Immunologist to the Regency

For most of his life, he tirelessly fought against the smallpox, a highly contagious disease with a fearsome mortality rate. But Dr. Edward Jenner (1749 – 1823) had to wait until late in life to finally get some recognition.

That’s when he became the celebrated Immunologist to the Regency.

To put Dr. Jenner’s celebrity in perspective, it bears examining how things used to be. It wasn’t just the mortality rate of smallpox that was so bad. Those who survived the disease were often scarred, maimed or blinded.

Mary Dudley, Lady Sidney caught the pox while attending to a very ill Elizabeth I. Her husband was much aggrieved. “..I found her as fowle a ladie as the smale pox could make her..”

You get a sense of how appalling its ravages were from the lines of a sonnet, written in tribute to Dr. Jenner:

“In village paths, hence, may we never find
their youth on crutches, their children blind;
Nor, when the milk-maid, early from her bed,
beneath the may-bush that embowr’s her head,
sings like a bird, e’er grieve to meet again
The fair cheek injur’d by the scars of pain..”
Good tidings, or, News from the farm, a Poem by Robert Bloomfield (1805)

The practice of inoculating against smallpox had been around for some time but it was quite a risky procedure and not always reliable. Indeed, the treatment was often worse than the cure. Fingers must have been crossed when young Edward Jenner received his own inoculation.

Thank God it didn’t kill him.

As a practicing physician, Dr. Jenner was an keen observer of nature and not afraid to try out ideas. Using scientific experiments, he perfected the work of others to promulgate safe and effective vaccination.

Dr. Jenner’s vocation for zoology led him to discover how the cuckoo chick uses its back to push his rivals’ eggs out of the nest.
Photo By Anderson, et al – CC BY 4.0 Wikimedia

It took awhile for his alternative immunization technique to catch on. Understandably, patients resisted the notion of accepting diseased material from an animal (the cowpox virus) into their bodies. A lay person might view such a procedure in the same way as being bitten by a rabid dog.

Dr. Jenner had to work pretty hard to get folks to trust him.

Trust me, I’m a doctor.

Objections to this newfangled procedure abounded. No less a physician than the Surgeon Extraordinary to the Prince of Wales voiced his concern. Dr. John Birch’s efforts to discredit vaccination bear a strong resemblance to the ones today.

Check out Vaxopedia.org for a great run-down on this.

It must have caused the royal physician no end of chagrin when the Prince Regent, along with his royal brothers of York and Clarence, voiced their support for the Jennerian practice of inoculation:

“His Royal Highness was pleased.. to declare his admiration of this invaluable discovery; to patronize and to cherish it in every way; and at the same time, to announce the highest esteem for the worth and character for its author.”
The life of Edward Jenner, MD, etc., physician extraordinary to the King..with illustrations of his doctrines, and selections from his correspondence, Vol I
by John Baron (1827)

Dr. Jenner rode on a wave of celebrity, fêted by Regency society. Admired to such a degree, many important persons sought his advice and assistance in ways that had nothing to do with getting a shot.

For instance, it was well known that the man behind the vaccine was held in high esteem on the Continent. In 1803, The Marquess of Hertford’s son, young Lord Yarmouth, managed to get himself detained in Paris after hostilities between France and England resumed. Dr. Jenner, upon the marquess’ request, interceded with the French.  Lord Yarmouth was released, going on to a rather dubious career of “undisguised debauchery,” as described in diarist Charles Greville’s scandalous memoirs of the times.

When Thackeray’s Vanity Fair came out, Lord Yarmouth threatened to sue for libel. It seemed the nasty character of Lord Steyne bore a remarkable resemblance to his lordship. — print from the National Portrait Gallery

But fame can be a double-edged sword.

Dr. Jenner’s voluminous correspondence shows how weary he became during the latter part of his life, patiently answering questions and soothing fears expressed in letters from all over the world. He attended to them all, endlessly providing vaccine of his own making, and instruction on how to properly administer it.

Inevitably, there were some failures out of the thousands he immunized.

The most famous case concerned one of Lord Grosvenor’s sons. All the children had been vaccinated years before, yet Master Robert came down with a violent case of the smallpox. Attended by Sir Henry Halford, prominent physician of the ton, the boy survived. It was an event that shocked the ton, delivering a blow to Dr. Jenner’s reputation.

In a letter to one Miss Calcraft* he laments:

“And now this single solitary instance has occurred, all my past labours are forgotten, and I am held up by many, perhaps the majority of the higher classes, as an object of derision and contempt.”
The life of Edward Jenner, MD, etc., physician extraordinary to the King..with illustrations of his doctrines, and selections from his correspondence, Vol II
by John Baron (1827)

Escaping the tumult of fame, Dr. Jenner returned to his medical practice in rural Berkeley, Gloucestershire. From his residence in Chantry Cottage, he treated and vaccinated poor families in a little hut that served as his clinic.

Apart from his correspondence, his meditations and poems show a humble, yet perceptive preoccupation with the natural world, and with the human body. He continued searching for answers, goaded by insatiable curiosity, entreating us all to carry on.

“If we fear all things that are possible, we live without any bounds to our misery.”
— Edward Jenner

 

*Presumably Mary Elizabeth Calcraft, daughter of John Calcraft, MP for Rempston.

 

 

 

Regency Era Servants – Details, Details

There are many great blog posts out there detailing the life of a servant during the Regency era. Hopefully these anecdotal bits and pieces from the correspondence of Lady Williams Wynn (1754 – 1832) will be illuminating on the subject as well:

“Has Harriet told you of the accident which has prevented Sir Samuel Hood from taking his seat in the House or Hoisting his Flag? (!)”

Correspondence of Charlotte Grenville, Lady Williams Wynn, etc.. (1920)

Sir Samuel was the cousin of the more famous Admiral Hood. He commanded 74-gun ships of the line with great intrepidity during the Napoleonic wars. However, he was no match for his maid servant. She placed the warming pan in his bed whilst he occupied it. He rolled over and, well, ouch.

The naval hero was unable to stand or sit for three weeks, her ladyship tittered.

Gilray’s caricature of Sir Samuel Hood’s contest for one of the Westminster seats in the Commons. Along with Sheridan, he is pictured tossing the reform candidate, duelist James Paull, up in the air.

In January of 1808, Lady W.W.’s son was able reassure his mama he was present at the  the reception and dinner for Louis XVIII of France. This took place at Stowe House and given by the Earl Temple (later Marquess of Buckingham). In order not to be late, Henry arrived quite early, around mid-afternoon, only to find the exiled monarch was already on the front steps of the great house, a jam of carriages and people along the driveway.

He was bound to catch a scolding from Mama if he failed to represent the family.

Stowe House, via geograph.uk.org
© Copyright Kevin Gordon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License

Henry’s post boy, acting with singular intelligence, drove the carriage around to the back door to avoid the crush. There his master was able to quickly sneak into the house and be part of the delegation when His Most Christian Majesty entered.

The post-boy couldn’t do a thing about the meal, however.

“The dinner, entre-nous (although there are four French cooks in the house) was the worst I ever saw put upon a table, and worst-served than anything I ever saw before.”

After Queen Charlotte’s death, there was a period of time when some of the King’s jewels in her possession went missing. The set, including the Garter, had been put away in a box and forgotten until someone needed that very container to pack up some other odds and ends belonging to the dead Queen.

The box was located in a window seat, the jewels inside.

It was lost for a bit.
Photo via Royal Collection Trust

Lady W. W. relates a similar incident to her eldest daughter, Fanny. Mrs. Ormsby-Gore, of an ancient Welsh aristocratic family, left her family’s country estate Porkington* to go up to London . She left her entire household behind with instructions to perform the various tasks that might otherwise be noisy and bothersome to her ladyship whilst at home.

One such project involved tuning the pianoforte. The tuner arrived but was obliged to break the lock on the pianoforte to perform his service.

“The first thing he beheld was Mrs. G’s full set of jewels, which in the presence of the Butler and Housekeeper he sealed up and delivered to their care.”

Lady W.W.’s ‘Stowe Junket’ story reveals the exhausting labor of servants during large gatherings. The one she relates to her son also took place at Stowe, for her nephew was the Duke of Buckingham. He had invited all the extended family and friends to the christening of his grandson, the ‘Young Hero,’ destined to be the last Duke of Buckingham.

Not even illness could prevent her ladyship’s other son from attending, having gotten permission from his doctor, Sir Henry Halford.

Even Apphia, Lady Lyttleton (see her diamond earrings here) was present, although:

“…why or wherefore nobody knows or could make out, excepting the Duke and Duchess’ having met her in Malvern and having been in her society in the first moment of Ebulletion (ebullience?) on hearing of the birth of the boy.”

A hundred guests were in attendance. Ladies were quartered in the bachelor gallery, men in the Duke’s various houses around Buckinghamshire. Her ladyship records her compliments to Stowe’s old housekeeper, Mrs. Nicholson. This lady, beaming, boasted she gave the maids 190 pairs of sheets to prepare all the beds.

The servants apparently got little sleep. The Duke told her ladyship that ‘not one had their clothes off from Monday to Saturday.’

“I’m the perfect servant–I have no life.”
Mrs. Wilson, housekeeper in the Edwardian country house mystery, Gosford Park

*Later known as Brogynton Hall, the house had been in the family of Ormsby-Gore since the 17th century until they abandoned it in 1985 due to death taxes and the like. Called the House of Tears, it has witnessed an eerie succession of deaths to the occupants.  Pictures of the house can be found here, including the round music room (now demolished) that probably contained the pianoforte.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Physician to the Regency

Georgette Heyer's Cotillion

I love these old covers. This one is from the 70s, I think.

“Ermine or chincilla with blue, Meg! Sables never show to advantage!”

By the time this point was fully argued, news was brought to Lady Legerwood that the doctor had arrived, whereupon, after hurriedly commending Kitty to her daughter’s care, she hurried away, bent on convincing the worthy physician that certain unfavorable symptoms, which had manifested themselves during the night, made it advisable for him to call in Sir Henry Halford, to prescribe for Edmund.

As the family doctor, a rising man, was at daggers-drawn with the eel-backed baronet, it did not seem probable that she would be seen again for some appreciable time.

——— Cotillion, by Georgette Heyer

Sir Henry Halford (1766 – 1844), was considered the foremost physician to the ton during the Regency.

He was born Henry Vaughan but changed his name by an Act of Parliament to Halford, anticipating a substantial inheritance from the original Halford family.

Sir Henry Halford (looking over the voucher list for Almack's, I'll warrant)

Sir Henry Halford (looking over the voucher list for Almack’s, I’ll warrant)

It was his connections and smooth manners that recommended him and not his skill as a practitioner. It didn’t hurt that he was also married to Elizabeth, the daughter of John St John, 12th Baron St John of Bletsoe. He managed to snag a position as doctor to the Royal Family and was on hand to take custody of the 4th vertebra of Charles I, which still bore marks of the ax.

Ms. Heyer knew her character well. Contemporaries called the good doctor that “eel-backed baronet in consequence of his deep and oft-repeated bows.”