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.

 

 

 

 

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Francis Chantrey – Sculptor to the Regency

In 1813, a newly made widow was journeying to Bath, accompanied by her young daughter. Ellen-Jane, for she was named after her mother, was perhaps unused to travelling. It may have even been the unfamiliar surroundings. One night, as she was preparing for bed, the little girl’s nightdress suddenly caught fire. She soon died of the burns she received. Distraught, the widow returned home to seek comfort in the company of her last remaining daughter, Marianne. Alas, a wretched illness overtook the child while they were in London. The widow had lost her entire family in the space of a few years.

Chantrey's Sleeping Children - photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

Chantrey’s Sleeping Children – photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

Look at those sleeping children; softly tread, Lest thou do mar their dream, and come not nigh
Till their fond mother, with a kiss, shall cry,  ‘Tis morn, awake! awake! Ah! they are dead!

William Lisle Bowles, chaplain to the Prince Regent

Untimely death was so very common in those days. However, this widow was determined her children would not be forgotten. She commissioned their likeness so their memory may live on. In death, their sculpture took the  ton by storm. By the time the Sleeping Children had been moved to the cathedral in Lichfield, the creator had become the new sculptor to the Regency:  Sir Francis Chantrey (1781 – 1841)

“Chantrey was designed by his father for the law; accident made him a carver in wood, poverty a painter, and his own genius a sculptor.” — The Eclectic Museum of Foreign Literature, Science and Art (vol. II, 1843)

His genius was clearly apparent in the tender simplicity expressed in his work. It is almost as if Chantrey was driven to create an unforgettable impression. Perhaps he had been moved by the widow’s fear her little girls would be forgotten, having been on this earth for such a short time. Indeed, it seems Chantrey was driven all his life to set portraits in stone before death destroyed the sitter’s flesh–and time his memory.

Chantrey’s sculptures of the Georgian era’s greatest figures still remain, even if their legacies are less certain: George III and his son, the Prince Regent. William Pitt the Younger and George Canning. They are also so numerous one can scarcely travel through England without encountering a roundabout circling “a Chantrey.”

The sculptor had a reputation for being blunt, which was somewhat surprising in a man who carved with such delicacy. That candor is perhaps a clue into his genius–a sign that Chantrey himself was suffering from an inordinate fear of being forgotten. It seems he felt that the ones who should remember him won’t. That the ones who he hoped loved him best will forsake his memory all too soon.

The acts of women in this regard seemed to have vexed him most particularly.

Grave of Marie Louise of Austria - Kaisergruft, Vienna

Grave of Marie Louise of Austria – Kaisergruft, Vienna

On several occasions he expressed extreme displeasure when any widow cast off her black weeds. His own mother had remarried after his father died, an act which he never forgave her for. Throughout the rest of her life he called her by her first married name–Mrs. Chantrey–and made certain all his letters to her were addressed in the same way. After he had become famous, his opinion on Napoleon’s widow remarrying made the rounds in Mayfair. His ideal was the famous Duchess of Marlborough, who swore never to remarry. Although her own architect (in a fit of temper) wished a Scottish ensign to have her, Sir Chantrey quite approved of the example she set.

When his own death approached, the sculptor took no chances. He drew up a will cutting off Lady Chantrey’s income if she should remarry. He had less success with the plans for his elaborate tomb. A close friend thought he was mad, not understanding how one should desire to be sealed up “like a toad in a stone for some future geologist to discover.”

But no marble tomb or bust encrusted with pigeon droppings can compare to the legacy Chantrey’s will created. Dutiful to the last, his widow left behind his fortune for the benefit of others. This bequest created and maintained England’s marvelous Tate Museum, an effort which continues to this day.

Thanks for the memories.

The Ghosts of Lansdowne Passage

The layers of history in an old place like London continually fascinate me.  The city is like an ancient mansion that’s been made over by successive generations to suit changing tastes in fashion and function.  New wallpaper is placed over the old, new paint is slathered over faded oak.  When these layers are peeled back, we see something completely different, in the same place.  And it never fails to amaze.

Highgate cemetery - London (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License)

Fitzmaurice Place is a small street leaves the southeast corner of Berkeley Square and runs into Curzon Street, just where the old core of Lansdowne House sits.  Across from its truncated facade is a pedestrian walkway lined with shops that leaves the house and ends up at Hay Hill on the other side.   It is called Lansdowne Row.

In the days of the Regency, this was a narrow walkway sunken between forbidding walls.  Walls so tall that they permanently darkened this shortcut linking the two ends of Mayfair.  You couldn’t see what was on the other side of either wall, nor were you meant to.

There are very few good photographs of the passage.  I used this image of the Egyptian Avenue monument from London’s Highgate cemetery.  It looks imposing–and a little spooky.

At Lansdowne Passage, in the middle of the most fashionable part of Regency London, two great estates–two great families–came together in a physical way.  As mentioned in an earlier post of the series, Lansdowne House was built in such a way as to give Devonshire House an unobstructed view toward Berkeley Square.  The two houses had enormous gardens.  They abutted one another yet gave way to that ancient right of passersby–an easement, if you will, called the right of way.  This came to be known as Lansdowne Passage, appearing much like a crevasse when Diana, sometimes called Viscountess Northam, climbed the ladder of the Lansdowne House garden to remonstrate with the Viscount Hartington, heir to His Grace, the Duke of Devonshire, who stood on his garden ladder opposite.

Many legends abound of the walkway, mostly because its long length was hidden from observation and provided a perfect route for robbers and ladies of the night.  Indeed, Hay Hill at one end of the passage was long a favorite of highwaymen.  Even the Prince Regent was robbed there at gunpoint, along with his brother, the Duke of York, of the three shillings they had between them.

A highwayman once urged his steed down into the deep passageway to escape apprehension, goading his horse to leap across the descending stairs, landing heavily on the paved stones below.  They were now in a narrow passageway, mind you, and the rider must needs take the reins in one hand and grip the cantle behind him with the other so as to reduce the width of his profile, spurring into the darkness lit only by a full moon riding the sky above.  Then there was the ascending stair opposite.  Even the most intrepid horse must pause, his ears pricked forward, throwing his head down to eye the obstacle ahead.  But alack!  Pursuers are even now approaching–their cries funnelled between haughty walls to spur even a spooked animal to leap upwards, scrambling and skidding for purchase on stone steps to Hay Hill above and the wilds of undeveloped London beyond.

Iron bars were erected to prevent this sort of thing from happening again.

Today, Lansdowne Row is listed as one of London’s haunted places.  Spectres of highwaymen, footpads and the Loquacious Lady still wander the passage, lit by the storefronts of Hugo Morelli and Starbucks.

Persistent Prince – Part One

Miss Catherine Middleton

I’m not convinced “Waity Katie” is an entirely accurate nickname.  With all the speculation and rumor over the last eight years, who was really the party that waited, or more importantly, the party that persisted?

During the Regency period, speculation and rumor also abounded.  Overwrought correspondence, backstairs intrigue and the unhappy marriage of Charlotte’s parents nearly scotched the unlikely courtship of England’s heiress by a penniless German prince–but for his persistence.

Leopold had no money but early on he had a way of attracting the rich and mighty, among them two emperors.  The first was Napoleon, who asked the young officer to join his army. In a fateful decision, Leopold instead accepted a commission in the Russian Imperial Army and went on to distinguish himself on the battlefield.  The Tsar brought him to England as a member of his retinue to celebrate the Allied victory over the Little Corporal.   It was then our hero was granted an audience with England’s princess.

Prince Leopold is introduced to Princess Charlotte

It seems Prince Leopold scarcely made an impression, favorable or otherwise, in Charlotte’s reception salon.

But he was persistent.