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An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part II

In our last installment, Susana and Lady traveled by carriage to the Royal Vauxhall Gardens, bespoke a supper-box, chatted with a waiter, and partook of shaved ham “so thin you could see through it,” as well as other delicacies.

Ladies Retiring Room at Vauxhall

Ladies Retiring Room at Vauxhall

After our meal, Lady P excused herself to visit the “ladies’ retiring room.” Curiosity induced me to follow her to a large tent in a secluded area, where a young woman dressed in servant garb brightened at our approach. When Lady P shook her head slightly, the woman shrugged and looked hopefully behind us for another potential “client.” Her ladyship whispered to me that such women were there to collect tips for assisting ladies who had come without maids to help with their private needs.

Peering into the darkly-lit interior, I saw a half-dozen women seated on what appeared to be wooden seats similar to those scene in outhouses when I was a child (or the latrines at Girl Scout camp). The better-dressed ladies had maids attending to them, but I didn’t get a good glimpse because Her ladyship squeezed my shoulder and I could see by her tight jaw and raised eyebrows that it was not the thing to be staring in such a place.

Not being especially inclined to use such things as outhouses and porta-potties except in case of emergency—and I decided I could wait until I got home—I abandoned the tent and strolled about a hundred yards away until I had left the unpleasant smells behind. From my position, I had a good view of the dancing in front of the Orchestra. It was so amazing to see the vibrant colors of the ladies’ gowns—as well as the gentlemen’s waistcoats—and I could not help but marvel at the sight of the diversity of the dancers. A soberly-dressed gentleman in charcoal gray who was partnered with a woman in serviceable blue circled among an older, elegantly-dressed couple and an energetic young couple dressed in servant garb, and they all seemed to be having a good time. Among the bystanders I could see a gentleman looking through his quizzing-glasses at me, and fearing that he might be thinking of asking me to dance—Lady P would kill me, and in any case, I have two left feet and have never waltzed in my life—I backed a little further back into the hedges, and nearly trampled a little girl.

“Oh dear, I’m sorry! I didn’t see you there, sweetheart. Are you all right?”

Print; Mezzotint engraving. Childhood: Lady Emily Caroline Catherine Frances Cowper, later Countess of Shaftesbury (1810-1872) after Sir Thomas Lawrence.Half length portrait of a child, a string of pearls round her neck. Unframed.

Lady Emily Caroline Catherine Frances Cowper, later Countess of Shaftesbury (1810-1872) after Sir Thomas Lawrence.Half length portrait of a child, a string of pearls round her neck. Unframed.

The child—about six or seven I thought—blinked rapidly after she had moved a safe distance away. Wavy dark hair curled around her childish round face, tied at the top with a pink ribbon. Dressed in white, her gown trimmed with pink bows, she didn’t have the appearance of a child who would be abandoned on her own in a place like Vauxhall.

Her eyes widened at the sound of my voice, and before she answered, she gave me a long glance from head to toe. My hands started to sweat, knowing that my gown—beautiful though it was—would not stand up to close scrutiny, created as it was from an unauthentic pattern and materials made with 21st century technology.

“You speak strangely,” she said. “You’re not from Hertfordshire, are you?”

“Uh no, I’m from America.”

She nodded as though her suspicions were confirmed. “That’s a great distance from here.”

“It is,” I agreed. “I came to visit my friend Lady Pendleton.”

She smiled. “I like her. She invited me to come to tea with Emily and Theodosia.”

Emily and Theodosia are two of Lady P’s grandchildren. [They appear in A Home for Helena.]

“I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting them as yet.”

She tilted her head. “They live in Kent. Sometimes they come to London to visit their grandmother. I visit mine as well, but she is quite ill at present.” She crossed her arms in front of her. “She is an important lady, you know.”

“She is?” I was quite eager to know the identity of this child, but I had a feeling I shouldn’t be encouraging her to talk to strange people. And I know Lady P would have a fit. I gave a quick glance behind me in case she was approaching, but the coast was clear.

“Yes. And my mother as well. She is one of the patronesses of Almack’s.” She inclined her head toward me. “Have you attended there?”

Almack's Assembly Rooms

Almack’s Assembly Rooms

I smothered a laugh. Me? At Almack’s. Not likely. But then… who could have imagined I’d ever be at the Vauxhall from two hundred years ago?

“No, I’m afraid not.”

She smiled. “You do not have a voucher? Perhaps I can prevail upon my mother to get you one. You are a proper lady, are you not?”

Now that was a loaded question. I was pretty sure Lady Pendleton would not describe me thus, and I certainly didn’t feel like a Regency lady.

“I am quite certain Lady Pendleton would not invite me to her home otherwise,” I prevaricated. “I am Susana Ellis. I’m a novelist.”

almacks-voucher-stg_misc_box7-trimmed-to-voucher“You are?” she breathed. “Like Mrs. Edgeworth and Mrs. Burney?”

“More like Miss Austen,” I said before I could stop myself. I knew that Jane Austen had published her novels anonymously at first and wasn’t sure when her identity was finally revealed.

She wrinkled her brow. “Miss Austen?”

Fortunately, I was saved from responding by the sudden appearance of my time-traveling Regency friend.

“Dear Susana, I see you have found a friend.” There was a hint of irritation in her voice. “Lady Emily, have you accompanied your parents here this evening? I wonder why you have been left alone without your maid.”

Lady Pendleton’s voice was firm but kind as she viewed the little girl. Lady Emily fidgeted under her gaze. “I came with Mama and Lord Palmerston. Alice was too ill. I’m just here waiting while they finish the dance.”

Her ladyship shook her head. “I shall give your mama a talking-to when next I see her. Leaving her child unaccompanied indeed!”

Lady Emily flushed. “No! Please don’t do that! I am meant to be sitting with the Howard party.” She bobbed us a curtsey and made her adieux. “I must return in all haste.” She fled just as the music stopped.

I turned toward Lady P. “Is that—?”

lady-emily-cowper-by-sir-2

Lady Emily Cowper (1787 – 1769) by Sir Thomas Lawrence. The daughter of the famous Whig hostess, Elizabeth Lamb, Lady Melbourne, Emily was likely the result of her mother’s affair with Lord Egremont. Emily had plenty of extramarital affairs of her own, including a long one with Lord Palmerston, whom she married after the death of her husband.

“Lady Emily Caroline Catherine Frances Cowper,” confirmed my mentor. “The daughter of Lady Emily Cowper and the granddaughter of the Melbournes.”

I let that knowledge sink in. Then I giggled. “She offered to help me get a voucher to Almack’s!”

Her ladyship lifted an eyebrow. “Indeed. And what did you say to her to elicit such an offer?”

“Nothing!” I insisted. “All I said was that I am an American visiting you, and she told me she knew your granddaughters and asked me if I’d been to Almack’s…”

Lady P snorted. “Because she knew you hadn’t, of course.”

That stung a little, but I knew she was right. I’m not a proper Regency lady and never will be. I was there to observe—and that in itself was a rare privilege.

Maria Theresa Bland, née Romanzini (1769-1838) was a popular singer at Drury Lane and other venues. Sister-in-law to the actress Mrs. Jordan, she had two sons who were also musical. Her mezzo-soprano voice was idea for the singing of English ballads.

Maria Theresa Bland, née Romanzini (1769-1838) was a popular singer at Drury Lane and other venues. Sister-in-law to the actress Mrs. Jordan, she had two sons who were also musical. Her mezzo-soprano voice was ideal for the singing of English ballads.

Our conversation was interrupted with cheers and applause as a rotund little lady in a blue gown with a laced-up bodice and an enormous cap topped with colorful flowers that accentuated the roundness of her face, stepped up on the stage in front of the musicians, giving a deep bow at her introduction by the organist, Mr. James Hook. She—her name was Mrs. Bland—proceeded to sing a charming little song called “Pray Excuse Me,” that had everyone smiling and cheering for more. Her exquisite voice and cheerful vivacity more than made up for the incongruity of her appearance. Following that, she sang “Jesse o’ the Dee” and several other other songs until it was announced that the musicians would take a short respite while Mr. Hook entertained the crowd with his lively organ-playing. In spite of that, I noticed the audience starting to thin out, many heading in the same direction.

James Hook by Lemuel Francis Abbott

James Hook by Lemuel Francis Abbott

“Madame Saqui!” I breathed. Lady P nodded, and we set out to follow the crowd to the venue where the popular French tight-rope dancer would perform.

More next week, same bat-time, same bat-channel!

 

Lady P and Susana Visit Vauxhall Gardens, Part I

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part II

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part III

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part IV

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part V

Regency Rites: Almack’s Assembly Rooms

What was Almack’s?

Almack’s was founded in 1765 by a Mr. McCall. The building was located on King Street just off St. James Street* and included a large ballroom, as well as supper rooms and card rooms.

Almack’s was ruled by a select committee of society matrons known as the Lady Patronesses. These ladies ruled the club with an iron hand; only the crème de la crème (about 25%) of London society were authorized to cross the threshold of this exclusive circle. Each application for membership was carefully scrutinized by the high-handed patronesses, who were not above using their power for retribution against their rivals or other personal reasons.

The food served was not of the best quality. Alcohol was not served—only tea and lemonade.The floor of the ballroom was said to be dreadful, and the rigid rules set by the patronesses could not be broken by anyone. It is said that the Duke of Wellington, the hero of the Peninsular War, was refused admission because he did not sport the proper dress—knee breeches, white neckcloth, and a long-tailed coat. The doors were locked precisely at eleven o’clock and no one was allowed in after that for any reason. There was a long list of”do’s” and “don’ts” (mostly don’ts) for the young debutantes, and any infraction could result in expulsion from the club and social censure. When the waltz was finally given the seal of approval—it was condemned for years as being scandalous due to the close proximity of the dancers’ bodies—the young ladies had to be individually approved to dance it by one of the patronesses.

Almack's Assembly Rooms

Almack’s Assembly Rooms

Almack’s balls were decidedly not anywhere near the grandest balls of the London Season, so why did the matchmaking mothers of the haut ton scramble to get their hands on those square cardboard vouchers that would gain them admittance?

One word—marriage. Almack’s was the exclusive “marriage mart” of the ton. While potential spouses for your sons and daughters could be found elsewhere, the “best” ones could ideally be found at Almack’s, where the average, everyday riffraff need not apply. Who wouldn’t want their daughter to find a wealthy, well-connected—perhaps titled—spouse to enrich the family fortunes? Matchmaking mothers everywhere yearned to have their marriageable offspring included among the exclusive company of Almack’s.

Who were the Patronesses?

The Lady Patronesses—six or seven at any one time—were:

Lady Castlereagh

Lady Castlereagh

Lady Castlereagh (Emily Anne) was a wealthy earl’s daughter who married the Viscount Castlereagh (later the 2nd Marquess of Londonderry), who held many political posts (Secretary of States for War, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and leader of the House of Commons) during the period. Lady Castlereagh was the one who insisted that the door to Almack’s be closed promptly at eleven. She and Mrs. Drummond Burrell were both known for their disdainful arrogance.

Lady Jersey

Lady Jersey

Lady Jersey, “Queen Sarah,” “Silence,” or “Sally” to her close friends was the wealthy daughter of the 10th Earl of Westmoreland who married the 5th Earl of Jersey. Lady Jersey’s mother-in-law, Lady Frances Jersey, was at one time the mistress of the Prince of Wales (it was she who recommended he choose Princess Caroline for his wife), and her parents eloped to Gretna Green (quite the scandal). Lady Jersey’s younger sister married the brother of the scandalous Lady Caroline Lamb, but when the latter ridiculed her in her vengeful novel Glenarvon, Lady Jersey barred her from Almack’s forever.

Lady Sefton

Lady Sefton

Lady Sefton (Maria) assisted many a green girl to negotiate the hazards of the marriage mart. Her husband was an enthusiastic sporting man, and a member of the Four-in-Hand Club (an elite club for only the best drivers).

Lady Cowper

Lady Cowper

Lady Cowper (Emily) was the daughter of the great political hostess, Lady Melbourne, and due to her mother’s numerous affairs, her paternity was never verified. She disapproved of her sister-in-law, Lady Caroline Lamb, but was otherwise known as one of the kindest of the patronesses.

Princess Esterhazy

Princess Esterhazy

Princess Esterhazy (Thérèse) was the grand niece of Queen Charlotte and never let anyone forget it. Her husband Prince Paul Esterhazy served as the Austrian ambassador to England 1815-1842. She and the Countess Lieven demonstrated the utmost in continental sophistication.

Countess Lieven

Countess Lieven

Countess Lieven (Dorothea) was the first foreigner to serve as a patroness of Almack’s. Her husband the Count was the Russian ambassador to England from 1812 to 1834. Besides being a leader of London society, she was a significant political force in Great Britain, France and Russia.

Mrs. Drummond Burrell

Mrs. Drummond Burrell

Mrs. Drummond Burrell (Clementina) was a great heiress and daughter of an earl who later became a baroness when her husband succeeded to his father’s title. Although one of the younger patronesses, she was considered the most arrogant and haughty of them all.

Appearance was everything.

It’s interesting to note that while London society, as demonstrated by the Lady Patronesses, demanded a high degree of moral perfection, it was really the façade that counted. As long as you behaved with discretion—i.e., didn’t get caught—you could have adulterous affairs with impunity. While it was expected that wives would remain faithful to their husbands until the birth of an heir or two, after that, it was quite common for both husband and wife to indulge in affairs. It was widely known that Lady Melbourne had affairs with politically powerful men who fathered many of her children, but her the importance of her position precluded any open censure.

Most of the Lady Patronesses of Almack’s had notorious affairs. Emily Cowper, taking the advice of her mother, the above-mentioned Lady Melbourne, to be true to her lover rather than her husband, had a long affair with Lord Palmerston, who later became Prime Minister, and after her husband died, they married and lived happily ever after.

As long as it was behind closed doors—and you were wealthy and important enough—you could get away with a considerably lower standard of behavior. Of course, marriages tended to be more about property, wealth and family connections than any sort of love or affection, so perhaps such scenarios were a natural result of cold-blooded unions.

The King Street location of Almack’s is an office building now; when I was there two weeks ago, it was covered with scaffolding. Christie’s Auction House is across the street.

The Regency Rites series

Regency Rites: The Well-Dressed Regency Lady 

Regency Rites: Presentation at Court

Regency Rites: Almack’s Assembly Rooms 

Regency Rites: The London Season

Episode #10: Lord Byron: Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know

Lady Pendleton, Damian Ashby’s eccentric aunt (see the epilogue to Treasuring Theresa on Susana’s web site), is visiting Susana from the early 19th century. She’s intrigued by life in 21st century Toledo, Ohio, and, of course, Susana is thrilled to have the opportunity to pick her brain about life in Regency England. It certainly gives her a great deal to write about in Susana’s Parlour!

Susana: [to the Reader]:

Lady P and I just finished watching the 2007 BBC movie about Lord Byron, and I thought you might find some of her reminiscences of the original characters as intriguing as I did. [Turning to Lady P] You knew the real Lord Byron, did you not, Lady P? What was your impression of him?

byronLady P:

Oh yes, I was acquainted with the man, as was anyone who was anyone in the ton during the spring of 1812 when he came onto the scene. I could never understand why women were making cakes of themselves over him. He wasn’t all that well-favored, you know, not nearly as attractive as that actor who played him in the film. Although he did have a certain magnetism, I suppose, when he looked at a woman with “the stare,” that is, with hooded eyes. I’m not at all sure what he was conveying with that most peculiar stare, but whatever it was had the effect of making formerly sensible women abandon all pretense of prudence in order to attract his attention.

Susana:

Undoubtedly Lady Caroline Lamb was one of them.

Lady P:

She was the worst of them, but then, she was always somewhat of a loose screw, Susana. Even when she was small—she was eight years old when her mother, Georgiana’s sister, moved the family into Devonshire House to escape her father’s abuse—Georgiana used to tell me about her flights of fancy and frequent mood swings, and when she married George Lamb and moved into Melbourne House, we all hoped that her husband and Lady Melbourne, his mother, a prominent Whig hostess you know, would prove to be steadying influences on her.

Susana:

It didn’t work out that way, though, did it?

Lady P [shaking her head]:

Not at all. You know, Susana, it is never a good idea for a newlywed to move in with her husband’s family. Or the other way round, I’m sure. In this case, Caroline clashed constantly with Lady Melbourne, and it only got worse when Caroline and Byron were so foolish as to allow their affair to become public. Harriet—Lady Bessborough, Caroline’s mother, you know—tried to rein her in, especially after Lord Byron tried to break things off with her, but Caroline was so far gone from reality that she listened to no one. She foisted herself on his friends and begged them to help her win him back. She threatened to harm herself. She neither ate nor slept and was quite wraith-like when her mother and husband finally persuaded her to go to Ireland with them. But even that wasn’t the end of it. Poor Caroline raved over him until the day she died, alternately loving and hating him.

carolinelamb

Susana:

I suppose today she’d be diagnosed bipolar and given medication to help her cope with her illness.

Lady P [frowning]:

Bipolar?

Susana:

Mood swings. You know, when someone is rapturously happy and believes everything is right with the world and doesn’t care if everyone knows it, and then later falls into a serious depression. I’m no psychiatrist, of course, but it does sound to me like she suffered from such an affliction.

Lady P:

Well, she did suffer from some sort of affliction, that much is obvious. And I shouldn’t wonder if Lord Byron didn’t suffer from something similar. He too, was something of a loose screw. Although I can’t really say what he was like as a child. I did hear that his father was something of a tyrant, like Caroline’s.

Susana:

What an interesting thought! But did he exhibit an equal passion for her, at least while their affair was still going full-swing?

Lady P [with a decidedly unladylike snort]:

Oh yes, indeed. Of course, when he first came onto the social scene, he was a Nobody and she the reigning Beauty. No doubt he was flattered when she took an interest in him. They were both poets, you know, possessed of mercurial artistic temperaments. At first, her mad, childlike bravado attracted him, but when Lady Melbourne got her clutches into him and convinced him that Caroline’s antics could make him persona non grata in society, he began to cool toward her.

Susana:

Lady Melbourne? Caroline’s mother-in-law? Why would Lord Byron pay attention to anything she said about Caroline?

Lady P:

My dear Susana, Lady Melbourne was one of the premier Whig hostesses, exceedingly attractive for her age, and it was whispered about that Lord Byron was infatuated with her. Yes, even though she was more than thirty years his senior. It does happen, you know. She had many affairs with prominent men, including the Prince Regent, and her son George bears an uncanny resemblance to him too.

Susana:

So why was she so critical of Caroline, then, if she indulged in adulterous affairs herself?

Lady P [somewhat impatiently]:

The difference between them, my dear Susana, is that Lady Melbourne’s lovers were carefully chosen to increase her influence in political circles. She was also careful to manage them with the utmost discretion. Caroline, well, she had no such scruples. She was the victim of her impulses. And to a lesser extent, Lord Byron was to his as well.

Susana:

I feel so sorry for her. But Lord Byron did not pine away for her, did he?

Lady P:

Not at all. He cut a wide swathe among the ladies of London. [Lowering her voice] It is said that he had an incestuous relationship with his half-sister Augusta, and that her daughter Elizabeth is his.

Susana:

Goodness! For a society so bent on propriety, there was certainly a great deal of scandalous goings-on!

Lady P [sighing]:

Oh yes indeed! It was keeping up appearances that was the important thing. So hypocritical. Why, I always thought it was beyond outrageous when Lady Swindon cast her maid into the streets for being with child when she herself was having an affair with the Duke of Kent. I do hope I was able to instill better principles into my own daughters while they were growing up.

Susana:

Lord Byron eventually married, did he not? I heard that his daughter Ada was the world’s first computer programmer.

Lady P:

Computer programmer? Well, I can’t speak to that, since I have no notion of what that is, except for that machine you use for your writing. But yes, he did marry Annabella Milbank, who was Lady Melbourne’s favorite niece and an heiress besides. And now that I think on it, I do recall that she was thought to be something of a bluestocking, so it is likely that she would have an intelligent daughter. Why, Annabella was better educated than most of the men of the ton; you’d have thought she’d have better sense than to marry a sad rattle like George Byron.

Susana:

Those mesmerizing, hooded stares of his, no doubt.

Lady P:

She probably thought she could reform him. She was quite a devout young lady, I believe. [Shaking her head] Such a shame. Why, I made sure my girls knew better than to attempt such a thing with their husbands. There are ways a woman can influence her husband’s opinions—I can certainly attest to that—but it is far better to choose a mate who doesn’t require a great deal of changing. Do remember that, Susana.

Susana [rolling her eyes]:

Of course, Lady P. [To the reader] That’s all for today. I hope you enjoyed Lady P’s reminiscences about the celebrated poet that Lady Caroline called “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”

As always, please do comment if you have any questions you’d like to ask Lady P about the late Georgian/Regency era. She does love to chat!