Standard-Bearer to the Regency – Part Five

This is the final installment of a series examining the personality of Sarah Sophia Villiers, Countess of Jersey. For two centuries she has played a role in late Georgian-themed literature–a remarkable testament to her character’s powerful influence. Writers rely upon her time and again to establish a challenging setting for their plots because she is the symbol of an immovable, rigid society of unbending rules and top-of-the-trees elites.

To repeat: Sarah Sophia was–and still is–the Standard-Bearer to the Regency.

“The devil himself was not more handsome or seductive than this man who called himself Glenarvon. From the moment she met him, Calantha knew she was damned..” –from the back cover

As described in a previous post, Sarah Sophia makes her most significant appearance in the first of many works: Glenarvon (1816). Among the members of the Regency ton, there were plenty of society figures who possessed a penchant for talking excessively and interrupting ongoing conversations, or an obsession with secrets and frenetic socializing. As Lady Holland wrote to Mrs. Creevey1, the libel lay in the way such traits were so cleverly packaged. Future authors would emulate this unique method of characterization.

Lord Worth chides her: “Don’t talk, Sally, you interrupt Miss Crewe.”

Like the intrepid fox-hunting Corinthian in a Heyer romance, Caro showed us all the way.

Sarah Sophia, in the guise of Lady Augusta, deplores Glenarvon’s cruel seduction and expresses sympathy for Calantha, “dying alone, upbraided, despised and deserted.” She recognizes injustice done to another woman but does nothing about it.

It is a virulent portrait of an unfeeling creature, very like contemporary diarist Charles Greville’s2 description of Sarah Sophia–devoid of feminine softness.

“I am like a deer, and ever fly with the herd; there is no excuse..ever, for those who are wounded and bleeding and trodden upon.” — Lady Augusta Selwyn, Glenarvon

When Sarah Sophia was about sixty years of age, she made another appearance in literature, this time as Lady St Julians in Benjamin Disraeli’s Coningsby and Sybil.  Both works reflect the author’s dissatisfaction with established political parties, where members exist only to serve their own interests and not the people they represent.

Lady St. Julians is a creature of the system, ignoring the principle of the thing in favor of her family’s interests, constantly maintaining a network to promote them:

“..she made it a rule to go everywhere and visit everybody, provided they had power, wealth and fashion…” — Coningsby (1844)

Her efforts to influence Conservative politics reflect Sarah Sophia’s, and not in a complimentary way:

 “…driving distractedly about town, calling at clubs, closeted with red tapers*, making ingenuous combinations that would not work, by means of which some of her sons was to stand in coalition with some great parvenu, to pay none of the expenses, and yet come in first.” — Sybil (1845)

” ‘Oh, goodness me! Don’t, I implore you, give her vouchers for Almack’s. ..she presents such a very off-appearance, doesn’t she? ..she looks stupid. I’m persuaded she’s not awake upon any suit!’ “

Thirteen years after her death, Disraeli gave Sarah Sophia immortality as Zenobia in his  Endymion (1880). For all his fascination for her, his published correspondence rarely mentions Lady Jersey, apart from seeing her ablaze with jewels at Queen Victoria’s coronation, and observing her husband’s (bless him) flood of tears when their eldest son married Prime Minister Peel’s daughter.3

 Some have said Zenobia is a composite portrait of Disraeli’s Whig patronesses.4 This is unlikely given his masterful rendition of Lady Jersey’s political efforts–they are hers almost to the life. When Endymion’s Whigs are in the ascendant, Zenobia gnashes her teeth. And when the Whig government resigns, Zenobia triumphs.

Sarah Sophia’s every idiosyncrasy is recalled with exactitude:

“..to listen, among her many talents, was also her rarest…she liked flattery, and always said she did..she liked handsome people, and even handsome women, and persons who were dressed beautifully.. she never liked her male friends to marry..and it was her habit to impress upon her noble fellows of both sexes that there were relations of intimacy between herself and the royal houses of Europe, which were not shared by her class.” — Endymion (1880)

Georgette Heyer resurrected Sarah Sophia to become a powerful utility character in many a Regency romance novel. As Caro did in Glenarvon, Heyer makes Lady Jersey a source of external conflict (society’s strictures) for intrepid heroines to overcome. She is also a tool manipulated by Heyer’s heroes, frequently men she adores, to steer other characters into position for season after season of excellent plot maneuvers.

“Hero would have been astonished, and indeed indignant, had she been aware that she was the object of Lady Jersey’s sympathy.”

Beloved Cotillion mentions the queen of society only in passing, but a chance remark Sarah Sophia makes ‘off-camera’ is telling, putting a very special hero to the blush. Freddy’s sister Meg may proclaim him the best dancer in all London, but for Lady Jersey to add her tribute warrants an exquisite “By Jove!” from him.

In Arabella, Lady Jersey fans the flames of internal conflict. “Vivacious, restless and scintillating,” Sarah Sophia enjoys the hero’s company, rousing jealousy in the breast of a heroine who has just rejected the hero’s marriage proposal out of hand.

One last observation of her character, before we leave her, comes from Henry Edward Fox, son of the aforementioned Lady Holland, appearing in a previous installment of this series. Of all the writers who have described Sarah Sophia, whether in fact or fiction, he is the most eloquent. He gives us the real woman, with all her faults, by the very reason he deeply admired her:

Dined tête-à-tête with Lady Jersey, whose wonderful garrulity does not bore me. I have such an affection for her and feel such perfect confidence in her sincerity that I like what many people cannot endure.” June 30, 1823

The Journal of Henry Edward Fox 1818 – 1830

“Lady Buxted remembered impertinent little Sally Fane, a wretched schoolroom miss to whom she had administered a number of well-deserved setdowns..”

 

*red Toryism – conservative with a small (c)

1 The Creevey Papers Vol I by Thomas Creevey (1904) Sarah Sophia’s Whig rival uses the term amplisagge to describe Caro’s clever rendering.

2 The Greville Memoirs, Charles C.F. Greville, Esq (1875)

3 Lord Beaconsfield’s correspondence with his sister, 1832-1852 by Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881); edited by Ralph Disraeli

4“Endymion, A Review,” Tullidge’s Quarterly, by Edward Tullidge, editor (1881). Tullidge was a Mormon who emigrated from England to Utah. He wrote extensively on a variety of topics and ran several magazines. Known as the Mormon feminist historian, it is ironic that his widow was said to have died penniless from his bankruptcy, her body found on the cold ground with scarcely a blanket to cover her.

Standard-Bearer to the Regency, Part Three

Sarah Sophia Child Villiers had birth, wealth, connections and the foresight to choose Lord Jersey for her husband. These were all necessary to become the Standard-Bearer to the Regency. Getting the ton to acknowledge her as Queen Sarah was another matter.

For the moment, everyone was calling her Silence.

Excessive volubility, at first blush, might be a drawback. Sarah Sophia talked, and quite a lot. Henrietta Ponsonby, Countess of Bessborough (Lady B, as I’ve been calling her in this series of posts) noticed this emerging tendency soon after Lady Jersey married.

Your Sally, she wrote Granville, talks a great deal.

On further examination, Lady B wasn’t just referring to the quantity of Sarah Sophia’s conversation, but how she deliberately talked over others. She often interrupted, monopolizing all the attention. She dominated conversation to assert her authority and emphasize her importance.

When the queen is talking, people shall listen.

Two of the Duke of Bedford’s Sons and Miss Vernon acting out ‘Saint George and the Dragon.’ This large portrait by Reynolds was apparently destroyed in transit from Osterley, which the Earl of Jersey had just vacated in favor of the National Trust. Photo via National Trust Collections.

She also spoke with relentless purpose. She talked a rival banker into giving her a massive Reynolds portrait of the young Duke of Bedford. The painting appraised for double the value of what it originally sold for, but her persistent cajolery drove its owner to give it up for nothing.

Lady B was so sick of hearing about Sarah Sophia’s financial triumph she could scream:

“I do not know how it is, but I always find, when I have not seen your Sally for some time, that she tries me, she talks so much, and often, I think, so foolishly, and she has a way of exclaiming goodness, me! every minute that wearies me.”
Lord Granville Leveson Gower, first Earl Granville: private correspondence, 1781 – 1821

As time went on, this so-called foolish talk became more and more imperious. Sarah Sophia was not merely prattling, expecting little or no response. You couldn’t ignore her or let your mind wander while she was talking. And she still had the habit of making demands on people’s services, if not their possessions. Whether she meant to or not, she commanded others’ compliance, proving the authority she sought to achieve.

Sarah Sophia thought nothing of setting Lady B to the task of translating a French recipe for partridges in cabbage. The following demonstration shows how to prepare this Regency-era dish, including a method for wringing the bird’s neck.

Lady B’s niece also recorded her observations.* Harriet “Harry-O” Cavendish married Granville, an awkward business given he was her aunt’s former lover. As the wife of a diplomat, she often saw the Jerseys while abroad, especially in Paris. She agreed with her aunt–Sarah Sophia talked as if she was ‘a watch after the mainspring has broken.’ But particularly striking was the frenetic pace Lady Jersey set about conquering Parisian society.

Harry-O felt sorry for Lord Jersey.

George Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey was a well-connected Tory closely aligned with the Crown. His twin passions were hunting and racing. He was an agreeable man and not insensible to the great amount of money his wife spent to restore his country estate Middleton Park and its vast stables. When his countess beckoned, he hastened to her side and remained there as long as she required, whether it be for the London Season or junkets abroad.

If Sarah Sophia was the Standard-Bearer to the Regency, Lord Jersey was her squire.

George Child-Villiers, 5th Earl Jersey — “..not only one of the hardest, boldest, and most judicious, but perhaps the most elegant rider to hounds the world ever saw’. — Crack Riders of England
Photo via National Portrait Gallery

Every year, Sarah Sophia pushed them both through a brutal schedule of social activities. She was seen everywhere and all the time, becoming a fixture at the most exclusive gatherings of the ton. Thomas Moore, that Regency era poet of wine and love, told of the dread the Jerseys’ porter in Berkeley Square suffered as the London Season approached. Sarah Sophia, being a lady of fashion, was expected to come home late at night (translate – early in the morning).

The problem was Lord Jersey.

“..’ My lord is the earliest gentleman in London, and between the two I get no sleep at all.’ ”
— Anecdotes, Bon-mots, and Epigrams, from the Journal of Thomas Moore, ed Wilmot Harrison, (1899)

Sarah Sophia’s efforts were rewarded when she became Patroness of the exclusive social club Almack’s. But her rising authority over the ton was bound to be tested. Lady B’s daughter published an infamous novel Glenarvon, attacking Sarah Sophia’s well-known imperious and talkative temperament. Caro’s caricature Lady Augusta was an instrument of torture in the hands the villain Lord Glenarvon, tormenting and oppressing the heroine, his former lover Calantha.

This would not be the first time Sarah Sophia’s mannerisms and character traits found their way into literature, a subject that will be discussed in a later post. The point here is how she dealt with the unflattering portrait made of her. She bore down on said portrait, becoming more Lady Augusta than Lady Augusta. Life imitating art.

“God forgive you, but I never can.” Elizabeth I

Behind closed doors, Sarah Sophia refused to speak to Lady B’s daughter, even when she was a house guest (as she often was) at the Bessborough country estate in Roehampton. She paid little heed to the strained atmosphere that resulted nor did she quake at Lord Bessborough’s extreme annoyance.  In public, she barred Caro from Almack’s. Some said this act only gave credence to the libel. Sarah Sophia paid no heed.

She had no problem calling down the thunder.

Can’t see Sarah Sophia barring the charming Freddy Standen. I rather fancy Tom Hiddleston as the hero of Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion.

By 1819, Sarah Sophia had made a powerful impression on Regency society, perhaps more than any other woman of the day, judging from the wealth of contemporary observations of her (and they are far too numerous to mention here.) Of her demeanor, Charles Greville summed it up best:

“..(Lady Jersey) is deficient in passion and in softness (which constitute the greatest charm in women) so that she excites more of admiration than of interest..”
the Greville Memoirs, Charles C.F. Greville, Esq (1875)

She wasn’t the sentimental, tragic heroine poets praised, nor was she the staid matron content with a supporting role to her lord and husband. She was Queen Sarah, and she wasn’t done yet.

* See Letters of Harriet, Countess Granville, 1810 – 1845; ed. by her son, the Hon. F. Leveson Gower, (1894)

 

Regency Valentine Scrooge

“..well, to speak roundly, sir, she imagines herself to be violently in love with him..”
This book is fast supplanting Cotillion in my affections.

Topographer Edward Wedlake Brayley (1773 – 1854) compiled Regency-era social customs he gleaned from past road-trip publication notes. In this new book, he approaches Valentine’s Day rituals with mixed emotions. A pity the celebrations of the day do not spring from chivalrous motives, he laments, nor do they encourage courteous behavior as they ought.

Indeed, Valentine’s Day customs tend to inspire far more dangerous feelings:

“..as they tend too early to awaken those strong desires which nature has implanted in the human heart, but which are far better developed by exuberant health than by an inflamed imagination.”

Popular Pastimes, being a selection of picturesque representations of the customs & amusements of Great Britain, etc. by Edward Wedlake Brayley (1816)

February 14th was the day illiterate and superstitious pagans believed birds chose their mates. Brayley puzzles over the assignment of a venerable saint to a day associated with such an earthy theme as mating. It is not surprising, he surmised, that Chaucer would transfer the practice from birds to men.

Consider how foolish the latter become on Valentine’s Day.

A near-contemporary of Chaucer, the Monk of Bury, composed a Valentine poem to Queen Catherine, Henry V’s consort. Brayley does not find much to fault with Lydgate’s method of currying political favor. Curious that he passes over one particularly tantalizing compliment the monk pays to his queen: “but I love one whiche excellith all.”

The wood effigy of Catherine of Valois, carried at her funeral, is on display in the new Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Gallery in the Westminster Abbey triforium.

The general practice of sending valentines, Brayley surmises, seems to have arisen when the Hanoverians came to the throne. Such greetings early on consisted of the following:

“..slight engravings (from emblematical designs expressive of affection), printed on one side of a sheet of letter paper, and coloured; but others are curiously cut, or stamped, into different forms, chiefly of true lovers’ knots, hearts, darts, altars, lace-work..”

By the time of the Regency, valentines had become far more intricate. Brayley marvels at how the paper is contrived in such a manner as to resemble baskets of flowers, nosegays and birds; in particular the dove of Venus.

For an example of the cut paper valentine of the day, see this lovely post on the matter.

Things go downhill, however, once the sender attaches a verse to the confection. Some of these messages are witty, Brayley admits. Others, he notes with strong disapproval, are down-right ridiculous. He further complains that the post office must be made to transport such nonsense all ’round the country, further compounding the folly of the day.

Even worse, valentines are expensive. A valentine greeting can range from a few shillings to upwards of a guinea. Those who can least afford the time and money (serving maids) are precisely the ones who indulge in the practice of sending valentines the most.

“.. yet no inconsiderable portion of these articles are sold to young men, whose education and stations in life would seem to have kept them far removed from such kinds of folly (!)”

Valentine’s Day Scrooge.

 

The Real Regency Reader

Reading was an important pastime in the Regency. With more leisure came more time. And more reading.

In Heyer’s Cotillion, the heroine has had more than enough leisure time at her guardian’s dreary country house, with nothing but her governess’s bookshelf to entertain–and educate her. She elicits the aid of the hero, who, if he can be persuaded to enter into a pretend engagement with her, will take her to London. There she might have the opportunity to bring the dilatory Mr. Westruther up to scratch.

This is the copy I have--from 1968--the hair is a little That Girl, don't you think?

This is the copy I have–from 1968–the hair is a little That Girl, don’t you think?

“No, dash it!” protested Mr. Standen. “Not if you’re engaged to me, Kit!”

She became intent on smoothing the wrinkles from her gloves. Her colour considerably heightened, she said: “No. Only–If there did happen to be some 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.”

What you read during the Regency was generally held to be informative of your character. In the case of Jane Austen’s novels, you might recall the sensible Anne Elliott in Persuasion enjoys prose and views Mr. Benwick’s inordinate fondness for poetry with a little alarm. Her father, on the other hand, “never took up any book but the Baronetage.”

Then again, too much reliance shouldn’t be placed on a person’s reading selections as a guide to their makeup. This next series of posts is intended to illustrate how diverse a real Regency book can be, and its reader as well. For instance, a novel might deliver a moral tale better than a collection of the vicar’s sermons from Harrow-on-Gate. Also, females thought to be flighty because of their penchant for Gothic tales suddenly reveal themselves to have a will of iron.

Just ask the Honorable Frederick Standen.

The Real Regency Rake: A Man’s Dress

Even in modern times, the rake still manages a “caddish blend of rebellion and classicism” in men’s fashion. Clive Derby’s label RAKE has opened an elegant store in Mayfair where men may shop for luxury bespoke and enjoy an evening with the Whiskey Society. There is even a magazine called  The Rake, which many say is the successor to Men’s Vogue.

Not quite the thing in Regency times. Indeed, a rake could positively put one in a pucker with his manner of dress.

Beau Brummell

Beau Brummell

Take the hero of Heyer’s Cotillion, the Honorable Frederick Standen. He is a little intimidated by his cousin, an acknowledged rake. Jack Westruther flirts with his sister, the married Lady Buckhaven, and seems to enjoy the affections of his fiancée, Miss Kitty Charing. Freddy’s only defense, at the moment, is to decry Jack’s waistcoat:

“Jack,” said Lady Buckhaven, tilting her chin, “said he had never seen me look more becoming.”

“Sort of thing he would say,” responded Freddy, unimpressed. “Daresay you think he looks becoming in that devilish waistcoat he has on. Well, he don’t, that’s all! Take my word for it!”

Affronted, she exclaimed, “I never knew you to be so disagreeable! I have a very good mind not to invite Kitty to visit me!”

A rake wears a devilish waistcoat because he is careless about his dress, at least in the eyes of an Exquisite, like the elegant Mr. Standen.

John Mytton was also careless about his clothes. He had an abundance of them, as a rake must, and a peculiar disregard for their care and use:

“I once counted a hundred and fifty-two pairs of breeches and trousers, with an appropriate apportionment of coats, waistcoats, etc…. The clothes he would put on his person, just as they came to his hand, or as his wild fancy prompted him, and I have seen him nearly destroy a new coat at once wearing. His shoes and boots, all London make, and very light, were also destroyed in an equally summary manner, in his long walks over the country, through or over everything that came in his way.” — Nimrod, Memoirs of the Life of the Late John Mytton

Mytton shooting in a fine lawn nightshirt

Mytton shooting in a fine lawn nightshirt

What a man wears is a matter of character.

Recall Lizzie Bennet’s attempts to discern the character of Mr. Darcy in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The hero  is a cold, reserved fellow–and his dress gives no clue as to resolve the varying accounts she has had of him.

We can only guess what Miss Bennet might have to say about Mytton’s character. Look at what the man is wearing.

Physician to the Regency

Georgette Heyer's Cotillion

I love these old covers. This one is from the 70s, I think.

“Ermine or chincilla with blue, Meg! Sables never show to advantage!”

By the time this point was fully argued, news was brought to Lady Legerwood that the doctor had arrived, whereupon, after hurriedly commending Kitty to her daughter’s care, she hurried away, bent on convincing the worthy physician that certain unfavorable symptoms, which had manifested themselves during the night, made it advisable for him to call in Sir Henry Halford, to prescribe for Edmund.

As the family doctor, a rising man, was at daggers-drawn with the eel-backed baronet, it did not seem probable that she would be seen again for some appreciable time.

——— Cotillion, by Georgette Heyer

Sir Henry Halford (1766 – 1844), was considered the foremost physician to the ton during the Regency.

He was born Henry Vaughan but changed his name by an Act of Parliament to Halford, anticipating a substantial inheritance from the original Halford family.

Sir Henry Halford (looking over the voucher list for Almack's, I'll warrant)

Sir Henry Halford (looking over the voucher list for Almack’s, I’ll warrant)

It was his connections and smooth manners that recommended him and not his skill as a practitioner. It didn’t hurt that he was also married to Elizabeth, the daughter of John St John, 12th Baron St John of Bletsoe. He managed to snag a position as doctor to the Royal Family and was on hand to take custody of the 4th vertebra of Charles I, which still bore marks of the ax.

Ms. Heyer knew her character well. Contemporaries called the good doctor that “eel-backed baronet in consequence of his deep and oft-repeated bows.”