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












The Most Haunted House in London

The Beast. The Thing. What was inhabiting No. 50 Berkeley Square?

Very bad ton, I daresay.

No. 50 Berkeley Square

The stories varied, but a dandy had a dashed good notion to test the on-dit that No. 50 harbored a ghost.  Full of blue ruin and holding a pistol, he spent the night in one of its rooms only to confront a “jet black shape” that leaped at him. Discharging his pistol, he was found dead with his eyes bulging, expired in the grip of apoplexy. Others say he managed to escape to endure another horrible fate–this Bond Street beau was the Lord Lyttleton who committed suicide by throwing himself down the stairs of Hagley Hall.

Later, two sailors were offered lodging in the house.  They too, offered fire against the apparition which appeared to them in the shape of a large man, and one died for his pains. This gave rise to the rumor the house was uninhabitable.

Neighbors in adjacent streets would peer out of their windows, astonished to see others peering back at them from the windows of the uninhabited house:

“He wore a periwig and had a drawn, morose ashen face. The two women thought he
had been to some New Year fancy dress party, because his clothes were centuries
out of date. The man moved away from the window, and Mrs Balfour and her maid
were later shocked to learn from a doctor that they had sighted one of the
ghosts of number 50 Berkeley Square. The doctor told them that number 50 was
currently unoccupied.”

Who was the man in the periwig?

George Canning

Joan Scott’s father was Major General John Scott, a man wealthy from card play. He instructed his daughters to never marry men with titles. His eldest disobeyed him and became Duchess of Portland. His youngest followed suit, and became Countess of Moray. Of all three, Joan (a viscountess in her own right!) was the only one to follow his wishes and married a politician.

Her husband was George Canning (1770-1827), the Prime Minister of the shortest tenure. He was the son of an actress and as one man famously said, never follow a man who is born of an actress. But this did not deter him. As a member of Pitt’s government, this hard-boiled Tory challenged Lord Castlereagh to a duel and got shot in the thigh for his pains.

He lived at No. 50 Berkeley Square.

He was the most divisive man in government. The Regent refused to meet him in person because he was  rumored to have had an affair with the consort Princess Caroline. He reduced his boss Lord Liverpool to tears and managed to force the poor man to apologize for it.

In the end he was reduced to begging prominent Whigs to join his Tory government, including Lord Lansdowne. But he died before he could realize his life’s ambition, in the very same room where the most radical of Whigs had expired, Charles James Fox.

They call him a lost leader. Perhaps he’s been found, in the rage of unfulfilled ambition.

The location is appropriate. It’s now a bookstore.

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

It’s the season for Halloween and I can’t resist providing the post I send to the Seduced by History blog:

Can anyone identify this well-documented photo from Country Life?  I say it is well-documented because, to my knowledge, it has yet to be thoroughly debunked.

“I will not spend another hour in this accursed house, for tonight I have seen that which I hope to God I never see again.” — HRH George, Prince of Wales

Baroque face – Raynham Hall

This was the first time we have credible documentation of a haunting at Raynham Hall in Norfolk.  No wonder–this was about the time when it became fashionable to go country-house visiting, a custom begun by the Regent himself. Now, for the first time, the old house was to host overnight visitors outside the family–and regularly.

Raynham Hall was an older Baroque mansion. It had been built in 1630, rather grand and up-to-date for its owner, Sir Roger Townshend, not well known for either quality. A little Palladian design was added in the Regent’s time with a pediment supported by Ionic columns on the seldom-seen east side.

Raynham Hall has remained in the Townshend family for over three hundred years.

His Royal Highness was awakened from a sound sleep by the figure of a woman standing at the foot of the bed in a brown brocade dress sadly out of fashion. This visitation was clearly not the result of a romantic assignation. Our aging Lothario was horrified when she turned her eyes toward him–empty in their sockets.

Imagine the chagrin Prinny’s hosts must have felt. They had always thought the Brown Lady was the figment of silly maids’ imagination and drunken family members. Something must be done since the apparition could no longer be ignored. Raynham Hall with its excellent shooting could be expected to remain on the country-house visiting itineray for many more seasons.

Lady Dorothy Walpole – the Brown Lady

Who the devil was she?

The answer didn’t come until twenty or so years later. A novelist, Captain Frederick, Marryat, was a a writer of sea novels and friend of Dickens. He came to stay at the house. His room was exhibited the well-known portrait of Dorothy Walpole, the “Brown Lady” of Raynham Hall.

At this time, the house still had the features of the Baroque house with inner and outer doors to each apartment. The captain had retired, accompanied by friends staying across the hallway from him. When he noted a light at the end of the corridor, he waited within the space between his apartment and hall until the aura had approached from the opposite end of the hallway:

“My father was in a shirt and trousers only, and his native modesty made him feel uncomfortable, so he slipped within the space of the outer doors (his friends shollowing his example) in order to concel himself until the lady should’ve passed by. …as she was close enough for him to distinguish the colors and style of her costume, he recognized her figure as the facsimile of the portrait of the “The Brown Lady.” He had his finger on the trigger of his revolver, and was about to demand it to stop and give the reason for its presecne there, when the figure halted of its own accord before the door behind which he stood, and holding the lighted lamp she carried to her features, grinned in a malicious and diabolical manner at him.”

Our sea novelist shot at her, the bullet passing through her into the opposite wall. Unperturbed, her ladyship gazed upon him, with socketless eyes, and then disappeared.

red looks good on him

This account was given by the captain’s daughter, the actress Florence Marryat. In those Victorian times, women were not supposed to exhibit such insolence. Because of his outrage over feminine insolence, Miss Marryat’s father was the first to look the spectre “in the eye” and give us her identity.

The connection was thence made to an old story. Charles Townsend, the Turnip Townsend, had married his true love, Dorothy Walpole. But she had already enjoyed the favors of a lover, Lord Walpole, and Townsend was incensed that what he had brought to Raynham’s marriage bed had been sullied by another. He locked up his beautiful wife in his Baroque manor, and she was to die there, separated from her children, and her one true love.

True love can bear true fury.

James Bond and the Regency Townhouse

I was rather ambivalent about the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. HM Elizabeth II actually received her spy in person, and that’s not the half of it.

She’s the Head of Government, the Queen. He’s supposed to be a secret agent known only by a number.  Should they need to communicate, that’s what M is for.

James Bond and the Regency townhouse have something in common, it seems.  Neither are immune to changing tastes.

In Dr. No, we learned 007 had a name.  It was in the Le Cercle club when he uttered those immortal words, “Bond, James Bond.”

The club is housed in the famous casino known as Les Ambassadeurs–or, “Les-A.” It occupies No. 5 Hamilton Place, an area of Mayfair developed for the Regent in 1806 by the architect Thomas Leverton.

An interesting side note: Leverton had been hired in 1802 to build the home of the Fraternal Guild of Grocers.  The Grocers were once known as the Pepperers. Their interesting history may be found here.  To the Order’s dismay, Leverton’s edifice turned out to be unsatisfactory, that is, “badly built, due to defective foundations (!)”

Happily, No. 5 still remains–built in 1805 it was first occupied by Robert Hobart, 4th Earl of Buckinghamshire (1760 – 1816). A Tory, he was the Secretary of State of War and for the Colonies (1801 – 1804) and President of the Board of Control (1812 – 1816).  The latter occupation was a difficult endeavor, fraught with petitions from various persons railing against the abolition of the East India Trade Company.  In a letter from one known only as Fabius, the Regent’s plan to open up trade was despised.  It was thought that such a plan would bring about a glut of cheap Indian goods.  The Indians themselves had no need for British goods.  Why should they by good English wool, for example, when their

“..warm climate renders any clothing beyond what decency requires intolerable.”

He died at No. 5.

The earl met an early end at the age of 56, the consequence of being thrown from a horse. He suffered a “tedious” three months after the accident, going to Bath upon the advice of his doctors.  He did not improve and demanded to be taken back to No. 5 Hamilton Place where he died.

No. 5 then became the home of the 1st Marquess of Conyngham.  Henry Conyngham (1766 – 1832) was an Irish peer and a “familiar” friend of the Regent, serving as lord steward when the Prince became George IV.  Upon his king’s death, he broke his staff of office upon the coffin of the monarch, as was the custom.

Lord Conyngham had an interesting lineage.  A considerable part of his fortune came to him by way of his grandmother, who retained full control of her estate through two marriages.  Another ancestor, one Edward Burton, narrowly escaped imprisonment and execution during the persecution of the Protestants.  His death was apparently the result of “excessive joy” at the death of Bloody Queen Mary in 1550.

The marquess, like the earl, died in the house at No. 5.  His funeral procession was headed by “two mutes and a plume of black feathers.”

Years later, the house passed from the Conyngham family to the Rothschilds, who made it over in the fin de siecle Louis XV style.  This heavily ornamented renovation covered over the elegant Regency decoration both inside and out.

Like 007, No. 5 is something to be made over to suit modern taste, until it is scarcely recognizable.

Ignominious Burial

In Notorious Match, the hero uncovers the truth behind the carriage wreck that killed the Earl of Northam and his wife.  See this post for further detail.

Diana shook her head at the pity in Griffin’s expression.

“My uncle always blamed himself for my parents’ death,” she explained.  “He still did, even after the evidence all pointed to murder-suicide.  Of course, it was all very hushed up.  But the state of the earldom’s finances could not lie.  My father was under a mountain of debt and about to lose everything.  So he took my mother with him and left me.”

Griffin stepped forward and cradled her face in his hands, his shoulders strangely hunched up as if she were something fragile.

Poor little rich girl.

 She pulled away, feeling the revulsion against herself coming up from her stomach to gag her.  “Don’t do that, please.  It’s quite unnecessary.”

“Good God, Diana, why shouldn’t I?  You’ve—”

“Don’t pity me, for God’s sake,” she interrupted, her voice quavering so much she wanted to choke herself.  “Please.  I’ve done absolutely nothing to deserve your pity.”

Griffin remained silent, inviting her to continue.

“I wasn’t glad that they died,” she said.  “Not even I could be so heartless.  But I was ever so glad they left me behind.”

Robert Stewart, Marquess Londonderry

Suicide deaths were condemned right through the Regency.  Diana’s uncle, the Marquess Wimberley, did everything possible to shield the truth of his older’s brother’s death from the ton. 


To avoid the horror of the ignominous burial.

Case in point:  Marquess of Londonderry, 1822.

Robert Stewart served as Chief Secretary for Ireland and was known as Viscount Castleraugh for most of his life before succeeding to his father’s title as marquess. He was a force to be reckoned with in British politics.  The Napoleonic Wars required extraordinary skill in diplomacy and his lordship provided ample support as a member of the Ministry of all the Talents (yes, that was a real ministry).  See an earlier post on the matter.  He was Lord Secretary of Ireland, securing union with that land to prevent it from becoming a French satellite as Scotland had been three hundred years before.  He became Secretary of State of War and the Colonies and later Foreign Secretary, an illustrious diplomatic career that culminated in the Congress of Vienna.

His wife was Amelia (Emily) Hobart, daughter of the second Earl of Buckinghamshire.  Regency lovers know her as a Patroness of Almack’s.  The couple had no children but remained devoted to one another.  She was there to support her husband when he fell in a deep depression from his widespread unpopularity.  Even the poet Shelley excoriated him:

I met Murder on the way/He had a face like Castlereagh

The marquess had the unfortunate destiny of being reviled for effecting decisive policies for the kingdom.  It is a fate which no politician, even to this day, can escape.

In any case, his sovereign, George IV, was so alarmed at his condition His Majesty took it upon himself to notify Stewart’s doctor.   It was too late.  Robert Stewart used a penknife, left forgotten in a desk drawer, to slit his throat.

It was a terrible scandal.  Were the marquess declared a suicide, he would have commited a felo de se, or crime against the self.  It was an old common law offense that bedevilled prosecution until a more horrible penance could be devised–one that was extracted from the survivors.  The body of a suicide was denied burial in consecrated ground.  Worse, it would be consigned to an ignominious burial in a highway crossroads where all manner of cartage and transport may occur over the body.  A demeaning location of anonymity where the remains would suffer the indignity of offal and every kind of refuse, to be trampled and mingled with the earth that held the body of a person once kissed, caressed and held.

Worse, the decedent’s body would be staked through the heart.  Presumably to prevent removal by the family.

Even Byron was relishing the prospect of this suicide’s burial:

Posterity will ne’er surveyA nobler grave than this:Here lie the bones of Castlereagh:Stop, traveller, and piss.[16]

And you thought you knew Shelley, Byron and Stoker.

Lady Castleraugh was desperate–enough to have her husband declared insane.  Without intent, as the requirement of common law demands, a suicide had not occurred.  And his lordship could be given a proper burial.

Today you can see his lordship’s grave near his mentor, William Pitt, at Westminster Abbey–the graveyard of England’s greatest.

Nothing common about a tiara

similar in style: the 1934 Cartier tiara with lotus design


Oh, the tiara!  The most important thing that does so much to elevate one on the BIG DAY.

This site displays a nice array of illustrious figures wearing the 1936 Cartier Halo tiara which Kate wore on her wedding day.

Something borrowed:  the tiara is part of the Royal Collection.

It had belonged to the late Queen Mother, given to her by her husband, the Duke of York, later George VI.  See the trailer for The King’s Speech here.  No tiaras in the film, as I recall, but bloody good dialogue.

Prince William married a commoner.  So did George VI, his great-grandfather.   Yet Bertie’s wife was Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, no mere miss.  Interestingly, British law deems anyone a commoner who is not royalty or a peer. Whether they are the descendant of a coal miner or an earl.

Putting the law aside, one could argue the Queen Mother was someone not quite in the common way.

But we were discussing tiaras.  Princess Charlotte’s tiara was described as diamonds fashioned into a wreath of roses and leaves.  The detail of this crown is difficult to see in the old plate below.

Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold wedding processional

The jeweller who made the princess’ tiara was Rundell, Bridge & Rundell.  The firm was subsequently commissioned to craft her father George IV’s state diadem that evoked similar motifs:  roses, thistles and shamrocks.  This famous crown was worn by Her Majesty for her coronation and gets trotted out for the opening of Parliament.

It is not inconceivable to imagine we see the remnants of Charlotte’s crown in her father’s:

The Diamond Diadem, 1820