A Regency State Banquet

The recent state banquet in Buckingham Palace had me glued to the TV screen. Not to view the participants, but to catch a glimpse of the treasures acquired by the Prince Regent, still in use today.

The banquet took place in the ballroom of the palace, a Victorian creation. July 20th will mark the beginning of a new exhibition, “Queen Victoria’s Palace,” which will highlight the transformation of what had been “a private house to a working royal residence.” Below is an image of the ballroom during Victoria’s reign:

Watercolor by Louis Haghe (1806 – 85) from the Royal Collection Trust

What makes a state banquet in the ballroom so magnificent is the decorative and functional items on display. Thanks to the excellent catalog and descriptions of the Royal Collection, one can know the  provenance of those items brought out from the Queen’s  ‘cupboard’ to serve the attendees.

It is also an opportunity to see the very best that graced a Regency era table.

The Grand Service was assembled by George IV over the course of his life as Prince of Wales,as  the Prince Regent and finally as king. It consists of more than 4000 pieces and made by the Royal Goldsmiths, Rundell Bridge and Rundell. The style reflects the eclectic taste of the Regency era. There is no one pattern, but a harmony of classical, Egyptian and oriental motifs.

Irreplaceable and wholly incomparable in size and magnificence, the Grand Service remains in use for state banquets like the one this past week.

The magnificent Mercury and Bacchus candelabrum by Rundell & Bridge goldsmith Paul Storr (1811)  – it is always placed on the table of HM the Queen, along with its pair, Apples of the Hesperides photo via dailymail.co.uk

The first installment of the service was used in Carlton House. The banquet table featured  goldfish swimming in a trough down the length of the table; highlighting, perhaps, the magnificence of the silver gilt plate.

From the British Museum collection – a Charles Williams print clearly objecting to this first of Prinny’s many extravagances

I particularly like the more unusual pieces. They inspire great plot ideas for that Regency dinner my characters labor to serve.

A spirit burner is used to keep food warm on the table as diners serve themselves à la française — photo via Royal Collection Trust

 

Chained unicorn detail from the wine cistern (now punch bowl) — final piece of the Grand Service – photo via Royal Collection Trust

 

There are four of these dessert stands — Bacchus here dancing with his maenids photo via Royal Collection Trust

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Regency’s “Sable Garb of Woe”

From the November, 1818 issue of La Belle Assemblée or, Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine Addressed Particularly to the Ladies, the following notice appears:

Our Cabinet of Taste is unavoidably closed at present: every European court will, no doubt, adopt the ‘sable garb of woe’ for Britain’s virtuous queen.

It was said by contemporaries that this Lawrence portrait of George III's Consort bore a remarkable likeness to her.

And with that, Adelaide’s adventures come to an end–or, at least, they are no longer reported. Presumably her frivolous ways were considered an affront to the Readership’s sensibilities in this time of mourning following Queen Charlotte’s death.

Instead, anecdotes of the Queen’s final moments were shared. Sir Henry Halford, physician to the Regency, was in attendance during her last illness. It was he who sent to Carlton House, summoning the Prince Regent in:

..a statement so alarming, that the Prince sent instantly for the Duke of York to accompany him to Kew.

The queen was reportedly lucid throughout the duration of her last day on earth, November 17th. She sat in her chair, surrounded by her children, the Prince Regent holding her hand. In keeping with the Magazine’s determined tone of solemnity and discretion, further illustration of the deathbed scene was limited:

The expiring scene–the heart-rending feelings of the Regent, and all present, it will be equally impossible and unbecoming to attempt to describe.

Inevitably, bombazine is the dress material of mourning. This illustration of a carriage dress suitable for mourning, from the Magazine's November issue, is liberally trimmed in black velvet, from spencer to hem.

Inevitably, bombazine is the dress material of mourning. This illustration of a carriage dress suitable for mourning, from the Magazine’s November issue, is liberally trimmed in black velvet, from spencer to hem.

Queen Charlotte served as Consort for fifty-seven years and seventy days.

Just this past week we’ve been reminded of another Consort’s lengthy service.

Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh - 1954

Elizabeth II and Prince Philip–is it him or the uniform that draws the admiring glance? I can’t decide.

 

 

 

 

The Regent’s House or God’s – Part One

Westminster Abbey by Canaletto, 1749

Unlike Prince William, Princess Charlotte did not wed in a church or chapel.  In fact, she is the only heir-presumptive to the English throne that I can think of being married in a secular place.   If there are others, they are few in number.

The Regent was in charge of all the arrangements for his daughter’s wedding and thus ordered the ceremony to take place at his palace, Carlton House.  In part two, we shall see that the plot is nothing as humorous as Father of the Bride.   

But for now, it should be noted that Carlton House was extensively rebuilt and decorated at great expense by the Prince Regent. It was admired for its lavish decoration and derided as being inferior to many hotels in Paris.  In front of the palace there was a curious set of columns which perplexed passers-by and inspired the-then famous ditty:

“Dear little columns, all in a row, What do you do there?  Indeed we don’t know.”

Carlton House (those pillars do look odd)

I’m digressing a bit, but the following observation by a contemporary witness is rather amusing:

Then the Duke of York bas been sent, as it would seem, to the Round House, and the Prince of Wales to the Pillory.”

*gales of laughter*

At times the Regent found the Duke of York somewhat trying.  Especially when he believed his younger brother, fond uncle as he was, would get his niece Charlotte into a scrape, or encourage her natural inclination towards rebellious behavior (I wonder where she got that from?).  The Duke of York had his own palace called York House, which stands today as the Scottish office in Whitehall.  You can see its prominent feature–a drumlike circular hall beyond the entrance vestibule.

York House, now Dover House