Royal Christmas Gifts of Regency-Era Artifacts

Queen Mary often gave her acquisitions as Christmas gifts to her husband. She loved them. He did not. (Snuff boxes were the exception–the king had quite a collection.)
George V pictured here with Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth, future queen.

Queen Mary (1867-1953), grandmother of HM Queen Elizabeth II, was a noted collector of art and decorative objects. The Royal Collection owes its comprehensive and thoroughly organized condition to her efforts. She not only focused on fetching back historical items significant to the royal family, she meticulously labeled and catalogued the whole lot.

Her labels are still in use.

Since the Prince Regent himself was a connoisseur, he acquired many decorative objects. His taste was the gold-standard for what was fashionable during the period that bears his name. Thanks to Queen Mary’s acquisitions on behalf of the Crown, we can view some of the finest of Regency-era artifacts today–online, even.

The examples I’ve noted below were all Christmas gifts of the Royal Family.

A vinaigrette from the Regency era would have contained smelling salts or vinegar. Dowager Lady Ingham resorted to hers throughout Georgette Heyer’s novel, Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle. It was usually supplied by Mucker, her ‘grim handmaiden,’ especially after Phoebe scandalized the ton when she left the Duke of Salford ‘ridiculously alone’ on the dance floor, ‘white with fury.’

“I never saw anyone with less dignity; she’s abominable, and damnably hot at hand, frank to a fault, and – a darling!” — I’m ambivalent about these impressionist Jove covers from the late 70s, early 80s.

The Royal Collection has the one pictured below. Its description reads: “A silver-gilt vinaigrette in the form of the Imperial State crown; the gilt interior with a hinged grille pierced and chased with a basket of flowers. Suspension loop.” Queen Mary received this vinaigrette at Christmas from her Lady of the Bedchamber, Lady Eva Dugdale. Her ladyship was accounted to be the queen’s closest friend and confidante.

According to gossip, hosts and hostesses felt compelled to give up treasured items with royal provenance whenever HM came to visit.

This Wedgewood scent bottle — circa 1810 — shows the staying power of the classical motif in Georgian decorative arts. Made of blue stoneware, it has a white relief depicting Pysche. The Royal Collection categorizes it as Etrurian, a stylistic method that is found in Regency-era interior design–from furniture and wall coverings to figures of birds and sphinxes. Robert Adam used the Etruscan style in his designs for the third drawing room of the now-demolished Derby House in London’s Grosvenor Square, favoring shades of Pompeian red and terracotta, with black accents.

Actually, the ancient artifacts found in Etruria weren’t Etruscan at all–they were Greek.

The queen received the bottle as a Christmas gift from Lady Shaftesbury. Her ladyship’s husband, the Earl of Shaftesbury, was HM’s Lord Chamberlain. His grandson, the 10th Earl, was murdered by his wife, dubbed the ‘call-girl countess.’

Snuff boxes were the very stuff of a man’s life during the Regency. Beau Brummel made snuff-taking fashionable. The Prince Regent had his own blends of snuff. Handling it properly it was a mark of good ton. Sharing your snuff with another indicated a very close friendship. Edward VII gave the bloodstone snuff box below to his daughter-in-law when Queen Mary was Princess of Wales. They called her “May” in those days.

Of all the gemstones, bloodstone was considered the most masculine.

Mounted with a gold coronation medal commemorating the accession of George VI, the snuff box originally belonged to the Duke of Cambridge’s family. The dukedom had fallen into extinction until HM Elizabeth II bestowed it upon her grandson when he married Kate Middleton.

This beautiful 1816 gold snuff box contains a miniature painting of Mary, Duchess of Gloucester, the last-surviving child of George III. The intriguing, repetitive pattern on the lid is created by an engraving technique called engine-turning, or Guilloché. It’s a process similar to using a spirograph.

Merry Christmas!

Spirograph was one of the best Christmas gifts ever--thanks, Santa!

Clarence House: Nash’s Regency Palace

“Oh, that fool coachman has set us down at the wrong place,” Diana exclaimed.

Vivien felt sorry for Diana’s new driver.  He had only been brought up from the country just the week before and had little experience in navigating London’s congested street.  Yet he had much to recommend him, in her estimation.  His careful handling of the reins was a welcome respite from the reckless driving of Northam’s previous coachman who used to tool the massive four-in-hand coach at breakneck speed.  After years of terrorizing the streets of London, the old retainer had finally given his notice to quit.

“But I am persuaded we are precisely where we should be.”  Vivien hastened to reassure her friend.  “Look, this is clearly Nash’s work.  Take the portico for instance. The upper part is Corinthian.  The lower is Doric.  Very admirable for the new Clarence House.”

“But this stucco and pink cannot be a house for Old Bill.  I suppose Her Highness had a say in its design.”

“And no doubt she is waiting for us even now.  While we stand about dawdling!”

Vivien did not like to be late, especially when invited to take tea with HRH Princess Adelaide, soon to become Queen Adelaide to her husband’s William IV, the Sailor King.  This was understandable, she being the granddaughter of a sheep herder.  Diana, her companion, was the daughter of the Earl of Northam, and stood on ceremony with no one.  Not even a German princess and the wife of a future king she referred to as “Old Bill.”

“Old Bill” was Princess Charlotte’s uncle, the Duke of Clarence.  He was the man George Washington once plotted to kidnap while the prince was serving in the British Navy during the War of Independence.  Happy July 4th!

When Diana and Vivien visited the Duke’s addition to St. James Palace in 1827 it had just been finished.  There was much to admire in the Palladian design of the noted architect John Nash, who was also responsible for Park Crescent (used in abundance to display the finest in Regency architecture in various Jane Austen films) and part of Buckingham Palace.  William IV was a frugal man whose careful expenditures are credited to Queen Adelaide.  They remained in Clarence House even after he became King, despite the availability of Buckingham Palace.

Clarence House is expected to be the London residence of the newest royal couple.  It is currently occupied by the Prince of Wales and his wife, as well as Prince Harry.  The palace is also noted for being the long-time residence of HRH Elizabeth the Queen Mother, whose lovely blue morning room with her coat of arms is especially inviting: