Regency Furnishings: the Trafalgar Chair

Another great Pan cover — truth in advertising

“She wanted to be hearing of Lord Nelson, who had naturally been the hero of her school-days. It was her uncle’s only merit in her eyes that he must actually have spoken with the great man, but she could not induce him to describe Nelson in any other but the meanest of terms… a wispy fellow: not much to look at, he gave her his word.”

–Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer (1935)


The Royal Navy’s defeat of the French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar was the stuff of legend, in part because Lord Nelson died on the altar of victory. What followed was a paroxysm of hero worship. The flag that draped his sarcophagus had been torn to pieces by sailors craving a memento. Poems and sermons in his memory were composed and distributed through recitals and magazines.

Legrand’s Apotheosis of Nelson — you get the idea

The cult of Nelson even penetrated the realm of Regency furnishings. Already present and popular among the ton, the classic, clean artistry of the Grecian style provided a perfect canvas for demonstrating hero worship.  Distinctive, yet blending well with surrounding furniture, the chairs made in this mode were particularly functional, as the following print shows.

The Greek influence is evident by the shape of the legs. They are carved outward, like sabres. Smaller in scale, they could easily be moved, and pressed into service for large gatherings.

The chair on the far right is a Trafalgar–the back, seat and leg carved as if in a single stroke down to the floor. The back features a patera ornament, a symbol of reverence, surrounded by the wreath of victory.

A bespoke Trafalgar would display symbolic ornamentation, demonstrating the owner’s refined taste. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has such a chair on display, with a back carved to look like a rope that might serve as a ship’s rigging.

V&A Trafalgar Chair

The ebony and gilt paint make the flower-like anthemione and rope carving particularly distinctive.

Nelson himself preferred a chair upholstered in leather, with side pouches that contained dispatches. A gift from his mistress, Lady Hamilton, it was known as the Emma, and kept in his cabin on board ship. The relic was put up for auction last year, still in its original leather upholstery. 

Today, it is the wing-backed, post-modern upholstered chair that Lord Nelson is known for. This one is on sale at

Claiming a connection to Trafalgar and its Hero, however trifling, was a mark of distinction, even if Judith’s uncle deplored it.

“Can’t understand what women see in him.”



Regency Fashion: The Gentleman’s Fancy Dress

“Not only was he wearing the frilled shirt, the longtailed coat, the knee-breeches, and the silk stockings which constituted the fashionable attire of a gentleman bound for Almack’s; he carried a chapeau-bras  under one arm, and one of his snuff boxes in his pocket.”

— False Colours by Georgette Heyer (1963)

Kit Fancot, the hero of False Colours, impersonates his older brother, Evelyn, Lord Denville, as a favor to his mama. He arrives at a fancy dress party held by the relatives of Denville’s betrothed. Unfortunately, he has no clear idea of what Miss Stavely looks like.

However, everyone at the party believes him to be Evelyn, particularly since he is dressed in his brother’s fashionable dress rig, starting with the frilled shirt. No, not the pirate shirt sported by a well-known comedian in the 1990s, but similar, I daresay:

From Le Beau Monde, 1807

From Le Beau Monde, 1807

The longtailed coat was designed to set a fine figure to advantage. The tails in the back were almost an afterthought, forgotten in the evolution of the formal coat from its original function–to separate when riding a horse . What was important was the fit over the shoulders, perhaps enhanced by padding discretely inserted in strategic areas. In the same way, the cutaway design revealed the upper thighs and slim (corseted, if necessary) waist of the gentleman.

Knee breeches were de rigueur if one expects to be admitted to Almack’s, and thus the standard for all fancy dress parties. They were critical for Kit to pass himself off as his brother, all while meeting the approval of the venerable Dowager Lady Stavely, (grandmama to Miss Stavely). Therefore, pantaloons worn on the street would be right out in such company.

Besides, the advantage of wearing knee breeches becomes immediately apparent when a well-formed man pairs them with white silk stockings. The little ties just below the knee, combined with the clinging material of the stockings, draw the eye to his shapely leg, the black slippers just the thing to command admiring attention when among one’s peers (and cross old ladies).

from the Claremont Colleges Digital collection, featuring selective plates of Regency dress

from the Claremont Colleges Digital collection, featuring selective plates of Regency dress

Kit carries a hat, a three-cornered affair called the chapeau-bras. The fellow pictured above has a two-cornered (bicorn) hat. Both collapse and can easily be kept in good order by the butler or other man-servant while the wearer enjoys the party.

Snuff-boxes are very personal items in the Regency. Snuff itself can come in a variety of flavors (I’m thinking of Miss Taverner’s Sort in Heyer’s Regency Buck). Heyer completes Kit’s disguise as his brother by having him take along, in his pocket, a recognized trinket of Lord Denville’s. Indeed, a snuff box conveys much about a man’s identity in the Regency–witness a Cyprian’s attempts to engage the affections of a dour, northern Scotsman through two years of ‘tedious’ courtship, her stamina continuously as she:

‘anticipated the grandeur of which his massy snuff-box and mode of living distinctly conveyed.’

— “Clarissa, A Tale,” The Ladies’ Monthly Museum, Vol. 16 (1822)



snuff box

This silver and mosaic snuff box sold for almost $3000 recently. It was made in London, 1815.



Oatlands – Honeymoon House

Sometimes it just makes sense to honeymoon close to home.

Kate and Wills went no farther than Anglesey.  Vivien, my heroine of Welsh descent in Notorious Vow, would approve.  There is much to be said for the privacy afforded by a windswept island off the coast of her family’s native homeland.

File:Fashionable contrasts james gillray.jpg

Entitled "Fashionable Contrast," this 1792 cartoon of TRHs' relationship was less than accurate.

Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold honeymooned just outside London in Weybridge, at her uncle’s estate of Oatlands.  The manor had been the site of a royal palace built for Queen Anne of Cleves by Henry VIII, long since demolished.  A house remaining on the estate was enlarged and eventually leased by Prince Frederick, the Duke of York.  This burned down and a Gothic mansion was erected in its place and became the primary residence of his wife, Princess Frederica Charlotte of Prussia.

The following is an amusing illustration of what things must have been like at Oatlands:

‘The Duke was used to bring down parties of his friends to spend the week-ends at Oatlands.  The Duchess had not the least objection, and without making any change in her own manner of life, entertained her guests in a charming and unceremonious way that endeared her to everyone who knew her.  No one was ever known to refuse an invitation to Oatlands, though the first visit there must always astonish, and even dismay.  The park was kept for the accommodation of a collection of macaws, monkeys, ostriches, kangaroos; the stables were full of horses which were none of them obtainable for the use of the guests; the house swarmed with servants, whose business never seemed to be to wait on anyone; the hostess breakfasted at three in the morning, spent the night in wandering about the grounds, and was in the habit of retiring unexpectedly to a four-roomed grotto she had had made for herself in the park. ‘

from Regency Buck, by Georgette Heyer

Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold remained at Oatlands until summoned back to London by Queen Charlotte.  The princess’ grandmother planned a “drawing-room,” or presentation to receive the congratulations of the nobility and gentry on the marriage.  The Asiatic Journal from 1816 further reports that between two and three thousand people were present for the occasion and Buckingham House, as it was then called, was filled with “expecting spectators.”Oatlands Park Hotel, Weybridge Surrey

Their honeymoon must have seemed as remote to the young couple as Wales.

Today, Oatlands is a hotel.  You can even have a wedding there!