Regency Era Servants – Details, Details Part 2

This post is a continuation of the previous one, concentrating on the character of Regency-era servants when working under duress. I think these details are quite illuminating.

The following anecdotes, unless otherwise noted, come from the letters of Lady Williams-Wynn, (Correspondence of Charlotte Grenville, Lady Williams Wynn; edited by Rachel Frances Marion Leighton, 1920 – my copy is from archive.org).

In 1820, her ladyship wrote in horrified tones to her daughter-in-law concerning the destruction of Wotton House. This fine Queen Anne mansion in Buckinghamshire was the ancestral home of the politically powerful Grenville family.

Built in the English Baroque style, with square apartments and high ceilings, Wotton’s design readily explains its destruction, although that circumstance was not apparent right away. A fire started in the room next to the nursery and soon flames were shooting straight up through the ceiling. Unfortunately, the copper roof confined the heat and flames to the attic, which ran the length of the mansion, and so the fire spread outwards from end to end of Wotton. The fire then traveled back down into the house by the only avenues of escape–the wooden staircases at either end and down the center of Wotton.

A fire that might have damaged one part of the house ended up burning the whole to the ground.

Wotton House, rebuilt by noted architect John Soane, neo-classical architect to the Regency
photo by By Mark Edwards, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia

Lady Williams-Wynn grew up at Wotton. She witnessed many poignant events there, including the untimely deaths of her parents.

“You will easily believe what a pang it has given me to think that all which was associated with my earliest and tenderest recollections should be wiped off from the face of the earth..”

— Lady W.W. to Fanny W.W. Nov. 5th, 1820

Wotton was the home of Lord Temple, son and heir to the duke of Buckingham and Chandos. He, along with his wife and baby daughter, Lady Anna, were in residence at the time of the fire. Their child was only nine months old, having been born earlier in the year in February. Lady W.W. expressed great astonishment that Lady Anna might have died in the fire but for the efforts of his lordship’s valet.

“We are all wonder at hearing from all sides of the peril of the poor Baby without one word being said of its Nurse..”

Imagine the chagrin of poor Nanny. Of all persons present in the house, she should have been the one to rescue her charge. Instead, the business had been left to the valet. One must wonder at Lady Temple’s domestic arrangements for the valet to be present at that particular moment in that part of the house (!)

Moseley, my favorite valet. He had other occupations as well, and now he returns to Downton Abbey to serve the King and Queen.
photo from fandom.com

Such a destructive fire bore investigation and Nanny provided an important clue. It was she, and not the valet, who was the first to see the smoke traveling across the wooden beams of the nursery ceiling. It was she, and not the valet, who picked up Baby and fled. I surmise she delivered her charge into the care of his lordship’s man in order to race back to the nursery to save irreplaceable mementos, such as the child’s christening gown.

Holding the Lady Anna in his arms, the valet could not refuse the hero’s mantle.

Several years earlier, in 1814,* Lady W.W. described the following incident concerning the eccentric daughter-in-law of fellow Whigs, Lord and Lady Melbourne. Apparently, this unfortunate occurrence was all the ton could talk about–the on-dit of that autumn.

The ‘wretched’ Lady Caroline Lamb, as Lady W.W. called her, was already a figure of scandal by the time this latest outrage occurred. Earlier in the year she’d embarked on a well-publicized affair with Lord Byron, having met him in that Whig stronghold, Holland House.

Lady Caroline Lamb by Phillips
She had a thing for pages.

After the affair ended, a surgeon was called to Lady Caroline’s house. One of her pages had suffered a serious injury. Apparently the lad refused to make proper obeisance to her ladyship and received a blow to the head. The offender insisted her instrument of correction was a broomstick and not the poker lying nearby.

In any case, all doubted the boy’s survival.

“It is certainly an extraordinary test of the good humour and kindness of Lord and Lady Melbourne to endure such an inmate, but it is said they do now profess they can bear it no longer.”

It appears Caro’s abusive behavior toward her servants, particularly her pages, was well-known among the ton. Her fellow novelist and confidante, Sydney, Lady Morgan recorded as much in her diary. Caroline did nothing to dispel this, admitting that when she and her page played with squibs, (little firecrackers shaped into balls), the horseplay was often quite boisterous.

On one occasion, the boy threw his squib in the fire. Scolding him, Lady Caroline threw hers at his head.

“It hit him on the temple, and he bled. He cried out, ‘O my Lady, you have killed me!’ Out of my senses, I flew into the hall and screamed, ‘Oh God, I have murdered the page!’ ”

Lady Morgan’s Memoirs: Autobiography, diaries and correspondence by Sydney, Lady Morgan, ed. W. H. Dixon

Vol II (1863)

“The Page Affair,” as Lady Caroline called it, is very well explained here. Some scholars believe these tales of abuse were really a metaphor to describe Caro’s relationship with Lord Byron–that the “pages,” hers and Byron’s, were their literary creations.

Lady W.W. was not impressed, but Lady Cork, famous for her salons and conversation, was.

“..she has persuaded the ton she is a second Lady Cork, to whose salons it is an honor to be invited..She sounds very disagreeable.”

She told Lady Morgan, perhaps teasingly, that she meant to send one of her own naughty pages to Lady Caroline to be reformed. She heard the Melbournes’ daughter-in-law was well-qualified in this regard:

“..’tis said she broke her page’s head with a teapot the other day.”

Loyal to dear Caro, Lady Morgan protested the whole thing was quite untrue–a Tory rumor.

Lady Cork didn’t care if the tale was true or not.

“..all pages are better for having their heads sometimes broken.”

 

*This letter describing the poker incident is undated. The editor placed it among the writer’s correspondence in the fall of 1814.

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The Real Regency Vampire

At the dawn of the Regency, vampires had little to show for themselves in literature. What had been written of them was neither compelling nor seductive. There was the bat that had attacked the king in Sir Burges’ poem Richard the First (1801). The slave dealer in Montgomery’s 1807 The West Indies was a “bloated vampire of a living man.” In 1810, His Grace the Duke of Norfolk found himself the embarrassed object of an obscure poem’s dedication about a goblin entitled The Vampire. Miss Aiken, in her 1811 Epistles on Women, decried those polluting “vampire forms.”

Then came The Vampyre in 1819. Critics promptly gave it the kiss of death:

Villa Diodati - watering hole of the junta

Villa Diodati – where the junta rusticated

“a flat and feeble tale of supernatural horrors.” Edinburgh Monthly Review

“one (and we are happy to believe the last) of that travelling junta of our country-folk..” Antheneum

That “travelling junta” would be Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, who spent part of 1816, that “year without a summer” in a scandalous interlude at a Swiss villa. To be part of a junta was not what bothered Byron. It was the fact that the “vampyre” was neither a bat nor parasitic slave trader, but a suave English aristocrat.  Not unlike himself:

“A bustling inhabitant of the world..restless and erratic..subject to pecuniary embarrassments.” — Monthly Review, 1919

Pecuniary embarrassments aside, the fact the creature had been christened Ruthven left no doubt in anyone’s mind as to its identity. This was entirely due to the efforts of Lady Caroline Lamb a few years before in 1816’s Glenarvon. Her character was also named Ruthven, but everyone knew him as Byron–the villain who had so cruelly abandoned her.

To add insult to injury, the publisher had the effrontery of passing off The Vampyre as Byron’s own work.

The devil!

The notion was not so farfetched to the average Regency reader. It must be remembered that Byron had written of vampires before. His Giaour (1813) featured an infidel who indulged in an illicit affair with a pasha’s harem girl. She had been tossed into the sea to die whereupon the giaour killed the pasha. Byron’s narrator predicted the giaour would eventually suffer the fate of the vampire, rise from the dead and suck the blood of his loved ones, to his everlasting torment.

Perhaps Byron might not have added the following footnote to Giaour if he knew one day he might be made into a vampire himself:

“The Vampire superstition is still general in the Levant…I recollect a whole family being terrified by the scream of a child, which they imagined must proceed from such a visitation. The Greeks never mention the word without horror. The freshness of the face, and the wetness of the lip with blood, are the never-failing signs of a Vampire. The stories told in Hungary and Greece of those foul feeders are singular, and some of them most incredibly attested.”

This picture of the modern vampiric nobleman is provided courtesy of Find a Grave

This picture of the modern vampiric nobleman is provided courtesy of:               Find a Grave

Amid a flurry of protestations and recriminations over the vile Vampyre and his story, it was eventually revealed that one Dr. John Polidori was the true author, whom “we cannot imagine what mental disease could induce Lord Byron to endure for a moment.” The good doctor was in attendance during the interlude at the Villa Didorati (the lodging of the aforementioned junta). There he had served in the capacity of Byron’s own personal sawbones before they parted in ways less than amicable.

Dr. Polidori was astonished at the vindictive hurled in his direction, which went something like this:

“The publication of that vile abortion, ‘The Vampyre‘ under the name of the greatest of living geniuses, was a wrong… which will not be easy for the perpetrator to expiate.”

He hastily insisted that the work was never meant to see the light of day, that he had placed the manuscript into the care of an unnamed lady, who later gave it to an unscrupulous publisher, who unleashed it upon an unsuspected Public wholly and wantonly without permission.

Amid the flurry of these protestations and recriminations, the aforementioned Public devoured the work, giving it an astounding success.

It was the birth of a new subgenre within the Gothic novel.