One House Saves Another–and Perhaps, a Nation

Vivien let her fingertips glide along the curved glass railing of the crystal grand staircase of Devonshire House.  “It’s been so many years since Hart’s death but all his things remain here just as they were when he was alive.”

Devonshire House gates

She smiled sadly at her companion, the Dowager Countess of Northam, who pulled her ermine fur more closely about her shoulders as they passed into the grand saloon.

Diana was well aware Vivien was watching her. She shrugged as her eyes roved over the giltwood and gesso overmantel frames containing the priceless paintings Hart had collected for years. “Perhaps it was a blessing Blanche passed away before her husband could succeed to all this. Hart adored her–she was his favorite niece by far and he really wanted her to have all these things, though I can’t conceive why.”

“Who will be the next chatelaine of this house, I wonder?”

Diana threaded her arm through Vivien’s. They were two old ladies whose opinions mattered to no one anymore. “Spencer will never marry. He’s too much like Hart with that silly mistress of his. The one they call Skittles.”

Vivien’s dark eyes toward her. “Are you jealous of her? She’s very beautiful, I hear, and has the admiration of all the gentlemen when she rides in Hyde Park. Just as you used to do.”

“Hush,” Diana said.

Vivien patted her hand. “Don’t fly up into the boughs, my dear.”

Yes, Diana was jealous, despite her eighty some-odd years. Age had done nothing to dispel the fierceness of feeling. As always, she relied on her dearest friend to soothe the violence of her temper. She looked down on darling Vivien’s face, noting the eyebrows that were still as black as her hair once was. “Devonshire House will need a mistress made of sterner stuff than the daughter of a customs official.”

They had paused before a great window that looked out across Devonshire’s gardens. In the distance was a long wall separating the duke’s cabbage from the Marquess of Lansdowne’s fine lawn, fresh from being dug up along the riverbank. The ancient frame of an old ladder leaned against the wall.

“Stay,” Vivien exclaimed, pointing to the Palladian mansion opposite Devonshire House. “Did I not tell you there’s a baby girl just born to Lansdowne House? Louisa, God rest her soul, has a new great-granddaughter. They mean to call her Evelyn, I hear.”

Diana could not take her eyes from that ladder, her mind seized on the memory of that day long ago when she first met Hart, to Louisa’s dismay.

“Oh, darling,” Vivien exclaimed, seeing a tear slip down Diana’s face. “If you cry, then you know I will. And then we shall all be the basket.”

The last mistress of Devonshire House was that baby girl, who made sure the memory of the old house and its “Bachelor Duke” were never to be forgotten.

Lady Evelyn Emily Mary FitzMaurice, (1870 – 1960) was the oldest child of the 5th Marquess of Lansdowne and his wife, Maud. She married Victor Cavendish in 1892 and became the 9th Duchess of Devonshire. She was unprepossessing, serious-minded and nothing like her flamboyant predecessor, the German Louisa van Alten, England’s Double Duchess.

Lady Evelyn Cavendish, 9th Duchess of Devonshire – by John Singer Sargent

She was the chatalaine who presided over the death of Devonshire House.

“…by the close of World War I, the social and political London scene had changed greatly for aristocrats, and the Cavendish family sold Devonshire House. Before it was demolished in 1925, Evelyn, the ninth duchess, who had a deep appreciation for architecture and antiques, had all of the interiors photographed and the rooms painstakingly disassembled before the contents were shipped to Chatsworth.” The Ultimate Attic

The well-publicized Chatsworth sale in 2010 of those various Devonshire House fittings and furnishings could not have happened without the 9th Duchess’ labor almost a century before. Her little pieces of paper were found, under the soot from Chatsworth’s attic, attached to every picture frame, chimney-piece and wood carving, noting what room in the long-vanished London house the item was taken from. From contemporary accounts, notably Evelyn’s daughter, it appears as if Her Grace knew that a portal into the past was about to be closed forever:

“..much of the furniture and even the silk off the walls were spread about Chatsworth. Piled high in the kitchen maids’ bedrooms were silk curtains, cushions, tassels and braids. Chimney pieces lay on the backs by the forge in the stables, while in the granary loft above were stored the London state harness of the carriage horses, extravagantly carved and painted pelmets, gilded fillits….” — from Her Grace, the Dowager Duchess Deborah Mitford Cavendish’s book All in One Basket

I’ve often wondered if the Royal Collection owes a debt of gratitude to the 9th Duchess of Devonshire. It was Queen Mary who set about reinstating many “lost”items that had been loaned out by preceding generations of the Royal Family. No doubt she relied on the steady advice of her Mistress of the Robes. Doubtless she realized that those born of Lansdowne House were great collectors. Duchess Evelyn had experience in such matters.

It seems Her Grace came at the right time to serve another House–and perhaps a Nation.

All that’s left of Devonshire House’s Crystal Staircase

Animal Rights and Lansdowne House

“Mama, I’m as concerned about Diana as you are.  If she truly needs me, I will always be there to help her.”

“Of course.”  She poked her elegant finger among the brooches and earrings in the ornate box.  “You’ve managed everything quite well up to now, have you not?  But beware, my darling.  We have only just arrived in London.  Inevitably, Diana is bound to choose another improper friend.  One that may not be as amenable to your carte blanche as Miss Swynford.”

“Did you say Diana’s gone out riding?  I should go call for my horse.”

The dowager cocked her head.  “Your niece is all the way to Hyde Park by now, most likely.   Quite keen, she was, to try out her new mare.”

“That wretched animal she picked up from the horse knackers?  The dealers at Tattersall’s were glad to be rid of her after she injured one of their grooms.”

“The very one.  She tried to kick one of ours in the head just this morning.”

Diana’s Garnet was never a favorite of her Uncle Russell’s.  She was an ill-tempered mare and he always said Diana rode her just to spite him.   But in his heart he was proud of his niece for saving the animal from the knackers, and for trying to make something of the tall, angular chestnut.  He knew Diana needed Garnet, just as Garnet needed Diana.   The Marquess of Wimberley was only too aware that the victim of abuse, be it man or beast, can sometimes be set upon the road to healing when given a purpose–a destiny.  And his lordship fervently hoped this first step for Diana would lead her toward recovery.  Little did he know it would lead him there as well.

The notion of rescuing animals–saving them from ill-treatment–was a topic of considerable discussion in the Regency period.   Philosophy was motivated in those days by new ideas about the rights of man.  A century before, Locke, and later Kant, had already raised the notion that animal abuse was a bad thing–not for the animals, but for man.  In the mid-eighteenth century Rousseau argued the matter one step further.  The beasts of nature, by virtue of them being sentient, have their own right to the mercies of natural law, even if they cannot reason on their own.

The entire idea of introducing laws to protect animals remained, however, purely philosophical.

It was also something of a comedy.  Wollstonecraft’s In Defense of the Rights of Woman at the close of the eighteenth century was met with another tract published under the satirical title, Vindication of the Rights of Brutes.   In other words, if we give rights to women, we shall dashed well have to give them to the beasts!

Enter Lansdowne House and one of the Marquess’ most illustrious guests–Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832).  He was a philosopher well-known for his radical notions about freedom and equal rights, getting the C out of the E (ie, separating church and state), and abolishing slavery.  When it came to animal rights, he brushed aside natural law as “nonsense upon stilts” and made an argument that was unanswerable:

“…The question is not, Can they reason?, nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”

It must be said he did not oppose the use of animals for medical research.  He gave his own body to a medical college for public dissection and ordered that his corpse be put on display in an auto-icon.

When not engaged in philosophical dialogue, Bentham was known for courting women with “clumsy jocularity” (Michael St. John Packe’s The Life of John Stuart Mill).  The women in particular were members of the Marquess of Lansdowne’s family.  It appears from some of Bentham’s correspondence the ladies had refused to receive him when he called at Lansdowne House.  His style of rebuke, a mixture of pleasantries and irony so typical of the Regency, is amusing:

“I am glad to find you have begun to feel something like remorse; it is a virtuous sentiment–do not struggle to suppress it.”

“Most Delicate in his Acts of Generosity” – the Third Marquess of Lansdowne

Lansdowne House was not only famous for its architecture and furnishings–it was known for its people, as well.  This post is dedicated to the one person who not only brought the house into its prominence in the Regency period, but very possibly saved it from destruction.

Lord Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, Marquess of Lansdowne

Lord Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, third Marquess of Lansdowne (1780-1863) was born in Lansdowne House to the second wife of his father, the first marquess, Lord William Petty, also known as Earl of Shelburne.  It was his older half-brother, Lord John Henry, who succeeded their father.  However, he died a few years later and Lord Henry became not only Earl of Kerry but Marquess of Lansdowne as well.

 An heir and a spare.

And what a spare he came to be.

The hero in Vivien’s story, Notorious Vow, also succeeded his older half-brother.  His patrimony was an earldom in shambles.  The marquisate was similarly situated when it came into Lord Henry’s hands.

Indeed, Lansdowne House had been left by Lord Henry’s predecessors in such a dilapidated state it might have gone on the auction block.  The situation was quite desperate, leading to a scandalous litigation over the debts the estate was faced with, brought by various creditors who held substantial mortgages on Lansdowne House and the family’s country estate of Bowood.  These persons sought to recover monies from the sale of many of the estate’s assets, among them the large art collection that was once once housed in the magnificent Adams rooms of Lansdowne House.  Even the trees themselves had all been cut down and sold as firewood.

Under Lord Henry’s watch, the trees were eventually replanted and Lansdowne House, along with its art collection, restored to former glory.  It was to be one of many of his lordship’s remarkable achievements.  He was a humble man, having turned down a dukedom and the office of Prime Minister.  Nevertheless, his presense was a powerful one in Britisih political life–championing the causes of eduation, Catholic emancipation and the abolition of the slave trade.

He was a man worthy of presiding over the Regency Centre of London:

“Under him the reputation which Bowood and Lansdowne house had secured in the lifetime of Lord Shelburne as meeting-places not only for politicians, but for men of letters and of science, was fully maintained. In the patronage of art and literature Lansdowne exercised considerable discretion, and re-established the magnificent library and collections of pictures and marbles which had been made by his father, and dissipated during a short period of possession by his half-brother. Most delicate in his acts of generosity, he freed the poet Moore from his financial troubles; he assisted Sydney Smith to long-waited-for preferment and he secured a knighthood for Lyell.”

—–from an article written by William Carr and published in 1895 (as reprinted in Dr. Marjorie Bloy’s English History website here.)

Calennig – A Welsh New Year

Vivien peered into the grand salon, sometimes called the saloon, at Northam Park.  The riotous interior that was a masterpiece of Rococco decoration was clearly at odds with its lone occupant.  The Countess of Northam stood pale and solitary, her tall figure slim as ever, outlined in sharp relief against a soaring Palladian window.  She sifted rapidly, as though unseeing, through a trove of invitations to attend various country pursuits afternoon teas, shooting lunches and hunting balls.

Diana was grieving.

HM Queen Elizabeth's mare Burmese

Vivien knew this because they had been bosom bows for over twenty years.  In that time she had come to recognize the signs of emotional turmoil in her beloved friend.  Signs that included a brittle laugh, sparkling green eyes, fluid, quicksilver movements.

Yet the mistress of Northam Park exhibited none of these now.  The only thing that betrayed her grief was the manner in which her long, elegant fingers rapidly sorted through the embossed cards, as if each one represented an irritation.

Diana looked up.  “Oh, my dear.  How good of you to come and relieve the tedium of my company.”

“I’ve come to give you a gift.”

“Good God.  I’ve been saving mine to give to you on Twelfth Night.  ‘Tis only New Year’s.”

“You’re forgetting I’m Welsh.”  Vivien joined her at the window and offered a polished wooden box.  “This is your Calennig, my dear.”

Diana put the cards down.  She took the box, her long, elegant fingers moving over the gift before opening it.

Inside was a highly polished, copper bit.

Diana snapped the box shut, a violent, angry motion.

“You’ve grieved long enough,” Vivien said, her own voice unexpectedly angry.  “Garnet has been gone for months.”

Diana met her eyes and looked away quickly, her mouth lifted up in one corner as if self-revulsion.  Vivien knew she despised showing any sign of weakness.

“How was the Boxing Day hunt?” she asked, her voice derisive.  “Did your new nag refuse any of the fences?”

“It would never occur to Bandula that she might ever refuse a fence,” Vivien replied.  “She’s as close to being my dear Thor reincarnated as I should ever like to see.  Even down to her grey coat.”

Diana set the box down on the window’s marble sill.  She crossed her arms over her chest, her long fingers clenching against the expensive silk that made up her sleeves.  “Do not bother to cozen me, Vivien.  I’m blue-devilled and shall be miserable company for anyone.  For a long time.”

“It’s the New Year.  What better time to look about for a new horse?”  Vivien insisted.

“Aye, you hardly gave a thought to poor old Thor, so fast did you seize upon your new pet. ”

It was a wounding thing to say, but Vivien did not mind.  She knew that it must come from a pain so terrible that it was positively eating Diana alive.   And so she leaned against her friend, even though her own head scarcely reached Diana’s shoulder.

“Oh, Vivien,” Diana groaned, her words wracked by the suspicion of a sniff, “I can’t seem to right myself.  Garnet must have been the most wretched mare alive.  I think she must have thrown me a dozen times or more.  Griffin never liked her, although I used to catch him giving her scraps from the kitchen.  Good God, she would eat anything, even roast beef if you offered it to her.  And do you remember the time, Vivien, when we first met and Thor put her in her place with that well-bred glance of his?”

Their glances locked, each remembering their horses now gone.  Predictably, Vivien felt her face crumple in a sob and it was Diana who was holding her close for comfort.

“I think I needed to see you grieve, Vivien, in order for me to get over mine.”

“You wretched creature,” Vivien replied, hugging her friend even closer.

The Calennig is the Welsh New Year’s gift.  Vivien, a marchioness, chose to give the Countess of Northam something rather more meaningful than jewels or fabric to demonstrate her love for her old friend.  A copper bit, brand new, was a gentle reminder we must all move on from the pain of the past year.

Vivien’s mother was born in Wales and converted to Methodism.  She had always schooled her daughter with a tenet remembered from a long remembered preacher.  “You must forgive the past year to live in the new.”

Christmas at Windsor Castle

Lighted Christmas Tree - Octagon Dining Room at Windsor Castle

In 1844, long after the events in Notorious Vow and Notorious Match, Diana and Vivien attended the young Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, at Windsor Castle.  The countess and marchioness were astonished to see a tree suspended from the ceiling of the Octagon Dining Room, where the chandelier is normally hung.

A Christmas tree, the Prince Consort explained.

This is from the Royal Collection’s website at :

In the German tradition, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve and presents were laid out on tables, each of which had a Christmas tree at its centre.  Two gift tables will be recreated with presents exchanged by Victoria and Albert.  Among the highlights is a painting by Sir Charles Eastlake commissioned by Victoria in 1844 as a gift for Albert, and a sculpture of Princess Beatrice as a baby lying in a shell, given to the Queen by Prince Albert for Christmas 1858.

In the Castle’s State Dining Room, the table will be laid for a Victorian Christmas feast with a magnificent porcelain dessert service by Minton of Staffordshire.  Known as the Victoria Service, the set was purchased by the Queen at the Great Exhibition in 1851 and includes four porcelain figures of the four seasons, ice pails, cream and bon-bon dishes, and a pair of silver-gilt sauceboats shaped like sleighs.

This special display has been recreated for the public’s viewing and ends on January 8th.

Porcelain Dessert Service - State Dining Room at Windsor Castle

Regency Painters – Part Two

Young Woman Drawing - Villiers 1801

‘Only–If there did happen to be a gentleman who–who wished to marry me, do you think he would be deterred by that, Freddy?’

‘Be a curst rum touch if he wasn’t,’ replied Freddy unequivocally.

‘Yes, but–If he had a partiality for me, and found I had become engaged to Another,’ said Kitty, drawing on a knowledge of life culled from the pages of such novels as graced Miss Fishguard’s bookshelf, ‘he might be wrought upon by jealousy.’

‘Who?’ demanded Freddy, out of his depth.

‘Anyone!’ said Kitty.

‘But there ain’t anyone!’ argued Freddy.

‘No,’ agreed Kitty, damped.  ‘It was just a passing thought, and not of the least consequence!  I shall seek a situation.’

‘No, you won’t,’ said Freddy, with unexpected firmness.  ‘That’s what you said last night.  Talked a lot of stuff about becoming a chambermaid.  Well, you can’t, that’s all.’

‘Oh, no!’ she assured him.  ‘Upon reflection, of course I perceived that wouldn’t answer.  And also I shouldn’t wonder at it if Hugh was quite at fault, and I might do very well as a governess.  To quite young children, you know, who don’t need instruction in Italian or Water-colour painting.’

‘Can’t do that either,’ said Freddy.

‘Well, really, Freddy!’ cried Miss Charing indignantly.  ‘Pray, what concern is it of yours?’

‘Good God, Kit, of course it’s my concern!’ retorted Freddy, moved to express himself strongly.  ‘You don’t suppose I’m going to have everyone saying you’d rather go for a governess than marry me, do you?  Nice gudgeon I should look!’

Cotillion, Georgette Heyer

No discussion of art during the Regency period can possibly omit the fine landscape painter J. M. W. Turner (1775 – 1851).  I’ve posted an example of his work here on the subject of Crichton Castle in Scotland.  His art, decidedly Romantic, elevated the medium of watercolor.  Without it, one could argue the Impressionist movement would not have been possible.  In any event, he brought about a decided preference for the liberating, poignant strokes of the finely executed watercolor.

It is no wonder that young ladies of the period, already steeped in gothic novels, should try to excel in this aspect of the fine arts. Indeed, in my earlier project, Notorious Vow, the heroine was rather self-conscious that the earl of Northam managed to catch a glimpse of some half-finished examples of her work in the medium.  She could not be certain, but he appeared to be rather amused at the sight of her abandoned canvases stacked neatly in her mother’s conservatory, as if in silent witness to the artist’s lack of focus and direction.  It was not quite the impression Vivien wanted to leave with the handsome earl.

Turner focussed strongly on emotional painting, using weather, fire, shipwrecks and other interactions with nature as primary subjects.  He is often called the painter of light.

Indeed, he was reported to have declared on his deathbed that “the sun is God.”

The Chapter House - Salisbury Cathedral (J. M. W. Turner)

Regency sports car

There were all kinds of carriages, suitable for a variety of purposes, during the Regency period.   In Persuasion, Anne Elliott pointed out to Captain Benwick that she believed they were living in a great age for poetry.  I feel the same way about the movies made within the last twenty years on Regency subjects.  Particularly their display of horses and carriages.  Willoughby drives Marianne in a phaeton (Sense and Sensibility, 1995), Sir Walter Elliott enters a town coach as he leaves Kellynch Hall (Persuasion, 1997), and Miss Elizabeth Bennett changes from her cousin’s gig to the public post-chaise, a large conveyance for regional travel (Pride and Prejudice, 1995).  Which she prefers to Lady DeBurgh’s barouche!

In Notorious Vow, Vivien is impressed by the earl of Northam’s customized tilbury, a light, fast, two-wheeled carriage normally designed for one horse, but which he had modified to be pulled by a pair of “sweet-goers” bred at Wimberley.

The image to the right is a phaeton driven by an intrepid female driver.  Read Heyer’s Regency Buck for an even more intrepid heroine who dares to drive her own racing curricle in a wagered race to Brighton that nearly lands her in the basket.  Her guardian, the Earl of Worth, has to employ his own record-setting team to catch her.

“You are not to be the judge of the propriety of my actions!  If it pleases me to drive a curricle to Brighton it is of no business of yours!”

“Do you think I will permit my ward to make herself the talk of the town?  Do you think it suits my pride to have my ward drive down to Brighton wind-blown, dissheveled, a butt for every kind of coarse wit, a object of disgust to every person of taste and refinement?”

Strong words indeed from a man to a woman whose wardship he never sought nor desired.   And small wonder it resulted in an unforgettable tension between two people hopelessly in love.

Regency Dining: two courses only?

In Notorious Vow, Vivien finds her mother’s middle-class family has varying reactions to her new friendship with Lady Diana.  Her cousin Susan is brimming with curiosity over what the viscountess wears.  Her uncle in particular, a solid man of business, blames it all on the horse she mysteriously received as a gift.

“Aha.  It all comes back to that horse.  I expect you will keep the animal?”

Vivien smiled.  “Of course, Uncle.”

He rose and held out his arm to escort her into the dining room for dinner.  Meals at Camden Place were complex affairs with multiple courses and every formality observed. If Uncle Camden did not care what how the upper class dined, Vivien knew her aunt certainly did.

“You must find our supper paltry after dining at Northam’s table,” Mrs. Camden said as she entered with her daughter, Miss Susan Camden, a lively girl with a bouncing sort of prettiness.  

“It was only a light repast, Aunt.  Not above two courses and served on a buffet.”

“Two courses only?”

Vivien’s Aunt Camden has the same view of how the upper classes keep their table as Mrs. Scorton in Heyer’s Cotillion.  From a masterful passage on the abundance of the English table:

Mrs. Scorton was a lavish housewife, and prided herself upon the table she kept.  When the soup was removed, the manservant, assisted by a page and two female servants, set a boiled leg of lamb with spinach before his master, a roast sirloin of beef before his mistress, and filled up all the remaining space on the board with dishes of baked fish, white collops, fricassee of chicken, two different vegetables, and several sauce-boats…

Eliza asked (Kitty) how many courses Lady Buckhaven in general sat down to.  When she learned that her ladyship contented herself with a very much lighter diet, she exclaimed at it; and Mrs. Scorton blessed herself to think that she should keep a better table than a baroness.

Where is Wimberley?

The earl’s proximity caused her to feel somewhat heated, and she moved away to look at an open-faced curio cabinet filled with

Coleshill House

objects. They included a series of miniature watercolors depicting two houses, one an English baroque with a pretty dome. She touched its frame, admiring the lovely home depicted, with its bold white casement windows and elegant chimneys. Its parkland was a wealth of varied landscaping, with huge oaks surrounding the whole.

“Wimberley,” Lord Northam said, following her. “It has been mine since before Northam came to me.”

Wimberley was the name of Russell’s marquisate in Notorious Vow.  He became marquess on the death of his maternal grandfather, long before the tragic death of his brother, which brought him the earldom of Northam.  

Originally bestowed on Lady Nellie’s family by Queen Anne, the principal jewel in the marquisate’s crown was its seat in Berkshire, which greatly resembled the now lost Coleshill House (pictured above).  Older than Northam Park by several decades, Wimberley was one of the first English country houses to feature a dome designed by Christopher Wren.  Like Coleshill, its main staircase was Italian in design, with impressive plasterwork throughout that emphasized Wimberley’s agricultural wealth.

Coleshill has a tragic history, however.  It had just been transferred to the National Trust when repairwork being carried out ignited the interior, leaving only a burned-out shell topped by its massive chimneys.  Its loss has been called “grievous beyond words.” (Country Life, 1952)  It contained a masterful display of decoration first introduced by Inigo Jones to the Stuart Court, and has never been replicated elsewhere.

The Promenade

“A deuced fine animal,” one gentleman had shouted from his natty tilbury when Vivien entered the Knightsbridge gate at Hyde Park.

“But a mushroom aboard him,” another chortled, to the titters of several ladies in a nearby elegant landau.

Deeply embarrassed, Vivien nevertheless continued down Rotten Row, even as the rude ogling and catcalls of London’s highest society followed her.  She would be damned if she were to turn around.  Thor seemed to sense her distress, trotting forward strongly as if to demonstrate his disdain for what was said about his rider.

And what was said made one thing abundantly clear.  The dowdy spinster that rode the gentlemen’s hack was pretending to be something she was not.  One of them. 

Part of the opening scene in Notorious Vow, Vivien is met with a situation similar to that of the Emperor without clothes.  She does not fit in, but the following ladies do!   Because she does not have their birth, or fortune.