Bits and Pieces of a Regency-era Feast

This year I shan’t do much cooking for Thanksgiving. Much more fun to read about it. And eat someone else’s.

Thanksgiving – when the people who are the most thankful are the ones who didn’t have to cook. – Melanie White

There were many pitfalls in assembling the ingredients for an early nineteenth century feast, especially if one lived in an urban environment. Never mind the actual cooking.

For instance, I use Irish butter for baking because it’s so flavorful and seems to produce lighter, flakier biscuits and such. A Regency-era cook would have chosen a different variety:

In examining tub butter, and particularly the Irish, look at and smell to the outside next to the cask, which is often white in appearance like tallow, and quite rank (!) in smell.

But cooks both past and present would agree young turkeys are best for roasting. Mature turkeys (more than eight months old) went into the stew pot or a casserole. It took a knowledgeable housekeeper in Jane Austen’s day to avoid being snookered into purchasing a tough old bird.

“..the toes and bills, if (the bird) be young, will be soft and pliable, but will feel hard and stiff if old.”

Norfolk turkeys, then as now, are considered the best among the breeds. This black tom is a magnificent specimen, being true to his Spanish ancestry. via wikicommons

One also had to ferret out unscrupulous cheesemongers. These were merchants who stuck brass pins into cheese rounds to create the appearance of blue mold, and thus market the product as aged.

And beware bad eggs:

“If fresh, (the egg) will feel warm when the tongue is applied to the biggest end ; but if stale, it will be cold. An egg, when quite fresh, will sink at once when put into cold water; but if rotten, it will swim.”

Young peas with pearl onions are a Thanksgiving favorite–in our household, at least. But before modern methods of preservation, one had to labor to keep the vegetable green weeks after harvesting. The technique involves boiling them when fresh, then drying them with a cloth.

Afterwards:

“..set them once or twice in a cool oven to harden a little; after which put them into paper bags, and hang them up in the kitchen for use. — To prepare them when wanted, they are first to be soaked well for an hour or more, and then put into warm water and boiled with a little butter.”

We drink both white and red wines at Thanksgiving. Sometimes rosé. The array of wines at a Georgian-era dinner table was impressive: gooseberry, strawberry, raspberry, elderberry, mulberry and blackberry. Red, black and white currant. Birch, spruce and juniper. Cherry, morella, peach, apple, orange, lemon, parsnip and quince. From honey: white mead, walnut, cider white and cowslip. Raisin (tastes like sherry!) Ginger, rhubarb, sage, gilliflower and turnip. Barley and sycamore. Rose and fig.

Even juniper:

“To make juniper berry wine: Take of cold soft water, 18 gallons; Malaga or Smyrna raisins, 35 lbs.; juniper berries, 9 quarts; red tartar, 4 ounces; wormwood and sweet marjoram, each 2 handfuls; British spirit, two quarts, or more. Ferment for ten or twelve days. — This will make eighteen gallons.”

Nowadays they say the juniper berry will cure that ‘cedar fever’ wintertime allergy.

In England, the juniper tree is in decline. This is not the case in Texas. photo via Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

Pies, of course, are a traditional part of the Thanksgiving feast. I serve store-bought pecan and pumpkin. Meat pie recipes attributed to favorite Pride and Prejudice characters abound on the internet. A fruit pie would not ordinarily grace Mr. Darcy’s table but I did find a recipe from his time period for a lemon pie. It is neither meringue nor pudding, but a tart embellished with icing.

It takes two weeks to make:

Over the course of a fortnight, soak six lemons (oranges may be substituted) initially in salt water, to be changed out for fresh. Afterwards, boil and cut the fruit into thin slices. Add the liquor of six pippins (dessert apples pared, cored and quartered, boiled in a pint of water) to the lemon or orange juice. Boil the mixture in a pound of sugar for fifteen minutes.

“…then put them into a pot and squeeze in two spoonsful of the juice of either orange or lemon, according to the kind of tart; put puff paste, very thin, into shallow patty-pans. Take a brush, and rub them over with melted butter, sift double refined sugar over them, which will form a pretty iceing, and bake them.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Quotes taken from: The Complete Servant, being a Practical Guide to the peculiar Duties and Business of all descriptions of Servants.., by Samuel and Sarah Adams (1825)

The authors state they served various well-to-do families for a combined total of fifty years.

Regency – Era Entail, Part Two

Part two of this post series on the entail describes how the device was used to preserve a family’s physical assets–land and monies. Ordinarily, an individual would have the power to divide, mortgage, sell or even blow his or her inheritance. A safeguard against spendthrifts, the entail held a property in trust for future generations of the family.

The entail makes for great drama particularly when it allows only males to inherit. Something as important to a family–like a castle or a country seat (not to mention a hereditary dignity)–might be absorbed into another family when its heiress marries. To prevent this from happening, an entail could restrict inheritance to the male line only, thus preserving the historical link between a family’s surname and its legacy.

“Family, Jean–Family!”

An awkward transition occurs when there is no direct male heir. Or there is one, but Papa has left dependents from a second marriage. Daughters are particularly vulnerable when they have no close male relative to inherit and thus be inclined to shelter them. Females without such protection occupy the entailed family home on borrowed time. They are at the mercy of a distant male heir. He could expel them at will upon taking possession of his inheritance.

Many families, however noble, eventually run into a cash crunch. This can be particularly painful when your asset portfolio is historically made up of illiquid assets, like large chunks of land. But when conveyance is restricted by an entail–that too poses an awkward circumstance when pockets are to let.

If the future heir can be persuaded to part with his claim, however, the entail can be broken.

Two branches of the illustrious Pitt family were endowed with considerable estates and fortunes–the barons of Camelford and the earls of Stanhope. Individuals from both attempted to dissolve the entails protecting their families’ legacies, but for different reasons.

The last Lord Camelford, Thomas Pitt, was half-mad and wholly dangerous. The subject of a past post in this blog, he had no intention of marrying and having children. Nevertheless, he was determined to make sure his estates and fortune went to his sister, to whom he was devoted.

In this 1795 Gillray satire, the radical Stanhope (second from left), tries to slow down the King’s carriage while his cousin, conservative prime minister Pitt, whips up the horses. Many believed the mob had been deliberately assembled and incited to attack the King’s carriage by politicians themselves to inflame reaction to the French Revolution.

According to his cousin, the formidable Lady Hester Stanhope, Lord Camelford paid fifty thousand pounds to break the entail holding the Camelford estates and fortune in trust for the next male heir. The arrangement must have paid off this individual in exchange for the surrender of his future interest in the inheritance. I haven’t yet discovered the identity of this person. He was most likely a distant male cousin, like Mr. Collins of Pride and Prejudice.

He might have even been the earl of Stanhope, whose money problems will be examined shortly.

The effect of Lord Camelford’s bargain allowed his closest relative, a female, to inherit. So when he was killed in a duel, his very pretty sister Anne Pitt inherited not only his fortune, which was considerable, but also the London residence, Camelford House, and the family’s fabulous Cornwall estate of Boconnoc.

Charles, 3rd Earl Stanhope, satirized by Cruikshank, cropped and meme’d by me

The aforementioned Earl of Stanhope, Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl Stanhope, was also a Pitt through his mother. He had several children, including Lady Hester. All the Stanhope estates and fortune were entailed to his heir, a boy still in his minority when Papa ran into financial difficulties (again).

According to Hester, her father held her brother prisoner at the family’s country seat. Young Philip Henry would be released at twenty-one years of age, but on one condition. He must give up his future inheritance to Papa, and release all future claims and rights to the earldom’s estates and fortune.

It was a deplorable circumstance that proved an embarrassment to his cousin, the prime minister, William Pitt the Younger.

‘She was courageous, morally and physically so; undaunted and proud as Lucifer.’ — Charles Meryon, Memoirs of the Lady Hester Stanhope

Hester foiled her father’s plan by helping her brother to escape. She died penniless, but managed to save the Stanhope legacy for future earls.

All male.

*This blog post deals with English law as it was during the Regency. Not as it stands today. Secondly, this blog post is not intended as legal advice. There are generalities being made here–every circumstance warrants a fresh analysis not possible in this format.

The Calverley Ghost

From Legendary Yorkshire we have a ghost story resuscitating time and again the tragic circumstances of a forced marriage and madness-driven murder.

The Calverleys were a knightly family, having contributed members to war from the time of Henry I, when their ancestor arrived with Queen Maud from Scotland. They were devout Catholics. Under Elizabeth I their faith put them under financial pressure from fines and other penalties.

‘Once you become entangled with the Calverleighs…. We came to England with the Conqueror, you know. It’s my belief that our ancestor was one of the thatchgallows he brought with him. There were any number of ’em in his train.’

Their principal seat was in Yorkshire, Calverley Old Hall.

Toward the end of the Tudor queen’s reign, William Calverley died, leaving a minor son to inherit the family estates and fortune. Walter Calverley’s wardship was a lucrative one. The Crown gave it to another local family, the powerful Brookes, linked to Robert Cecil, the queen’s Lord Privy Seal.

Young Walter was made to marry another of the Brooke wards, Philippa. During the period of these wardships, several Calverley landholdings were sold off–the reason uncertain. The loss of substantial rents from these properties put a dent into the Calverley family’s income. By the time Walter reached his majority, the debts were already mounting.

Walter and Philippa had several sons, all boys. In a fit of madness, whether from drink or money problems or jealousy, their father slew the two oldest. He nearly killed their mother before he set off to the wet nurse’s cottage to dispatch the youngest.

On the way, his horse stumbled and Walter was pinned beneath the animal, held fast until he could be apprehended and confined in York Castle. He was brought to trial there not only to pay for his crimes, but to submit himself to the court’s jurisdiction. By operation of law, this would mean surrendering his estates for confiscation, in effect completing the final takeover of the coveted Calverley lands.

Calverley Old Hall contains remarkably intact features from both the medieval and Tudor periods. You can rent the whole house (it sleeps five) for less than £500 per week from the Landmark Trust
photo via wikicommons

Explaining Walter’s motivation for his murder spree has inspired a Shakespearean play, several contemporary pamphlets and stories for Yorkshire guidebooks. The one that seems best fleshed-out centers around the charge of adultery. Walter and Philippa were initially childless. Discontented, Walter indulged in spirits and spent a good deal of time hanging out with friends.

One friend was Leventhorpe. His family and the Calverleys were related by marriage. Steeped in Renaissance culture, this charming young man was frequently seen entertaining Philippa with his Italian novelettes and songs. When she became pregnant, Walter rejoiced. But two more sons in quick succession aroused his suspicions that it was Leventhorpe and not he who fathered all three.

Leventhorpe had the sense to keep out of the way thereafter. Philippa, insisting she was innocent, took the brunt of her husband’s drunken savagery which culminated in the heinous murders. She was saved from Walter’s dagger by the happy circumstance of wearing a corset reinforced with either bone or metal.

The surviving son inherited what remained of the Calverley fortune thanks to his father’s determination to thwart what had been set in motion when he was still a child. Because he refused to plead either guilt or innocence, he was made to suffer a grisly procedure until he did. This was known as the peine forte de dure (torture by really heavy weights.)

He bore the agony with firmness and endurance, even when the great pressure broke his ribs and caused them to protrude from the sides…

‘Nearby is a lane, a weird and lonesome road a couple of centuries ago, overshadowed as it was by trees, which cast a ghostly gloom over it after the setting of the sun.’

Walter Calverley died without uttering a plea. But Calverley Wood promptly became a nuisance. The lane that crossed it and used by people going about their business could not be transited after dark. All because of an apparition that thoroughly frightened anyone who made the attempt.

When questioned as to what they had seen, the reply was always the same, a cloud-like apparition, thin, transparent and unsubstantial, bearing the semblance of a human figure, with no seeming clothing, but simply a misty, unpalpable shape; the features frenzied with rage and madness, and in the right hand the appearance of a bloody dagger. The apparition, they averred, seemed to consolidate into a form out of the mist which environed them soon after entering the lane, and continued to accompany them, but without sound, sign or motion, saving that of a gliding along, accommodating itself to the pace of the terrified passenger, which was usually that of a full run.

Efforts made to ‘lay the ghost,’ all failed until ‘some very potent spiritual agencies were employed.’ Whatever those agencies were, they revealed to the locals a procedure that would suppress the spirit of Walter Calverley. If they tended the holly bush he’d planted, he’d leave them alone. That’s it.

” ‘Every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips,’ Scrooge said, ‘should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.’ ” — A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Reportedly there is a holly bush in a field that lies along the path of the Calverley Millennium Way (pictured here) – photo via wikicommons

quotes, unless otherwise noted, come from Legendary Yorkshire by Frederick Ross, 1892

The Entail of the Regency – Part One

This blog often analyzes the social stratification (there’s a mouthful) of Regency-era England. It is the Maypole around which Jane Austen spun her tales and today’s authors rely upon time and time again for character development and conflict. Rules determine a person’s rank in society. The entail insures that the descendants of that person also enjoy the same precedence.

But rules are made to be bent or even broken.*

In the event of rival claimants to a title, it is the House of Lords who must interpret the entail language contained in the original grant of the hereditary dignity at issue. The inheritance history of earldom of Oxford, which is very long indeed, at one time hung in the balance between the male descendants of two previous earls.

“This Earle of Oxford, making of his low obeisance to Queen Elizabeth, happened to let a Fart, at which he was so abashed and ashamed that he went to Travell, 7 yeares. On his returne the Queen welcomed him home, and sayd, My Lord, I had forgott the Fart.”Brief Lives by John Aubrey

When the 18th Earl of Oxford died without issue, Baron Willoughby of Eresby pressed his claim to the earldom, his mother being the daughter, and heir general, of the 16th earl. The other claimant, Robert de Vere, was more distantly related to the deceased earl, being descended from a younger son of the 15th earl.

The original grant of the earldom of Oxford was made by the Empress Maud to Alberic de Vere with the remainder to his heirs, (meaning the children of his body). His oldest male child would succeed him, being given preference by custom and precedent over all his other children. The children of the oldest male, including females, would then be given preference as lineal heirs over their cousins, males included, the so-called collateral heirs of the original grantee.

Isabel, 8th Countess of Devon, inherited the earldom according to its entail, with remainder to heirs general (as opposed to heirs male). This must have troubled her as much as it did her male colleagues. At one point, she, a tenant-in-chief to the king, went into hiding to avoid a forced marriage to Simon de Montfort. She outlived all her children and was succeeded by a collateral heir, the male descendant of the 5th earl. Pictured: a carving in Dorset’s Christchurch Priory purportedly to be her likeness.

Several successors to the earldom of Oxford were attainted for treason. Afterwards, depending on who you ask, the earldom was either revived or granted via a new patent to their de Vere descendants. This confusion was partly due to Parliament’s involvement in such proceedings.** Statutory language ignored the terms of the original grant to give the remainder to heirs male of the body. Eresby, a lineal heir, was passed over for an heir descended from a male in the collateral line.

In the end, a captain in the Dutch army named de Vere became the 19th Earl of Oxford.

And yet time hath his revolutions: there must be a period and an end to all temporal things–finis rerum: an end of names and dignities, and whatsoever is terrene, and why not of De Vere? For where is Bohun? Where is Mowbray? Where is Mortimer? Nay, which is more and most of all–where is Plantagenet? They are entombed in the urns and sepulchres of mortality. And yet let the name and dignity of De Vere stand so long as it pleaseth God.”

A Digest of the Laws of England Respecting Real Property, Volumes 3-4, by William Cruise, citing the Lord Chief Justice Crew’s magnificent opinion rendered in judgment on the entail of the Earldom of Oxford.

A troubling prospect occurs when there is no male heir of the body. In that case, the language of the original grant can be crafted to insure the family preserves its precedence for future generations.

A female is better than no heir at all.

For example, that clever lawyer and Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, William Murray, 1st Earl Mansfield was bound and determined that the 2nd Earl would be a Murray, too. He did not have heirs of the body himself, he and his wife being childless. The nearest male relation was his nephew, David Murray, Viscount Stormont. So he crafted a special remainder to the entail, writing in his nephew’s name for the King’s signature.

But before the King could sign them, his lordship began to have second thoughts. Perhaps he had not done enough to insure a Murray would sit in the House of Lords. Politics of the time could very likely prevent David from being summoned.

He was a Scot.

To remedy the problem, the Lord Chief Justice sat down again to create a new special remainder to the entail. Striking the tail mail language, he rewrote the grant to make the earldom pass to a female. David’s wife would become the next Countess of Mansfield. The entail further provided that the male heirs of her body by his nephew would succeed her–Murrays all of them.

The Lord Chief Justice and his wife were comforted in their childless state by taking in two girls, Dido Elizabeth Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray. Born overseas, they were sent to live with the Earl and Countess in Robert Adam’s gorgeous creation, Kenwood House. The artist of this famous portrait, David Martin, won recognition for the ‘honest, natural style’ of Scottish painting.

But times were a-changing. The bias against a Scot taking a seat in the House of Lords disappeared (if it ever existed). His lordship accordingly wrote out another set of letters patent with a more conventional entail. Duly signed by His Majesty, the grant of a new title was made–the Earl of Mansfield, second creation, and a special remainder to his nephew David.

Just to be on the safe side.

*This blog post deals with English law as it was during the Regency. Not as it stands today. Secondly, this blog post is not intended as legal advice. There are generalities being made here–every circumstance warrants a fresh analysis not possible in this format.

**Further complicating matters was a contest between heirs general for the hereditary dignity Lord High Chamberlain of England commonly granted to the Earls of Oxford.

Humanitarian to the Regency

Urbanity toward women; benevolence toward men; and humanity toward the brute creation.’ — Jonah Barrington

Richard Martin, (1754? – 1834) was an Irish MP, lawyer and a tireless advocate for the defenseless and mistreated. His efforts in Parliament created a body of law protecting animal rights. He inspired others to create the RSPCA. He searched out any who needed help–animals and humans, Irish rebels and ton debutantes. He expanded the meaning of being humane to encompass kind treatment toward all living things.

He was the Humanitarian to the Regency.

‘In life he never was equalled, and when he dies by whom shall he be replaced?’

It was the Prince Regent who first christened him ‘Humanity.’ Dick Martin did not always see eye-to-eye with his sovereign, notably in his defense of the estranged Princess of Wales. But when news arrived that Humanity survived a shipwreck, His Highness was overjoyed. Back in Connemara, where Martin had given shelter and legal assistance to many a countryman during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, his preservation was treated as a matter of course:

“.. ‘No one need be afeared for the master; for if he was in the midst of a raging sea the prayers of widows and orphans would keep his head above water.’ “

Before he came to London and Royal notice, Richard Martin was known in Ireland as ‘Hair-trigger Dick,’ for the many duels he fought. His most famous conflict was waged over a dog that belonged to a family close to the Martins. The notorious Fighting Fitzgerald, whose violence was attributed to a botched trepanning, induced that family to produce their famous wolfhound Prime Sargeant for his admiring inspection.

The madman shot the dog at point-blank range.

The DNA of the Regency-era Irish wolfhound is believed to closely resemble that of a Great Dane. Highly prized by royal and aristocratic circles, large numbers of them were exported abroad. (Photo via Pixabay)

Everyone agreed it was murder, but it was Martin who called Fitzgerald to account. He pursued the murderer for years. Fitzgerald evaded him time and again by seeking refuge in jail and even breaking his second’s finger at one point. Martin’s own man forgot to show up with his pistols. A theater curtain contrived to trip and injure him as he ran after his quarry.

When the day of reckoning finally came, Fitzgerald, as most bullies are apt to do, succumbed to cowardice. He complained the ground was uneven. Then he took up an opposing position beyond the range of Hair-trigger Dick’s pistol.

“I will soon cure that,’ Martin retorted. ‘I will now march up until I lay my pistol on your face.’

The first Mrs. Martin cuckolded him. But the budding Humanity did not shoot his wife’s lover, as one might expect a hair-trigger duelist to do. He sued the man instead and won £10,000 in damages (a goodly sum of money in those days). Still, the compensation that really wasn’t began ‘to weigh heavily on him.’ He threw the award out of his carriage window, a few coins at a time, from the London courtroom all the way back home to Ireland.

He refused to file for divorce.

‘My distress in this unhappy business arose if possible more from the situation of the unhappy person (Mrs. Martin) in question than from what I in my person suffered.’

His efforts in London as an advocate for animal rights, both in Parliament and as a lawyer, are well-documented. In the courtroom he brought cases against drovers, slaughterhouses and ordinary citizens he spied abusing animals in the London streets. He was the Irish scourge of hackney and coach drivers.

When the law failed him in the courts, he brought bills to the floor of the Commons with the intention of rectifying it. His humor was legendary. It had to power to break down the opposition and draw support to his causes. The House cheered when Castlereagh, with whom Martin often clashed on the Catholic Question, welcomed him back after a period of several years’ absence.

“It was so usual for him to be entertaining that they sometimes misunderstood him and laughed when he was not even joking.”

Even members of the Beau Monde benefited from his assistance. A wallflower left without a partner could always count on Humanity to lead her in a set of country dances. He would offer his arm to the governess who’d just entertained the company on a pianoforte, accompanying her to supper before his hostess could banish her employee to the nursery.

“Erring sons and daughters who had incurred the wrath of their parents found in him a protector and a counsellor who restored them to the bosom of their families. He was notorious at interceding for young men who had fallen out of favour with their superiors, and his house was a refuge to the struggling while they tried to set themselves up in life.”

Pan edition of Georgette Heyer's The Nonesuch
‘Sir Waldo, you are labouring under a misapprehension! It would be most improper in me to stand up with you, or with anyone! I’m not a guest here: I am the governess! said Miss Ancilla Trent.
‘Yes, but a most superior female!’ Sir Waldo murmured.

Sometimes it was hard to take him seriously. His eccentricity puzzled many:

‘His sterling qualities were so embossed with wild humour and fun, that it was no easy matter to form a correct judgement upon his real character.’ — journalist William Jerdan

Unfortunately, Martin was many times his own saboteur, for his tender-hearted sensitivity took precedence over his dogged prosecution of cruelty. He took a man to court for beating his donkey with the iron buckle end of a leather strap. The man’s wife protested they could not pay the fine imposed–they were already poor and it would ruin them. Martin made the offender promise to never abuse his animal again. He paid the wife a half-sovereign.

He once withdrew a case he’d brought against a solicitor who had cheated him. Against his own interest, he declined the chance to get his money back, agonizing over the possibility the court might impose the death penalty as punishment.

Being a humanitarian came at a cost to Martin’s family. Throughout his career, he neglected his wife and children, as well as his finances. He had gone from being the rich King of Connemara to a bankrupt whose tenantry was to succumb to famine. Fleeing to the Continent to escape his creditors, Martin never returned. His son’s attempt to pay the debts by breaking the entail on the family’s estates left no inheritance and no Martin of any note in Connemara.

He might have been the prototypical Dickensian character, but even that author found Humanity Dick’s benevolence too much to take.

“It is a pity that he could not exchange a little of his excessive tenderness for animals for some common sense and consideration for human beings.” — Charles Dickens

quotes are from ‘Humanity Dick Martin ‘King of Connemara 1754-1834’ by Shevauwn Lynam 1975 unless otherwise noted.

Royal Antics in Regency-era Brighton

“While I hold the reins you will run as I choose, and by God! ma’am, if you try to take the bit between your teeth it will be very much the worse for you!” — super- Alpha Lord Worth scolding his ward, Miss Judith Taverner, for driving her curricle from London to Brighton with only her tiger for an escort.

Brighton was a popular spa and resort of Regency England. An invitation to the Royal Pavilion was supposed to be an honor–a coveted opportunity to be in the company of His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales. Over the years, however, the place developed a reputation for jokes and untoward incidents perpetrated by the Prince who gave his name to the era.

These antics, conducted by the heir-apparent to the British throne, were generally looked upon with grave disapproval:

“..childish practical jokes..continued to amuse him long after the age at which at which such pastimes cease to be excusable.”

Royal Pavilion Music Room – Brighton (photo via brightonmuseums.org.uk)

The Prince’s residence in Brighton necessitated the stationing of dragoons in barracks about a mile and half north of the town. They were to protect His Royal Highness in the event of invasion or some other circumstance threatening his safety. During the course of a late evening entertainment, the Prince inquired whether the dragoons might be summoned at a moment’s notice.

He encouraged their commander to demonstrate such readiness.

In the dead of night, the regiment’s trumpeter was roused to bugle the alarm. Taken completely by surprise and overwhelmed by the prospect of going into battle to protect his sovereign from an unknown enemy already on the attack, he couldn’t find the breath to blow into the horn.

The Music Room at the Royal Pavilion was used as a hospital for WWI soldiers from India fighting for King and Empire.

Another bugler was found, blasting the soldiers from a dead sleep. They hastily scrambled into their uniforms and struggled to tack up mounts spooked by the general disorder. Weapons had to be assembled and flying artillery wagons had to be hitched to plunging teams of horses. Passing a hurried inspection, the dragoons pounded down the road toward Brighton, leaving panicked townspeople and howling dogs in their wake. They were at their Prince’s side within fifteen minutes of the bugle call.

Imagine their disgruntlement when they arrived.

The premier peer of the realm was the old Duke of Norfolk. He probably wished he’d declined the Prince’s invitation to stay overnight at the Pavilion. At dinner, His Royal Highness, with the aid of his royal brothers, attempted to get the duke drunk. Realizing their intentions, His Grace got up to leave:

‘And now I request that my carriage may be ordered out; I mean to go home, and shall never set foot within these doors again.’

Unfortunately, he passed out soon after he entered his carriage. Obliged by Royal command, his coachman drove the ducal equipage around the Pavilion several times, returning his employer to the front door of the palace. The Regent’s servants carried his lordship inside and put him to bed.

Insensible to the entire proceeding, the duke woke up the next morning, confounded he was still ‘under the Prince’s roof.’

The library at Arundel Castle is all that remains of the 11th Duke of Norfolk’s Regency style renovation. Regency can mean chinoiserie–or Gothic. photo via Country Life

The Prince delighted Sir Edmund Nagle, vice-admiral of the Royal Navy and frequent visitor to the Royal Pavilion, with the gift of a specially-bred Hanoverian horse the color of cream. Although it was raining heavily, Sir Edmund insisted on riding his prize along the Steine in front of the Prince’s palace. He returned on a very dark bay horse, dismayed by the streaks of white running down the animal’s hide. In a paroxysm of laughter, the Prince explained he’d had the steed painted as a joke.

Sir Edmund being a good sport, Prinny presented him with a Hanoverian of the right color.

Hanoverian creams were the carriage horses once used by royalty for state occasions. Hanoverians can be pretty good size. One stepped on my foot once. It wasn’t pleasant.

By now, word got around that the royal host at the Royal Pavilion liked to prank his guests.

Upon his arrival at the Pavilion for a reception, the Reverend Sydney Smith was well-prepared for the Prince’s humor. Someone among His Highness’ guests asked the clergyman to identify the world’s most wicked man. The noted Regency wag obliged and shot his mouth off. He named the Duc d’Orleans, for ‘he was a prince!”

No, the Prince retorted, he should be Dubois, for ‘he was a priest!’

William Wilberforce was especially wary of the repeated invitations to the Pavilion he’d received, particularly because everyone knew he strongly disapproved of His Royal Highness’ conduct. He finally accepted a royal request to dine. To his surprise, he was treated very cordially and with profound respect. This encouraged him to accept a second invitation.

The Prince, perhaps feeling he’d come to an understanding with his detractor, teased Wilberforce over how much they’d both changed over the years. The evangelist agreed with this assessment. He added, however, that one hoped his sovereign had taken the opportunity during those years to improve himself (!)

Wilberforce’s opinion of the Pavilion at Brighton was also unsparing:

“St. Paul’s had gone down to the sea and left behind a litter of cupolas.”

First Lady Louisa Adams, wife of John Quincy had this to say about the seaside palace: “Prince George’s fantasy pavilion at Brighton was by far the most erotic. I have never been in a Turkish seraglio, but I’ll wager that even the most sophisticated Pasha was out-done by Prince George. He had erotic furniture, such as comfortable chaise longues [sic] that in Paris were made for ladies to lounge in, but in Prince George’s Brighton palace were for sexual intercourse(!)

All quotes are from Social hours with celebrities; being the third and fourth volumes of “Gossip of the century,” by Mrs. William Pitt Byrne (1898)

The Fighting Peer of the Regency

Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford (1775 – 1804) had a reputation for violent madness the ton deplored, scorned and ultimately mourned. His conduct is a catalog of misadventures that would gratify the wildest schoolboy imagination. His character, a hot mess of contradictions, is the prototypical anti-hero.

He was the fighting peer of the Regency.

1804 memorial etching by Dighton, via the National Portrait Gallery. ‘Lord Camelford was not such a man as you would have supposed. He was tall and bony–rather pale–with his head hanging generally a little on one side–so.’ — Lady Hester Stanhope

Thomas longed to go to sea and at first the notion seemed like a good idea, given his unruliness as a lad:

“If his lordship could have conquered that irritability of temper, which involved him in such a variety of disputes that ultimately ended in his death, he would have attained the highest naval honors.” — Life, Adventures and Eccentricities of the late Lord Camelford (1804)

Perhaps it was that irritability of temper which helped him survive his first voyage, one the history books record as ‘almost unparalleled.’ He and a skeleton crew navigated the crippled frigate HMS Guardian — little more than a raft — almost 2000 kilometers back to port.

And yet:

While imminent shipwreck conditions suited Thomas, smooth sailing did not. His naval career ended after he assaulted his former commander, shot and killed a fellow officer and attempted a solo invasion of France.**

Camelford’s sister, Anne, painted here as Hebe by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun in 1792 —  She was one of the few persons her brother loved. He left his fortune to her and her husband, Prime Minister Lord Grenville.

Thomas was still a seaman when he became Baron Camelford. He inherited a fortune exceeding £150,000 and an annual income over £20,000. His estates sprawled across the counties of Cornwall and Dorset. His family was a powerful and well-connected political dynasty.

And yet:

“..ambition was the spur of his life..to achieve success independent of inherited rank and wealth.” — The Half-Mad Lord, Nikolai Tolstoy (1978)

Returning to England, Thomas became a fearsome presence, particularly in London. He never shrank from physical violence. His temper and courage were legendary. Many thought him insane.

A jury awarded £500 in damages (a huge sum in those days) against him for assault in the Theatre Royal during a play appropriately titled, The Devil to Pay. The watch-house constables knew him well and sometimes let him take their place in adjudicating offenders, who he always pardoned after a stern talking-to. Woe betide the nightwatchman he found asleep at his post.

His notoriety alone invited unprovoked challenges from the foolhardy.

As Lord Camelford, Thomas could live in the most sumptuous of surroundings. He owned beautiful Boconnoc in Cornwall, an estate of over 7,500 acres, ‘made for its late owner and for a great mind.’ His Mayfair townhouse was a refined neo-Classical villa on Park Lane, Camelford House.

Shepherd’s 1850 watercolor of Camelford House, for a short time the residence of Charlotte, Princess of Wales, later demolished in 1915. Photo via British Museum

And yet:

Thomas preferred modest lodgings above a tea shop in Bond Street.

It was here he put to rest the menace posed by the first Bond Street Loungers, dandified young men whose business it was to harass shoppers, block sidewalks, leer at women and generally make a nuisance of themselves. One of these louts brought his boorish behavior into a nearby coffee house. After brow-beating the harassed waiter, he mocked a shabbily dressed young man reading his newspaper nearby. The waiter (with relish, no doubt) informed the coffee-house buck that he’d just taunted Lord Camelford.

” ‘Lord Camelford!’ returned the former, in a tone of voice scarcely audible; horror-struck at the recollection of his own impertinence, and almost doubting whether he was still in existence..actually stole away without daring to taste his Madeira.” — The Eccentric Mirror by G. H Wilson (1807)

Bond Street Loungers

via National Portrait Gallery – Gillray illustrates the rude phenomenon of the Bond Street Loungers in 1796. They were rather more respectable by the time of the famous 1820 illustration from Captain Gronow’s Reminisces.

Thomas was politically connected to both the Pitt and Grenville families (his uncle was William Pitt the Younger). From his father he inherited the rotten borough of Old Sarum. Generally he supported the policies of his sister’s husband, the Pittite Tory William Wyndham Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville.

And yet:

Thomas would get a burr under his saddle and vote for policies that went against his family and their interests–and at the most inconvenient of times. He alarmed both established parties with his connections to the radicals Sir Francis Burdett and John Horne Tooke, espousing their egalitarian principles. At other times he and his cudgel forced radicals to listen to a blind fiddler he hired to play patriotic tunes in their gathering place.

A virulent protester against the peace with Napoleon, Thomas refused to light his windows in support of the nightly London celebrations taking place. A mob broke his windows and knocked down his door. Fearless, he took up a sword and cudgel and dashed into the street, fighting the drunk, maddened crowd all alone, with some success, until felled by a brick from behind. His senseless body mercilessly kicked and stoned, he barely escaped with his life.

He was ready for them the next night, guarding the tea shop with a mob of brawny seamen he’d rounded up on his own.

Bill Richmond, prize fighter and cabinet maker. He is credited with dragging his employer Lord Camelford to safety.

And yet:

Unbeknownst to the fashionable world, his lordship eschewed the social events of the ton to go to areas of London stricken with typhus and blue ruin. There he sought out families to render them financial aid.

“In such deeds as these, and at an expense of several thousands a year (he mortgaged one of his estates in this effort) did this unaffected philanthropist pass the hours which he stole from the dissipation of high life; and his protégées were not aware of the name or quality of their benefactor, until his untimely fate put a period to his munificent donations.” — The Clubs of London, by Charles Marsh (1832)

Thomas loved all kinds of sports and was a nonpareil himself. An accomplished amateur boxer, he sponsored many professionals of the sport and could be counted on for a generous purse even after their careers. He patronized the Jolly Brewer, an establishment owned by the famous Jem Belcher, gifting his valuable dog to the retired pugilist.

“He always received the respect due to his position, and if a coal-heaver or meatporter of his acquaintance attempted any insolence he was swiftly paid in his own coin.” — Tolstoy

And yet:

He could shed his rough exterior and become the fashionable beau, being among the first to wear a Jean de Bry coat and the Belcher neck cloth. He was a rather ‘well-looking man.” This was evident during his brief courtship of his cousin, Lady Hester Stanhope, herself an enigmatic figure of beauty and independence. Her memories of Lord Camelford are full of admiration and very illuminating–‘people were very much mistaken about him.’ His wide-ranging adventures inspired her to embark on her own travels.

Generally unchaperoned, the two attended ton parties, drove down turnpikes in Thomas’ curricle and spent time at his estate in Cornwall. She told her doctor many years later that Lord Camelford’s appearances at balls and routs put people in a fright, but when engaged in conversation, he was ‘charming, irresistible, so well-bred, such a ton about him.’

Her greatest tribute to Thomas was the fact he couldn’t abide hypocrisy, particularly amongst those who occupied the highest levels of society. He hated whoever who took advantage of others and used his status as a peer to rectify injustice:

“He was a true Pitt, and, like me, his blood fired at a fraud or a bad action.” — Memoirs of the Lady Hester Stanhope by Charles Lewis Meryon, I (1846)

Lady Hester Stanhope on Horseback – Her lonely and abusive childhood was similar to Camelford’s–isolated on a country estate with her brother by a father who meant to force his heir to renounce his inheritance, once he came of age, thus breaking the entail that protected the family fortune from Lord Stanhope’s spendthrift habits. Hester helped her brother escape.

The fatal duel that took Thomas’ life could have been avoided, by all accounts. As he lay painfully dying (the bullet was lodged in his spine) he forgave his opponent, Captain Best. Only too late did he realize that the insult lodged against him was fabricated by a disgruntled mistress.

His death occasioned a great deal of comment. The men breathed a sign of relief, ‘it was dangerous to sit in company with such a man,’ one said. Lady Bessborough, who often appears in this blog as Lady B, was sorry for him and the ‘dreadful lesson against violent passion his whole life and death have been!’

“He was a man of superior abilities but of singular character…in him Courage was a struggle of sentiment against Constitution.” — The Farington Diary, Vol II, Joseph Farington (1923)

*The Guardian’s passengers were mostly convicts being transported to Australia. They and the accompanying crew and guards abandoned ship only to die almost to a man in the life boats.

**Lord Camelford was often flogged and placed in irons under mutinous conditions on board ship closely resembling those of the Bounty. Unlike Christian Fletcher, his lordship made it back to England and assaulted old Captain Vancouver until the latter’s brother, fresh from fighting native Americans and felling trees in Kentucky, returned the favor and nearly killed his lordship. As for the murder of a fellow officer, his lordship’s actions were found to be necessary to quash what was ruled a mutiny.

The Violent Secret of Miss Scott

A future prime minister on the subject of love:

“…I’m pretty sure I am not born to die of love and I am quite sure I shall never be a lover.”

That was the impression George Canning (1770-1827) certainly gave, for he made little or no attempt to be agreeable to women. The patroness of his own party, Lady Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, Countess of Sutherland, ‘thoroughly disliked’ him. Canning believed all women of fashion were depraved and corrupt, as Lady Holland noted in her diary, July 4, 1799.

 

Canning was mean to her, Lady Bessborough complained to her lover Granville:

 

“What possible chance have I of escaping under the eye of a person who judges everyone with severity, women particularly and me perhaps more than any other woman?” — August 1798

 

George Canning by Hoppner. “Never was any human being less bent on falling in love than I was…”

That all changed when Canning attended a Tory gathering at Walmer Castle upon the invitation of his mentor, Pitt. There he met Miss Joan Scott, the heiress of a tremendous fortune in gambling proceeds (over £500,000) won by her father, General ‘Pawky’ Scott. Her sister had made a grand match, marrying the heir to the Duke of Portland and former prime minister. The same was expected of Miss Scott but so far she had rejected every suitor for her hand, including that handsome devil Sir Arthur Paget.

 

Contemptuous of the courtship business, Canning refused even the appearance of dangling after Miss Scott.

 

“Perhaps it was in some measure this very circumstance of having her so constantly in my thoughts as something to be avoided, perhaps it was an observation of something I cannot put into words..probably it was the observation which I could not but make of her beauty, and good sense, and quiet, interesting manners…” Canning to Granville Leveson Gower, August 1799

 

The Cottage at Walmer Castle via English Heritage. You can spend your holiday at the Castle and stay in the cottage!

‘Seized by a passion that would last the rest of his life,’ Canning sought out Miss Scott. Unfortunately, embarrassment overcame him and the master parliamentary orator was unable to Speak. He fled to Dover, trying to talk himself out of his infatuation, reasoning that he couldn’t offer for her hand. Their financial circumstances were too disparate. He shuddered to think he might appear as a fortune hunter, particularly when he didn’t have a proper job. She would reject him anyway, leaving him open to jeers and mockery, for Canning’s sharp wit had made him plenty of enemies.

 

Somehow he had to keep the ‘violent secret of Miss Scott’ to himself.

 

At Dover, Canning saw Lady Susan Ryder, his good friend Granville’s sister. Reluctantly, and in the strictest confidence, he told her about his predicament. Fortunately Lady Susan had a slight acquaintance with Miss Scott and volunteered to sound her out for him. Her response, ‘she found me so different from what she expected,’ threw him into a paroxysm of  doubt and perplexity.

 

What did that mean? He knew he had his detractors. Sometimes he carried a joke too far. He even made his own friends cry. That d—d Charles Greville, her relative, must have said something disparaging:

“…he amuses himself by representing me as a compound of satirical and ill-natured and insolent feelings and manners and particularly with stating himself to be an object of my contempt..”

 

‘The Gower Family,’ considered Romney’s masterpiece. Painted in 1776, it depicts the 2nd Earl Gower’s children, two of whom were Canning’s close friends. Lady Susan is in profile, her brother Granville peers around her, his gaze mischievous, his golden hair shining.

What did it matter, anyway? Miss Scott made it clear she didn’t want to marry a politician. So, Lady Susan advised Canning to give it up. He returned to Walmer anyway, unable to contemplate a future without Miss Scott. He reasoned that no objection was ‘sufficient to make it a matter of duty or delicacy in me to see her no more.’ He promised he wouldn’t harass or embarrass her but he had to have her definitive answer, to ‘learn his fate.’

 

That was when

 

“..I first touched my own Love’s hand–and put my arm ’round her, & drew her to me–and she was not very angry (!)–not very angry I think–though it was very saucy in me to do what I did.”

 

Nevertheless, on the question of marriage Miss Scott prevaricated. She would defer to her sister’s husband, Marquess Titchfield, a man who wasn’t her guardian but whom she relied upon for advice. Canning told her he would not retire from the field unless and until he had her repudiation–not something half-hearted and dependent on others.

 

She would remain ‘an object so dear to me.’

 

Meanwhile, the government offered him a real job–an ambassadorship to Holland. He agonized, knowing it was an opportunity he shouldn’t decline and yet if he left England Miss Scott would slip away forever. Then she fell dangerously ill, her life was despaired of. Perhaps her recovery was the catalyst for surrender. She agreed to marry him in the summer.

 

“It is the one Event most essential to my happiness that has ever yet occurred in the course of my life.” — Canning to Granville’s mother, Lady Stafford, May, 1800

 

The secret was out.

 

South Hill Park, the Cannings’ country residence, now an arts centre — photo by Garrick Hywel Darts

 

Postscript: Before his marriage, Canning mentioned to Granville an entanglement he had with a married lady, a relationship that seemed to demand some reluctant reciprocation on his part, for he planned to use the excuse of a pending marriage to escape it. The lady’s identity remains uncertain, but many believe she was Caroline of Brunswick, Princess of Wales. On the other hand, Lady Holland pointed to the Earl of Malmesbury’s wife who hosted her husband’s cadre of foreign affairs protégés, including Canning and another future prime minister, Lord Liverpool. Lady B begged Granville to reveal her identity, having just discovered ‘the violent secret of Miss Scott.’

 

Sources:

 

The Rise of George Canning by Dorothy Marshall (1938) – particularly his letters to Lady Susan Ryder and containing the quote in the photo of South Hill Park above.

 

George Canning: Three Biographical Studies by P. J. V. Rolo (1965)  — best for a glimpse of his devotion to his wife and children ‘if anything should happen to (Canning’s daughter) it would kill him on the spot.’

 

Private correspondence, 1781 – 1821 by Granville Leveson Gower, Earl Granville, et al and edited by Castalia Leveson-Gower, Countess Granville (1916) for all other quotes.

All My Regency Sons

The sons of Lord Uxbridge cut quite a dash during the Regency.

William Paget, 1st Baron Paget and accountant to Henry VIII. “You can’t claim that as a dependent—Why? Because it’s inanimate!”*

Their father, a man humbly named Henry Bayly, inherited an ancient barony through the maternal line of his ancestors. To tidy things up, he took their name Paget. Another privilege, the earldom of Uxbridge, descended lockstep with the barony but Bayly couldn’t inherit that bit since it only passed through the male line.

Not to worry–a second creation made our man an earl.

Henry married the daughter of a minister and they had six sons who survived to maturity (among six daughters)–and good-looking ones, too.

“It is not common to see such..handsome young men in one family.” — Lady Stafford to her son Granville Leveson Gower; (from his correspondence edited by Castalia, Countess Granville 1916)

No. 1 — Field Marshall Henry William Paget, 1st Marquess Anglesey, the eldest and particularly famous for his military exploits during the Napoleonic Wars, an endeavor that cost him a limb which went on to have a career of its own (!) Many remarked upon his equanimity during the amputation procedure:

“I’ve had a pretty long run, I have been a beau these forty-seven years, and it would not be fair to cut the young men out any longer.” — One Leg: The Life and Letters of Henry William Paget, First Marquess of Anglesey; ed. 7th Marquis of Anglesey (1961)

Henry William Paget, 1st Marquess Anglesey by F W Wilkin Of him, Wellington declared ‘he shall not run off with me!’

After that, he wore an artificial limb which may or may not have caused him to fall down leaving the ballroom at Almack’s. Adding insult to injury, his sister Lady Jane Paget screamed ‘violently,’ sending the whole place into a panic.1

Henry’s amorous maneuvers are worth noting for their instructive value in late Georgian divorce law. On a personal level, his father threatened to cut him off ‘without a farthing’ if he did not return to his wife. Lady Williams Wynn (another fond parent of Regency sons) smugly thanked hers for being such a nice boy, pitying Lord Uxbridge for the conduct of his:

“What a misfortune to his family that he (Henry) did not find in Spain the Tomb of honor which they say he so eagerly sought. For his companion in disgrace, we must in charity remember the heavy degree of insanity (!) which prevails throughout her family…”

— from Lady W. W. to Henry W. W. W. March 14, 1809

Correspondence of Charlotte Grenville, Lady Williams Wynn, and her three sons, et al; ed. by Rachel Leighton (1820)

No. 2 — Most thought Captain William Paget, a naval officer, the handsomest of all the Paget boys (excepting Lord Granville’s sister, who danced with him at Lady Hume’s ball but preferred his brother Arthur.)2  William’s father was very proud of his naval service and roundly rebuked any who complained his son was too often absent from parliamentary proceedings as MP for Anglesey.  Captain Paget was busy capturing French vessels–surely a far greater service to King and County than sitting in the Commons. His death at sea was greatly mourned, its cause poorly understood.**

Sir Arthur Paget by Hoppner. He ‘liked to show his shapes to advantage.’

No. 3 — Sir Arthur Paget was a career diplomat and cut a rather extravagant figure while doing it.3  Serving in various posts throughout Europe, he pursued various females, including the daughter of the Esterhazys, earning him a serious smack-down from Leopoldine’s mother.4  The other notable rebuff came from a Miss Scott who preferred George Canning, future Prime Minister.5

On the other hand, Miss Georgiana Seymour was infatuated with him. This young lady, adopted by the Marquess of Cholmondelay, was rumoured to be the love child of the Prince Regent by noted courtesan and spy Grace Dalrymple Elliott.6

In the end, Arthur ran off with Augusta Fane, wife of the appropriately named Lord Boringdon.

No. 4 -General Sir Edward Paget lost an arm and was captured by the French serving under Wellington. When his father became convinced a young ‘hellkite’ was in love with him, to the point he was paying her a generous stipend, Edward was the only one to bring old Lord Uxbridge to his senses. He told his father quite bluntly:

” ‘What should you think if Sir David Dundas (then aged seventy-five) should seriously tell you that a girl of 20 was seriously and truly in Love with His Person? If you did not laugh at him, should you not be disgusted at the communication?’ ” — Charles Paget writing to his brother, Sir Arthur Paget, circa late 1809 as reprinted in One Leg

Sir Charles Paget by Lawrence. In a letter to his brother Arthur, he curses his mother-in-law for falsely accusing him of infidelity with the Duchess of Bedford.+

No. 5 – Sir Charles Paget, a vice-admiral, commanded HMS Endymion when it gallantly rescued the crew of a French warship that had run aground. He married Elizabeth Monck whose mother had an affair with Jack, the aforementioned Lord Boringdon. Charles was steady on–he counseled and supported his parents in their old age and bailed them out by loaning them a substantial portion of the prize money he won capturing four Spanish treasure ships. He died of a fever on board ship.

No. 6 – Berkeley Thomas Paget concerned himself mainly with politics, both as MP and as a Lord of the Treasury for two prime ministers. He and Lady Williams Wynn’s son were rivals for the hand of the beautiful Sophia Bucknall. Fanny, Lady Williams Wynn’s daughter, wrote to her brother encouraging him to make up to Sophia, an heiress ‘with a fortune of at least  £30,000.’ Berkeley won her and her fortune, but was less than faithful.

Berkeley Thomas Paget by Lawrence. His brothers and sisters called him ‘Bartolo,’ and, alternatively, ‘Villain.’

Another schadenfreude moment for Lady W. W.:

“..Mr. Paget has gone back to live with his poor wife, promising, I suppose, never to do so no more. I am sorry for it, as I fear she can have no further prospect of any permanent comfort in him & therefore will only be subjecting herself to further pangs.” — Lady W. W. to Fanny W. W. January 17, 1819 Correspondence of Charlotte Grenville, et al

Oh, those Paget boys.

 

 

*I couldn’t resist quoting from a ‘celebrity accountant‘ commercial that never gets old.

**Some speculated William died from complications due to a wound he sustained ‘years before’ during an assassination attempt in Constantinople, making him a very young teenager at the time of the attack.

+Charles Paget to Sir Arthur, June 17, 1810 written aboard the Revenge, reprinted in The Paget Boys by Sir Arthur Paget, edited by George Jolliff, Baron Hylton (1918). It was an accusation that was particularly troubling to Charles because he and his wife missed each other acutely while he was at sea.

1.From the Journal of Henry Edward Fox, March 27, 1822 by Baron Henry Edward Vassall Fox, ed. by Giles Strangways, Earl of Ilchester (1926)

2. From Lady Charlotte’s Jan. 30th, 1790 letter to her brother, Granville Leveson Gower. She goes on to tell her brother she danced with the oldest Paget boy, Henry, who she said ‘is a great favourite of mine.’ Apparently the brothers were still dancing into the night after she left at four in the morning! Lord Granville Leveson Gower private correspondence, ed. Castalia, Countess Granville (1916) vol. I

3.From the Earl of Dalkeith’s Dec. 31st, 1799 letter to Sir Arthur recommending a breeches maker in Naples, with a sly remark concerning the diplomatic possibilities that awaited there, including Lady Emma Hamilton. The Paget papers; diplomatic and other correspondence of Sir Arthur Paget, 1794-1807. (With two appendices 1808 & 1821 [1828]-1829.) ed Sir Augustus Berkeley Paget (1896) Vol. I

4. From Sir Arthur’s Aug. 18th, 1805 letter to his mother, the Countess of Uxbridge,  Paget Papers Vol II

5. From George Canning’s August 22nd 1799 letter to Lord Granville Leveson Gower expressing his relief that Paget was out of the running for Miss Scott’s hand, based second-hand on a conversation she supposedly had with someone else, an intelligence conveyed to Canning via the unlikely duo of William Pitt and his fixer, Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville. I say unlikely because one would not suspect these two men to be concerned with the romance of a younger ally (Pitt never married and Dundas cut off his adulterous wife from her fortune and children). Private Correspondence, Lord Granville. Postscript: It must be noted that Dundas was Scott’s guardian but both men were anxious for Canning to secure financial stability in order to pursue a promising career as a Tory politician.

6. J. Talbot’s Mar. 12th, 1803 letter to Sir Arthur in Paget’s Papers, Vol I.

 

A Pictorial Regency-era Christmas

Irving by Jarvis (1809) “Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart. ”

It is ironic that an American author describes the sights and sounds of Regency Britain as well as any native diarist of the time. In a previous post, this blog examined Washington Irving’s (1783-1859) remarkable talent for charming the jaded ton. Today’s post takes a look at his first great success, the 1819-1820 serial Sketch Book.*

The chapters on Christmas are written in a visual way that is unusually striking. They have since been printed in a separate volume many times–

A coffee-table book of late-Georgian Yuletide.

Colorful, accessible to everyone’s understanding, Irving’s style might be considered unduly sentimental. Regency-era readers in particular, steeped as they were in the Romantic movement’s faraway, exotic locales, were bound to find a Yankee’s observations of everyday British life provincial and dull.

On the contrary,

“…(the Christmas sketches) are written to engage the finer feelings of the heart, they operate upon the imagination like the polished weapons of modern surgery; they make a deep, but a delicate wound.”

— The Atheneum, Vol I No. 10, February 1828

“Every ragamuffin that has a coat to his back thrusts his hands into the pockets, rolls in his gait, talks slang and is an embryo Coachey.”

The chapters begin with a journey to Squire’s estate via public coach. As an aside, I consider this snippet as good as any primary resource on Regency-era holiday travel.

There is the coachman “with a large bunch of Christmas greens stuck in the button-hole of his coat.” The English inn kitchen is detailed down to the last pot.

Young students returning home from school for the holiday are among the passengers in the coach. They seem perfectly ordinary to the naked eye. After Irving gets through with them, these schoolboys are impossible to forget. When the coach finally rolls to a stop before an ornate country estate gate, they eagerly look to see who has been sent up from the house to wait for them. It is Old John, the family footman. He has brought with him their childhood pony Bantam, an intrepid steed who will clear any hedge. The beloved dog that greets them “wriggles his whole body with joy.”

“..(the boys) held John’s hands, both talking at once, overpowering him with by questions about home, and with school anecdotes.”

Arriving at his own destination, Irving joins a large company of extended family and friends hosted by Squire at Christmas. No creature escapes his keen attention. Squire sings a stanza of an ancient carol, “his eye glistening, his voice rambling out of all the bounds of time and tune,” and the parson scolds the sexton for decorating the church with pagan mistletoe amongst the greens.

Squire’s cousin, Master Simon, acts as master of ceremony.

“..a tight, brisk little man, with the air of an arrant old bachelor…an eye of great quickness and vivacity, with a drollery and lurking waggery of expression that was irresistible.”

 

A disapproving Mama finds Master Simon’s efforts deplorable, as they encourage giggling that is only barely stifled and unbridled merriment among the younger set.

The Christmas Eve meal displays Squire’s singular character. He is a man who loves nothing more than researching the old customs so he can recreate them on important occasions. The sideboard is laden with generous amounts of rich, elaborate dishes, but  Squire forsakes them to eat the simple, traditional meal of frumenty —  ‘England’s oldest national dish.’

For his part, Irving was glad to see the familiar minced pie.

Christmas Day dinner is full of ceremony. The wassail bowl, the boar’s head and meat pie decorated with peacock feathers all warrant extensive explanatory footnotes at the end of the Christmas chapters. It seems Irving was compelled to prove to his astonished London audience that ‘the grave and learned manner of old custom’ was still being carried on in many parts of the country.

‘The tide of wine and wassail fast gaining,’ one might just recognize the outlines of the timeless Christmas party getting out of hand.

Of course there are games and dancing afterward the main meal. Squire’s sons, an army officer and an ‘Oxonian,’ step out with their maiden aunts. Most amusing is the boisterous schoolgirl trying Master Simon’s patience when he partners her in a stately rigadoon. There are masques and mummeries, enacted in costume fashioned from old clothes brought down from the attic, and an ancient hoodening rite whereby the young parade a hobby horse covered in cloth, demanding tribute from the adults.

Charles Dickens by Gillies — He, too had an ‘eagle eye,’ according to  Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Squire worries the Christmas spirit will disappear without the pastoral traditions to sustain it. He may not have been aware that his American guest was about to revive the Yuletide holiday’s former glow. Certainly he did not know that another great storyteller would follow Irving, one who would rekindle the Christmas spirit into a roaring blaze.

*Quotes (unless otherwise noted) are taken from Old Christmas by Washington Irving. This extract is from volume II of the original Sketch Book published in serial form in 1821. The clever illustrations by Randolph Caldecott appear in the 1886 printing.