Portrait of the Regency: “To Any Body, Any Where”

Returning to Miss Croft’s remarkable collection of anecdotes recorded of Sir Thomas Lawrence; the following story, while not precisely contemporaneous to the Regency, is nevertheless illuminating of the times.

It concerns the painter’s younger days when he enjoyed the patronage of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. It was she who had engaged him at a young age to draw the portrait of her first child, later known as Lady Carlisle. He was frequently among the Devonshire set as he grew older. Miss Croft surmised that it was this period of his life by which he achieved his air of amusing urbanity.

Regrettably, among her many foibles, the Duchess was quite unable to turn down any application made to her for aid. She made promises she could not keep. She committed largesse she did not have.

One of the Duchess’ good friends was a Mr. Hare (surmised to be Francis Hare-Naylor, grandson of the Bishop of Chichester) a man who apparently knew Georgiana quite well, and was forever heartsick at the scrapes she found herself in. Many of these were of her own making, but few could admonish her like Mr. Hare:

“He had a peculiar talent for reproving a fault without giving offense to the party committing it.”

–Sir Thomas Lawrence’s Letter -bag, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, Elizabeth Croft

Her Grace's portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence--when she was about 25 years of age

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Sir Thomas Lawrence when she was about 25 years of age

Sir Thomas had the opportunity to witness Mr. Hare’s skill in this regard one evening, when he was invited to Her Grace’s salon at Devonshire House. There, the painter joined by several great Whigs of the day, including Mr. Fox and Mr. Sheridan. Mr. Hare was there, too, and of course the Duchess was presiding. However, she jumped up to leave, having remembered she needed to write a letter.

Protestations were heard all round.  Mr. Hare declared he must write the letter in her stead, for her company was too dear to spare.

“.she laughingly inquired how that was possible, as he knew not her correspondent or her business.”

He proceeded to write a letter in full view of the company, full of voluminous expressions of admiration and a longing to serve, followed by a catalogue of many competing commitments to other friends similarly situated and the limitations on her ability to serve same, closing with “new professions of services at some future time.”

Her Grace admitted that the letter would serve her purpose very well, to everyone’s amusement. Even more amused were they as Mr. Hare signed the letter in the Duchess’ name.

But when she dared Mr. Hare to address it properly, the amusement ended.

“He very gravely folded and sealed it, and then wrote, to:

“Any Body, Any Where.”

Georgiana’s eyes filled with tears. It was some time before she could regain her composure, however, Mr. Hare remained in her good graces. Apparently she could not admonish one who knew her so well.

All that's left of Devonshire House--the gilt leopards on the gates

All that’s left of Devonshire House

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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

Devonshire House – “Its Beauties all Within Reside”

So much has been written about Devonshire House, most of it concerning the period of the Devonshire House Circle, presided over by the beautiful Georgiana, wife to the 5th Duke.

south front – Devonshire House

After such brilliance, it seemed anticlimatic when the house was inherited by the 6th Duke, William “Hart” Cavendish, a man witty and handsome. Alas, because of a disability, he was unable to carry on his mother’s significant political career and leader of the Whig circle.

One of my characters, Lady Diana, quite liked the young duke whose Devonshire House gardens abutted those belonging to her friend, Louisa, Marchioness of Lansdowne.

Long after those days when it was thought they might make a match of it, Diana heard that Hart was planning to leave London.

“Di, I mean it. I’m removing to Chatsworth. Never coming back to London, I daresay.”

Diana eyed the duke’s tall form in dismay. “But you’ve done so much work on this house. I can’t imagine you shutting it up for years and years.”

His Grace rubbed his ear and motioned for her to repeat herself. “You’ll have to shout, my dear. Can’t hear a damn thing, you know.”

“Oh, you heard me well enough,” she retorted. “You’ve joked often enough that you hear more than people imagine, and a good deal more than they intended.”

Hart laughed. “I can never fool you, Di.”

He looked up at carved blue and silver ceiling of his mother’s boudoir. “The thing is, I’m bored. I’ve remodelled and redecorated this place, all except this room.  Belonged to Mama, you know.”

“But to leave London? What could you possibly find to do in the country?”

Hart reached out and stroked the fine organza of her sleeve. He sometimes did that with beautiful women, taking the opportunity to touch them under the excuse of having to stand close by to capture the fading sound of their voices.  Sounds that had become almost inaudible.

“There’s much to amuse me at Chatsworth.”

“How silly of me to forget your little rookery you keep there for your lady-birds.” She covered his hand with hers and squeezed it. “I shall miss you, Hart.”

The sixth Duke was really far more important to Devonshire House than his mother ever was. He had carried out necessary repairs and renovations, refreshing the gilding and the like, before leaving London in the 1830s. But by the 1840s, he had returned and transformed the Piccadilly mansion.

He removed the Palladian entrance with its external stairs. A porte-cochere now led to the ground floor, which had formerly been the servants’ area. Visitors passed through it directly to a crystal staircase leading to the main floor above. A ballroom was created from two drawing rooms and many of the entertainment areas had their ceilings lifted at the expense of bedrooms above. Hart had clearly returned to London, according to Lady Eastlake in May 1850:

“..the stairs themselves splendid, shallow, broad slabs of the purest white marble, which sprang unsupported, with their weight of gorgeous crystal balustrade, from the wall; and such a blaze of intense yet soft light, diffused round everything and everybody by a number of gas jets on the walls. The apartments were perfect fairyland, marble, gilding, pictures and flowers….”

When Devonshire House was demolished, it was already in a somewhat dilapidated state. The large brick wall that shielded it from the street (built in the eighteenth century to deter burglars that plagued London’s great houses) was a magnet for graffiti. There were only a few statues remaining in the gardens. The house was sold in 1920, along with its three acres. All of it, including the crystal staircase were soon to be nore more, lamented in a poem by Siegfried Sassoon.

But all was not lost. Thanks to an intrepid duchess, the house lives on, in bits and pieces. They are by and large the legacy of the sixth Duke. These numerous Regency pieces are to be found in the most surprising places.

north front Devonshire House

Lansdowne House – Regency Centre of London

The opening chapters in Notorious Match take place in a London mansion that still stands today.

In my manuscript, the fictional hostess, Lady Louisa Lansdowne, has the privilege of holding the inaugural event of the Season.  Louisa has little regard for the house’s political history even though it witnessed the final negotations that confirmed a Nation’s independence.  She is more concerned that her balls are well-attended and therefore is thrilled when Lord Griffin Montgomery arrives at her party.  Now she is assured her ball will be the premiere event for every eligible, unmarried female for many Seasons to come.

Lord Griffin Montgomery rarely attends ton parties, you see.

Lansdowne House – before alteration

This post is the beginning of several in a series that tours this magnificent home.

Lansdowne House was built upon real estate sold off by Lord Berkeley’s widow in the eighteenth century.  The third Earl of Bute purchased the south side of the square that took her husband’s name.  Lansdowne House was built according to Robert Adam’s 1761 design and was largely completed by 1768.  By then Lord Bute had thrown in the towel and the house was finished under the ownership of another British prime minister, Lord Shelburne, whose name graced the house for a time until his lordship was granted the marquisate of Lansdowne.

Lansdowne House was built according to Adam’s predeliction for ‘movement,’ a term which refers to the diversity of form throughout the building, inside and out.  One can see from the black and white photograph several elements:  the rusticated (dare we say, Tuscan?) ground floor topped by the classical coolness of the Palladian pediment and the portico with its Ionic pillars.  The pavilions on either side were placed forward, giving the mansion an assertive, yet graceful presentation:

“This august edifice…unites at once the gay, the elegant and the grand.”

—James Ralph, A Critical Review of the Publick Bulidings:  Statues and Ornaments in, and about London and Westminster

Berkeley Square – 1830

The odd thing about Lansdowne House is its placement.  It does not face Berkeley Square (note the arrow in the adjacent map and the circular front drive), having been situated in such a way as to present its side to the park.   This configuration was to allow the Dukes of Devonshire to have an unobstructed view of the square from their London mansion situated to the south-east (in red).  Lansdowne House was therefore allowed a massive front garden, an advantage few others in the great metropolis had.  Indeed, walkers in Berkeley Square were excused from assuming they were in the country when walking past Lansdowne House, peering through the iron gates at a drive that disappeared into carefully tended landscape.  The only evidence of a building beyond was its exquisite pediment rising above the trees.

This quality was also very nearly the downfall of Lansdowne House.

In the Great Depression, the London council with authority over Berkeley Square determined that a road linking Curzon Street to the square was sorely needed.  The line of houses known as Bolton Row, where Henry James’ sister and other intellectual luminaries had resided, was demolished.  But this was not enough.  The road was extended through Lansdowne’s front garden and Fitzmaurice Place was created in front of the mansion.  To accommodate the new street and buildings, Lansdowne House had to be moved back forty feet.  The only solution, short of destroying the house, was to remove all the front rooms and reconstruct the facade on the truncated building.

Lansdowne House – post truncation

Some of these front rooms were among the finest designs of Robert Adams in England.  The mutilation of Lansdowne House meant that they must go.  And so they went–to far-flung places.

Now that’s cutting off your nose to spite your face.