When an Old Man Elopes

He fled to Gretna Green in a veiled leghorn bonnet, his eldest son in hot pursuit.

Lady Williams Wynn couldn’t resist mentioning an event that scandalized all the ton. An elderly lord, well-known and well-connected, eloped with his housekeeper of much lower station.

“It is a melancholy proof of dotage..”

— Lady W-W to her daughter, Fanny (January 17, 1819)*

Lawyer and Whig politician, Thomas Erskine, 1st Baron Erskine (1750 – 1823), enjoyed considerable influence during the Regency. The Ministry of All Talents appointed him Lord High Chancellor. When the Whigs fell out of power, he retired from politics but remained active in various public causes, among them animal rights and George IV’s attempted divorce.

Lord Erskine’s real bread and butter came from practicing law at the Bar (arguing before judge and jury, as opposed to drawing up contracts). His strong advocacy for the role of the jury secures his place in legal history. So does his defense of Thomas Paine, tried for a variety of offenses stemming from the publication of Rights of Man.

His contemporaries knew him best for his courtroom drama.

Early on in his career, he developed an affinity for the kinds of cases litigating matters of a certain delicacy. He had no trouble presenting the facts as he saw them, sparing no colorful detail. Indeed, he spared none of his own clients with his blunt, yet eloquent speeches supporting their cause.

His appearances at Bar piqued and entertained juries and courtroom audiences for years.

Take, for example, the case of Mr. Fenn’s housekeeper. She sued her employer for breaking his promise to marry her. She was a respectable widow, but he induced her to cohabit with him based on his assurances they would soon be wed. The jury awarded her two thousand pounds for the loss of reputation and other damages she suffered as a result of his breach of promise, an award the court tried to set aside for being excessive.

Erskine took up the woman’s case, arguing it didn’t matter that she was old and ugly, or that the defendant wasn’t worth a farthing. The man enjoyed her society in his bed and the jury was well within its right to tally up his bill for same. As for her damages, these were scrupulously enumerated–being the loss of her reputation, her health, the society of her friends, the comfort of retirement.

For good measure, Erskine played to the gallery when he condemned the defendant’s string of false promises–a charade which continued right up until he married another woman:

“..young enough to be his daughter, and who, I hope, will manifest her affection by furnishing him with a pair of horns..(!)”

Speeches of Lord Erskine: When at the Bar, on Miscellaneous Subjects, ed J. Ridgway (1812)

As Erskine’s reputation grew, his clients became more tonnish, seeking his services in matters that had become his specialty–cases of the crim. con. variety. And he represented both sides of the aisle, cuckolded husbands and the lovers who led wives astray.

The rakehell Sir John Piers won a bet when he seduced the wife of a old school chum. He lost twenty thousand pounds when the old school chum sued him.

Mr. Eston was a naval purser and often away at sea. His wife, an actress and theater manager, was the Duke of Hamilton’s mistress. The bereft husband sued for loss of his wife’s affections. Sentiment was on the side of a man in service to his country. Erskine didn’t cringe, however, from defending His Grace’s seductive depredations, arguing the plaintiff brought this on himself for choosing an occupation that kept him gone for long periods of time.

As if that wasn’t enough, he argued the wife wasn’t really a wife at all:

“..as long as the line is fast to the fish, the fish is yours..but the moment she is a loose fish, any body may strike her….I will show you Mrs. E was a loose fish(!)”

— The Times, 23 Feb. 1797**

In the end, the jury awarded the plaintiff seven thousand pounds in damages. The purser never got his money, however. The duke had fled abroad.

Exactly what he has turned out to be,’ said Freddy. ‘Not a Chevalier at all: deuced loose fish, in fact!’

In another case, Erskine defended the heir of the earl of Lucan, Richard Bingham. Bernard Howard, heir to the Duke of Norfolk, sued for losses amounting to over a thousand pounds when his wife left him for Bingham. Erskine argued that in order to show a loss, there has to be affection in the first place.

After the trial, nearly everyone knew just how bad Lady Elizabeth’s marriage was.

Erskine brought several servants to testify to the “sorry state of marriage” that existed between her ladyship and Norfolk’s successor. The maid spoke of Lady Elizabeth’s great unhappiness with her marriage, that her parents forced her to marry Mr. Howard when she loved Mr. Bingham, the flood of tears the night after the wedding, her avoidance of the marriage bed, her walks in Kensington Gardens with the defendant.

A neighbor, probably glowing bright red with embarrassment, testified the angry husband once told him that Lady Elizabeth ‘would not allow him to have any connexions with her.’

” ‘There she goes,’ said Mr. Howard, ‘God damn her–I wish she may break her neck..’ ”

Speeches of Lord Erskine: When at the Bar, on Miscellaneous Subjects, ed J. Ridgway (1812)

 

The jury’s award of five hundred pounds for Mr. Howard was considered negligible, a triumph for Erskine. His client, Mr. Bingham, married Lady Elizabeth and had several children with her before they separated.

Their son, George, Lord Bingham, as painted by his sister. He later became known as ‘The Exterminator’ for evicting large numbers of his tenants in Ireland.

One cannot be surprised that Lord Erskine should conduct his own marital affairs with a bit of theater. There are many versions of the story of his elopement and a lot of speculation on just why he did it. He already had a family from a previous marriage, his finances were in bad shape, and he had to don a disguise to do it.

Lady W. W. surmised he was senile. Others have been more charitable, attributing his hasty trip to Gretna Green as a means to legitimize, at least under Scottish law, his two children by his mistress. That his eldest son tried to prevent the marriage must have chafed the old man and he rebelled.

His descendant wrote a time slip novel about his life, blaming the whole on the supernatural.

The devil made him do it.

 

*Correspondence of Charlotte Grenville, Lady Williams Wynn, and her three sons, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, bart, et al,1785 – 1832 (1920)

**This and other interesting quotes from Lord Erskine’s legal career can be found reproduced in Sarah Pearsall’s Atlantic Families: Lives and Letters in the Later Eighteenth Century (2008)

Regency Gambols

 

The games kids play.

During the Regency,  the conduct of young persons, particularly in company, was a topic of intense discussion. Any prospect of activities between eligible females and males was of primary concern.

The onset of Christmas amusements was viewed as particularly dangerous:

“..there are employments which pass under the name of gambols that are quite unworthy of engaging the attention of rational creatures, and ought at least to be confined to children.”

The Repository of arts, literature, commerce, etc. by Rudolph Ackermann Ser.2,v.7(1819)

What are these gambols that elicit such alarm? They are physical activities, not unlike Twelfth Night dancing. What objection is there to games such as blind man’s buff or drawing king and queen?

Blind Man’s Buff: as popular as ever

Why must such diversions as hunt the slipper and its “co-evel and co-savage companion,” hunt the whistle be consigned to children?

“..hot cockles, questions and commands, and the various modifications of forfeits, ..may do very well for such as are only two or three degrees removed infancy, either in age or intellect.”

The Repository of arts, literature, commerce, etc. by Rudolph Ackermann Ser.2,v.7(1819)

How very lowering!

The very thought of engaging in such games seemed to arouse intense disparagement. Particular contempt was reserved for those country cousins consigned to such silliness. The very nature of their holiday celebration was looked down upon by their sophisticated town relatives:

“..the thoughts of all your grotesque sports, Christmas gambols, mistletoe kissing, stupid rubbers, starched parties, and scandal manufactories, so operated in my mind… for me to take the chance of another season in town.”

-The Repository of arts, literature, commerce, etc. by Rudolph Ackermann, Vol II (1809)

“..a circle game in which players attempt to pass a slipper from one to another without being discovered by the player who is it.”

It wouldn’t be until the Victorian period that sentiment for gambols, extended festivals and decorations for Christmas would come into full-fledged favor. A flowering, if you will, of the Dickensian image we know and love today.

“A Christmas gambol oft could cheer–The poor man’s heart through half the year.”
Sir Walter Scott

 

 

Turkey Dinner in the Regency

“When turkeys mate, they think of swans.” — Johnny Carson

As an indifferent cook, my holiday turkey preparations never vary lest something untoward occurs in the kitchen. The method I use is therefore simple and reduced to as few steps as possible. Put the bird in a paper bag soaked in oil and roast all night in the oven for no more than 180 degree F.

Stay in your lane, Bro.

In England, the turkey first appeared on the royal table of Henry VIII. Apparently they were difficult birds to raise and less profitable than chickens, which reliably produced eggs. By the time of the Regency, turkeys remained expensive but more plentiful due to better transportation of livestock to the London markets. It would not be long before the turkey dinner at Christmas became an English tradition.

One of several historic locations for London’s meat, the Leadenhall Market as it appears today.
Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC BY-SA 3.0

The Cook’s Oracle of 1822 provides wonderful insight into the Regency’s taste for turkeys, and the process of getting them to the table.

Relying on advice from local London butchers, the author instructs the Regency-era cook that turkeys are best acquired between September and March. Cooler weather keeps the meat fresher. Safety reasons aside, temperature was important to the particular way late Georgian kitchens prepared such a large bird for cooking. In those days, turkeys were not dressed, that is, prepared for cooking, until three or four days after they were killed. Six or eight days in cold weather!

Alternatively,

“No man who understands good living will say on such a day, I will eat that Turkey–but will hang it up by four of the large tail feathers, and when, on paying his morning visit to the Larder, he finds it lying upon a cloth, prepared to receive it when it falls, that day let it be cooked.”

–The Cook’s Oracle (1822) *

Even in those days, cooks had to be warned to thaw the bird beforehand, for they often froze in the larder that time of year. The author cynically notes that ‘Jack Frost has ruined the reputation of many a turkey-roaster.’

Do not cook a frozen turkey in the fryer–a public service announcement from a reported admirer of Jane Austen.

Once dressed, turkeys were boiled or roasted, hens being preferred over male “stag” birds. In all cases, the cooked meat should be as plump and white in color as possible. When boiling the turkey, cooks are strongly advised to skim off any byproducts with this result in mind. Wrapping the bird in white cloth as an alternative is unreliable and a sign of a lazy cook.

On the other hand, roasting turkeys during the Regency required both delicacy and violence. One must singe the skin with a burning white piece of paper. Then break the breast, cut off the claws and skewer the feet away from the bird. Retain the liver but don’t break the “gall-bag.”

This cannot be stressed enough: in case you’ve committed the cardinal sin of skin discoloration, coat the bird with bechamel sauce–a process called veiling.

You loose screw! You proposed to the wrong woman!

Stuff the bird prior to cooking using a variety of recipes. During the Regency, there was a decided partiality for “forcemeats” in stuffing, made from tongue and organ sweetmeats. Much like today, the gizzard and liver were used in the stuffing or to make gravy.

No part of the turkey was wasted back then. Spices, broth, side bones, a merry-thought (wishbone) and leftover turkey meat were stewed to make pulled turkey. Trimmings and bones cooked in leftover liquid from boiling the turkey made a broth for hash.

Indeed, a dozen turkey heads would make a fine soup. At the time of the Oracle’s printing, heads could be had for a penny each.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

*The cook’s oracle : containing receipts for plain cookery on the most economical plan for private families, also the art of composing the most simple, and most highly finished broths, gravies, soups, sauces, store sauces, and flavoring essences : the quantity of each article is accurately stated by weight and measure, the whole being the result of actual experiments instituted in the kitchen of a physician.

By  Kitchiner, William, 1775?-1827

A Haunted Regency Setting

In my neighborhood, the residents spend weeks in advance of Halloween erecting elaborate displays at great expense and effort to attract trick-or-treaters. Adjoining neighborhoods grumble that their simple pumpkins and baskets of candy are forsaken, year after year, for elaborate treat dispensing displays, adults in mid-century throwback costumes and a recreational vehicle converted into a walk-thru haunted house.

Setting is key.

Two years ago this blog posted a Halloween discourse on the Regency’s rising infatuation with the supernatural. As my last post playfully points out, the popularity of wild, haunted settings in works of early Romantic literature was largely responsible for this trend.

Sir Walter Scott was probably the first well-known writer to tap into the power the untamed, natural setting had on readers at the time:

“….the living I fear not, but I trifle not nor toy with my dead neighbours of the churchyard. I promise you, it requires a good heart to live so near it: worthy Master Holdforth..had a sore fright there the last time he came to visit me..”  — Kenilworth, Sir Walter Scott (1821)

Long before Kenilworth sparked the Regency’s penchant for ghost hunting, there was Scott’s Rokeby. By the time of its publication in 1813, the poet’s work was beginning to pale. The readers of the Regency saw it as an ill-disguised marketing ploy for English country house tourism. Nevertheless, Scott once again turned to setting for inspiration in a work that was highly anticipated, with the potential to topple even Childe Harold.

The titular name of Rokeby comes from a real country house once owned by Regency-era antiquarian J. B. S. Morritt, a particular friend to the Wizard of the North. His Rokeby Park was and remains a perfect gem of Palladian architecture.

Rokeby Park’s neighboring river, The Greta. Another noted Romantic, Coleridge, called it Loud Lamenter for the distinctive sound its waters make running over the rocks. Photo via RokebyPark.com

A dobie, or dobby, is said to walk the ravine of the Greta. Much like a brownie or fairy, this spirit is rooted to the place and yet capable of startling passersby. Some traditions say it is the ghost of a murdered heiress to the nearby peel tower of Mortham, an earlier residence of Rokeby’s builders.

“Others say it was a Lady Rokeby, the wife of the owner who was shot in the walks by robbers, but she certainly became a ghost and under the very poetic nom de guerre of Mortham Dobby, she appeared dressed as a fine lady with a piece of white silk trailing behind her, without a head indeed though no tradition states how she lost so material a member, but with many of its advantages for she had long hair on her shoulders and eyes nose and mouth in her breast.”

 

—  Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott: In Three Volumes, Volume 1’ John G. Lockhart

Morritt was understandably gratified by the poet’s determination to give his home such splendid notoriety, living as he did in the age of Romanticism. Perhaps he was less gratified  when he discovered Scott looked elsewhere to beef the thing up.

Old Littlecot Park as printed in Views of the Seats of Noblemen, vol. V — by John Neale (1820)

The contributing setting was Littlecote House in Wiltshire, as revealed in Scott’s notes to the fifth canto. Scott visited the Elizabethan house and was struck by a particular bedroom there, whose furnishings were done up in blue, much tattered and worn by the Regency. Its hangings in one place were marred by a hole deliberately made, and clumsily patched again with the cut-out material.

The reason for the patch concerned a midwife during the latter part of Elizabeth I’s reign. She was summoned late in the night (an appropriately stormy one in November), blindfolded, to a location unknown to her. Once her eyes were uncovered, she saw that the bedchamber she’d been brought to was clearly of some wealth and consequence. A masked man of terrifying aspect ordered her to minister to a woman in disguise, giving birth.

In a most horrific act, the man grabbed the newborn baby from the midwife. After several torturous attempts, he finally dispatched it in the room’s blazing fireplace.

Upon her return home, the midwife made a deposition before the local magistrate, ‘strongly agitated by the horrors of the preceding night.’ Blindfolded during departure, she was able to identify the mysterious house of murder by taking away a swatch of the bed hanging.

Such a small piece of setting served to damn a man already consigned to the devil.

He was “Black” Will Durrell, the owner of Littlecote, his activities devoted to amorous and litigious interests. He escaped the gallows by bribing the judge of his case. He couldn’t bribe justice, however. Again it was the story’s setting that served as the instrument of revenge.

Black Will’s own horse threw and killed him, spooked by the dead infant’s ghost.

Happy Halloween!

 

 

 

Regency Spoof – Night Mare Abbey

Halloween approaches and time to revisit the Gothic novel bookshelf.

“Women with great hair fleeing Gothic houses.”
via @PulpLibrarian

Examples of the genre on my shelf are mostly from the 1970s. Their covers feature almost identical elements, enhanced to a degree that seems a bit much these days. Perhaps that’s a reminder it’s all too easy to exaggerate what is meant to inspire mystery and a sense of danger.

One too many stormy nights and you risk bringing forth a giggle instead of a gasp.

Thomas Love Peacock (1785 – 1866), Regency-era novelist famous for satire, viewed the Gothic with benevolent amusement. He was a close friend of Percy Bysshe Shelley, that lion of the Romantic movement. Naturally Peacock spent a good deal of time in the poet’s circle, comprised of those heavily concerned with expressing over-wrought feelings and tortured obsessions.

Peacock wrote his 1818 Night Mare Abbey to spoof the efforts of his Romantic friends, albeit in the most amiable way. The story is not frightening in the least, so you can disregard suggestions from internet bots that it is one of the scariest stories of the nineteenth century.

Think of it as the comedic cousin of Northanger Abbey.

The abbey itself is a caricature of the Gothic setting. Servants are deliberately trained to absolute silence, with the most absurd results. Only the sound of the hall clock penetrates, the closing of a distant door resounding throughout the gloomy corridors as if it had been slammed. There is a ruined tower, clad with ivy that rustles in the wind, owls providing ‘the plaintive voices of feathered choristers’ and, of course, the sea pounding against the rocks below.

The Old House, prominent setting of the Gothic TV series Dark Shadows (a scrumptious Halloween treat for me) was the Colonnades, one of many Gilded Age mansions along the Hudson River that have since vanished.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not surprising, we have warnings of evil afoot, wrapped up in a clever commentary of society and its pleasures. The character Mr. Toobad (perhaps John Frank Newton–who advocated Shelley practice vegetarianism) expresses these while lamenting the goodness and simplicity of the past. Now we are in a time when good wrestles with evil:

“The devil has come among us and has begun by taking possession of all the cleverest fellows.”

Abbey also makes sport with the Gothic reader of Peacock’s day, manifested in Mr. Listless, a fashionable dandy who has a penchant for reading and re-enacting the genre. Like Sir Lumley Skeffington illustrated below, Listless can’t decide if he’s really into the metaphysical or just pretending to be. On the one hand, he solidly declares there’s no such thing as a ghost, and yet admits he’s apt to mistake his dressing-gown for one.

Sir Lumley Skeffington and his band of dandies, affecting melodramatic ‘wounds.’
Image – Wellcome Library no. 10767i

 

 

 

The most powerful element in the Gothic drama, the Byronic hero, receives a masterful treatment in Abbey. He is Scythrope, with an air of appropriately pervasive dissatisfaction. Other characters act as a foil for him, namely the vicar and Scythrope’s love, Marionetta, whose gaiety remains impervious to the melancholic setting and the moody behavior of the hero.

Scythrope’s struggle with deep and dark Disappointment manifests itself in a variety of ridiculous ways. He writes Byzantine essays on mystical subjects. He builds labyrinthine passages in the Abbey that would “defy even the most intrepid of Parisian police.” His un-heroic antics enhance his difficulties. His behavior borders on the anti-social.

Peacock’s spoof of the Gothic reminds his friends not to over-do it. Too much world-weary aloofness can become tedious. More importantly, don’t be Friday-faced. The pain of the past does not excuse unpleasant behavior nor rejection of your family, your friends. Misanthropy, he illustrates, springs from nothing particularly heroic, but from:

“..overweening and mortified vanity, quarreling with the world for not being better treated than it deserves.”

I guess that makes my tortured hero a self-absorbed narcissist.

*Comparisons have been drawn between Abbey and Shelley’s time spent on the Continent with two ladies in his train–Mary Godwin, his new wife, and Claire Clairmont, the comet that disturbs the newlyweds’ orbit. See a previous blog post here for a summary of this amusing junket.

All quotes are taken from the literary criticism of this work of Peacock, published in La Belle Assemblée, Vol. 17 & 18, Jan-Dec 1818.

Regency Era Servants – Details, Details Part 2

This post is a continuation of the previous one, concentrating on the character of Regency-era servants when working under duress. I think these details are quite illuminating.

The following anecdotes, unless otherwise noted, come from the letters of Lady Williams-Wynn, (Correspondence of Charlotte Grenville, Lady Williams Wynn; edited by Rachel Frances Marion Leighton, 1920 – my copy is from archive.org).

In 1820, her ladyship wrote in horrified tones to her daughter-in-law concerning the destruction of Wotton House. This fine Queen Anne mansion in Buckinghamshire was the ancestral home of the politically powerful Grenville family.

Built in the English Baroque style, with square apartments and high ceilings, Wotton’s design readily explains its destruction, although that circumstance was not apparent right away. A fire started in the room next to the nursery and soon flames were shooting straight up through the ceiling. Unfortunately, the copper roof confined the heat and flames to the attic, which ran the length of the mansion, and so the fire spread outwards from end to end of Wotton. The fire then traveled back down into the house by the only avenues of escape–the wooden staircases at either end and down the center of Wotton.

A fire that might have damaged one part of the house ended up burning the whole to the ground.

Wotton House, rebuilt by noted architect John Soane, neo-classical architect to the Regency
photo by By Mark Edwards, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia

Lady Williams-Wynn grew up at Wotton. She witnessed many poignant events there, including the untimely deaths of her parents.

“You will easily believe what a pang it has given me to think that all which was associated with my earliest and tenderest recollections should be wiped off from the face of the earth..”

— Lady W.W. to Fanny W.W. Nov. 5th, 1820

Wotton was the home of Lord Temple, son and heir to the duke of Buckingham and Chandos. He, along with his wife and baby daughter, Lady Anna, were in residence at the time of the fire. Their child was only nine months old, having been born earlier in the year in February. Lady W.W. expressed great astonishment that Lady Anna might have died in the fire but for the efforts of his lordship’s valet.

“We are all wonder at hearing from all sides of the peril of the poor Baby without one word being said of its Nurse..”

Imagine the chagrin of poor Nanny. Of all persons present in the house, she should have been the one to rescue her charge. Instead, the business had been left to the valet. One must wonder at Lady Temple’s domestic arrangements for the valet to be present at that particular moment in that part of the house (!)

Moseley, my favorite valet. He had other occupations as well, and now he returns to Downton Abbey to serve the King and Queen.
photo from fandom.com

Such a destructive fire bore investigation and Nanny provided an important clue. It was she, and not the valet, who was the first to see the smoke traveling across the wooden beams of the nursery ceiling. It was she, and not the valet, who picked up Baby and fled. I surmise she delivered her charge into the care of his lordship’s man in order to race back to the nursery to save irreplaceable mementos, such as the child’s christening gown.

Holding the Lady Anna in his arms, the valet could not refuse the hero’s mantle.

Several years earlier, in 1814,* Lady W.W. described the following incident concerning the eccentric daughter-in-law of fellow Whigs, Lord and Lady Melbourne. Apparently, this unfortunate occurrence was all the ton could talk about–the on-dit of that autumn.

The ‘wretched’ Lady Caroline Lamb, as Lady W.W. called her, was already a figure of scandal by the time this latest outrage occurred. Earlier in the year she’d embarked on a well-publicized affair with Lord Byron, having met him in that Whig stronghold, Holland House.

Lady Caroline Lamb by Phillips
She had a thing for pages.

After the affair ended, a surgeon was called to Lady Caroline’s house. One of her pages had suffered a serious injury. Apparently the lad refused to make proper obeisance to her ladyship and received a blow to the head. The offender insisted her instrument of correction was a broomstick and not the poker lying nearby.

In any case, all doubted the boy’s survival.

“It is certainly an extraordinary test of the good humour and kindness of Lord and Lady Melbourne to endure such an inmate, but it is said they do now profess they can bear it no longer.”

It appears Caro’s abusive behavior toward her servants, particularly her pages, was well-known among the ton. Her fellow novelist and confidante, Sydney, Lady Morgan recorded as much in her diary. Caroline did nothing to dispel this, admitting that when she and her page played with squibs, (little firecrackers shaped into balls), the horseplay was often quite boisterous.

On one occasion, the boy threw his squib in the fire. Scolding him, Lady Caroline threw hers at his head.

“It hit him on the temple, and he bled. He cried out, ‘O my Lady, you have killed me!’ Out of my senses, I flew into the hall and screamed, ‘Oh God, I have murdered the page!’ ”

Lady Morgan’s Memoirs: Autobiography, diaries and correspondence by Sydney, Lady Morgan, ed. W. H. Dixon

Vol II (1863)

“The Page Affair,” as Lady Caroline called it, is very well explained here. Some scholars believe these tales of abuse were really a metaphor to describe Caro’s relationship with Lord Byron–that the “pages,” hers and Byron’s, were their literary creations.

Lady W.W. was not impressed, but Lady Cork, famous for her salons and conversation, was.

“..she has persuaded the ton she is a second Lady Cork, to whose salons it is an honor to be invited..She sounds very disagreeable.”

She told Lady Morgan, perhaps teasingly, that she meant to send one of her own naughty pages to Lady Caroline to be reformed. She heard the Melbournes’ daughter-in-law was well-qualified in this regard:

“..’tis said she broke her page’s head with a teapot the other day.”

Loyal to dear Caro, Lady Morgan protested the whole thing was quite untrue–a Tory rumor.

Lady Cork didn’t care if the tale was true or not.

“..all pages are better for having their heads sometimes broken.”

 

*This letter describing the poker incident is undated. The editor placed it among the writer’s correspondence in the fall of 1814.

Regency Era Servants – Details, Details

There are many great blog posts out there detailing the life of a servant during the Regency era. Hopefully these anecdotal bits and pieces from the correspondence of Lady Williams Wynn (1754 – 1832) will be illuminating on the subject as well:

“Has Harriet told you of the accident which has prevented Sir Samuel Hood from taking his seat in the House or Hoisting his Flag? (!)”

Correspondence of Charlotte Grenville, Lady Williams Wynn, etc.. (1920)

Sir Samuel was the cousin of the more famous Admiral Hood. He commanded 74-gun ships of the line with great intrepidity during the Napoleonic wars. However, he was no match for his maid servant. She placed the warming pan in his bed whilst he occupied it. He rolled over and, well, ouch.

The naval hero was unable to stand or sit for three weeks, her ladyship tittered.

Gilray’s caricature of Sir Samuel Hood’s contest for one of the Westminster seats in the Commons. Along with Sheridan, he is pictured tossing the reform candidate, duelist James Paull, up in the air.

In January of 1808, Lady W.W.’s son was able reassure his mama he was present at the  the reception and dinner for Louis XVIII of France. This took place at Stowe House and given by the Earl Temple (later Marquess of Buckingham). In order not to be late, Henry arrived quite early, around mid-afternoon, only to find the exiled monarch was already on the front steps of the great house, a jam of carriages and people along the driveway.

He was bound to catch a scolding from Mama if he failed to represent the family.

Stowe House, via geograph.uk.org
© Copyright Kevin Gordon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License

Henry’s post boy, acting with singular intelligence, drove the carriage around to the back door to avoid the crush. There his master was able to quickly sneak into the house and be part of the delegation when His Most Christian Majesty entered.

The post-boy couldn’t do a thing about the meal, however.

“The dinner, entre-nous (although there are four French cooks in the house) was the worst I ever saw put upon a table, and worst-served than anything I ever saw before.”

After Queen Charlotte’s death, there was a period of time when some of the King’s jewels in her possession went missing. The set, including the Garter, had been put away in a box and forgotten until someone needed that very container to pack up some other odds and ends belonging to the dead Queen.

The box was located in a window seat, the jewels inside.

It was lost for a bit.
Photo via Royal Collection Trust

Lady W. W. relates a similar incident to her eldest daughter, Fanny. Mrs. Ormsby-Gore, of an ancient Welsh aristocratic family, left her family’s country estate Porkington* to go up to London . She left her entire household behind with instructions to perform the various tasks that might otherwise be noisy and bothersome to her ladyship whilst at home.

One such project involved tuning the pianoforte. The tuner arrived but was obliged to break the lock on the pianoforte to perform his service.

“The first thing he beheld was Mrs. G’s full set of jewels, which in the presence of the Butler and Housekeeper he sealed up and delivered to their care.”

Lady W.W.’s ‘Stowe Junket’ story reveals the exhausting labor of servants during large gatherings. The one she relates to her son also took place at Stowe, for her nephew was the Duke of Buckingham. He had invited all the extended family and friends to the christening of his grandson, the ‘Young Hero,’ destined to be the last Duke of Buckingham.

Not even illness could prevent her ladyship’s other son from attending, having gotten permission from his doctor, Sir Henry Halford.

Even Apphia, Lady Lyttleton (see her diamond earrings here) was present, although:

“…why or wherefore nobody knows or could make out, excepting the Duke and Duchess’ having met her in Malvern and having been in her society in the first moment of Ebulletion (ebullience?) on hearing of the birth of the boy.”

A hundred guests were in attendance. Ladies were quartered in the bachelor gallery, men in the Duke’s various houses around Buckinghamshire. Her ladyship records her compliments to Stowe’s old housekeeper, Mrs. Nicholson. This lady, beaming, boasted she gave the maids 190 pairs of sheets to prepare all the beds.

The servants apparently got little sleep. The Duke told her ladyship that ‘not one had their clothes off from Monday to Saturday.’

“I’m the perfect servant–I have no life.”
Mrs. Wilson, housekeeper in the Edwardian country house mystery, Gosford Park

*Later known as Brogynton Hall, the house had been in the family of Ormsby-Gore since the 17th century until they abandoned it in 1985 due to death taxes and the like. Called the House of Tears, it has witnessed an eerie succession of deaths to the occupants.  Pictures of the house can be found here, including the round music room (now demolished) that probably contained the pianoforte.