used under a Creative Commons Licence CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.2.

2.       Interior of Thomas Hope’s picture gallery, Duchess Street, London 1825-54 by William Henry Bartlett from the Met Museum DP806018.

3.       Louisa Beresford, Viscountess Beresford (previously Hope), from The Court Magazine and Monthly Critic (1837).

4.       Deepdene from Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey by G F Prosser (1828).

5.       Deepdene from Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey by G F Prosser (1828).

6.       Illustration from Household Furniture and Interior Decoration by T Hope (1807).

7.       Illustration from Household Furniture and Interior Decoration by T Hope (1807).

8.       Grecian female from Costumes of the Ancients by T Hope (1809).

9.       Gilded-wood bench designed by Thomas Hope before 1807 from the Met Museum DP18976-022. This bench may have been part of the furnishings of Deepdene.

10.   Illustration from 1836 edition of Anastasius by Thomas Hope.


1.     Hassan Khan, Mirza Abul, A Persian at the Court of King George 1809-10, edited by Margaret Morris Cloake (1988).

2.       Ibid.

3.       Ibid.

4.       I have found evidence of Louisa’s baptism on the Family Search website, but not of her subsequent death. She is not mentioned in the article on Viscountess Beresford in The Court Magazine and Monthly Critic (1837) and it seems likely that she died as an infant.

5.       Prosser, George Frederick, Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey (1828).

6.       Ibid.

7.      Orbell, John, Thomas, Hope (1769-1831) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press 2004, updated 2020).

8.      Hassan op cit.

9.      Orbell op cit.

10.   Farington, Joseph, The Farington Diary, edited by James Greig (1922-28).

11.   Ibid.

12.   Ibid.

13.   Blessington, Countess,  A Journal of the Conversations of Lord Byron with the Countess of Blessington (1893).

14.   Hope, Thomas, Anastasius: or, Memoirs of a Greek written at the close of the eighteenth century (2nd edition 1820).

15.   Smith, Sydney, The Works of the Rev Sydney Smith Volume 4 (1840).

16.   Ibid.

17.   Ibid.

18.   Ibid.

Sources used include:

Blessington, Countess,  A Journal of the Conversations of Lord Byron with the Countess of Blessington (1893)

Cust, Lionel, MA and Colvin, Sir Sidney, MA, History of the Society of Dilettanti (1914)

Farington, Joseph, The Farington Diary, edited by James Greig (1922-28)

Hassan Khan, Mirza Abul, A Persian at the Court of King George 1809-10, edited by Margaret Morris Cloake (1988)

Hope, Thomas, Anastasius: or, Memoirs of a Greek written at the close of the eighteenth century (1819)(2nd edition 1820)

Hope, Thomas, Costume of the ancients (1809)

Hope, Thomas, Household Furniture and Interior Decoration (1807)

Orbell, John, Thomas, Hope (1769-1831) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press 2004, updated 2020)

Prosser, George Frederick, Select Illustrations of the County of Surrey (1828)

Smith, Sydney, The Works of the Rev Sydney Smith Volume 4 (1840)

The Court Magazine and Monthly Critic (1837)

Family Search website

Findagrave website

Historic England – Deepdene Mausoleum

The Regency Redingote – Anastasius