Tag Archive | Almack’s

Amusements of Old London: The Play and the Opera

Amusements of Old London

William B. Boulton, 1901

“… an attempt to survey the amusements of Londoners during a period which began… with the Restoration of King Charles the Second and ended with the accession of Her Majesty Queen Victoria.”

The Restoration and King Charles II

The puritanical opposition to everything connected with the drama… was now exchanged for the patronage of those in high places. There has perhaps never been so good a friend to the actor and to the theatrical interest generally as his Majesty King Charles. The king, by granting a patent to Mr. Tom Killigrew at the Cockpit in Drury Lane, established that principal of monopoly in things dramatic which lasted till well on in the present reign. The actors of Drury Lane were the king’s servants and a party of the royal household under the administration of the Lord Chamberlain; a certain number of them indeed wore his Majesty’s uniform of red cloth and silver lace, and ranked as Gentlemen of the Chamber. The king’s brother, the Duke of York, had his own company at the Lincoln’s Inn Theatre in Portugal Street, or at Sir Christopher Wren’s house in Dorset Gardens under Davenant, with privileges scarcely less valuable, including a patent to which theatrical historians will trace back all the subsequent glories of the great house in Covent Garden. It was under his Majesty’s auspices that women’s parts were first played by women, and he was good enough, as we know, to honour the profession by forming very intimate alliances with some of those ladies. Lastly, there has never been a more assiduous playgoer than his Majesty King Charles himself.

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys

Relying on diarists such as Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, Mr. Boulton states

The theatre of the Restoration was in reality much more of a social resort than the play or the opera as we know them. The pit of the playhouse of the Restoration was a social exchange, where the young man of condition displayed his graces and exchanged pleasantries with his fellows; where the man of wit discharged his carefully-prepared impromptus; and where the actors and actresses, not actually engaged on the stage, were accustomed to keep themselves in evidence by mixing freely and ostentatiously with the audience. The stage-door and the green-room, too, were attractions for a large class of men whose attentions to the actresses became a source of embarrassment to the management… Finally, the patronage which Charles the Second gave to both the theatres of his time, and the nature of his relations with some of his subjects who appeared with him in the royal box, gave an interest to a visit to the play of those days which is lacking in later and more sedate times.

Theaters of the time consisted of the pit on the ground floor, rows of continuous boxes on the first, open seats and a few boxes on the second, and the shilling gallery on the third. “The stage ran out a distance of several feet… into the body of the theatre, and was thus exposed on three of its sides to the spectators who occupied the pit.”

Riot during a performance of Artaxerxes

Riot during a performance of Artaxerxes, 1763

The prices for each sector divided the spectators into social classes. A half-crown would get you into the pit. A shilling would get an apprentice to the gallery. A box on the second floor cost eighteen pence, and the best seats in the lower section would cost about four shillings. Although you could purchase tickets for all the seats in the box for your party, if you did not, you might well find yourself sitting next to strangers.

The only manner of reserving seats in this period was to send someone ahead to pay for your ticket and hold your seat. Footmen quite frequently performed this duty for their masters and mistresses, after which they were admitted to the upper gallery to watch the play.  Boulton says that “they became a very noisy, and consequently, a very important part of the audience.”

Pepys records seeing women on the stage in 1661; prior to that, women’s parts were played by men. He complains about having to spend outrageous amounts on oranges (at sixpence each) for the ladies in his company. The seats in the pit were rows of benches without backs.

I was sitting behind in a dark place, and a lady spit backward upon me by mistake, not seeing me, but after seeing her to be a very pretty lady I was not troubled at it all.

Ah, but Pepys did have a fondness for a pretty face!

Lavania Fenton as Polly Peachum in The Beggar's Opera

Lavania Fenton as Polly Peachum in The Beggar’s Opera

He is in continual ecstasy about the beauty of one or the other of those ladies of the Court, most constant, however, to the Castlemaine, but appreciative of the Stewart, “with her little Roman nose,” or “pretty witty Nell,” or Mrs. Middleton “with a very excellent face, and body I think.” If neither Hart nor Nell nor Knipp [Mary Knep] were there the play, however good, would not please him. With Knipp present he would enjoy the worst of pieces even by the side of Mrs. Pepys. “But it is pretty to observe,” he says, “how I did look up and down and did spy Knipp, but durst not own it to my wife, who do not like my kindness to her.” Little wonder, indeed, for Mrs. Pepys surely had much to put up with. Samuel was decorum itself by her side, but when she was away he would find himself sitting in front of Knipp and Pierce, “who pulled me by the hair, so I addressed myself to them.” Knipp sang a song in the flies at the King’s House which pleased Samuel mightily, “where Knipp, after her song in the clouds, came to me in the pit.” Finally, the shameless rogue had the conscience to put on record his feelings at the performance of the “Virgin Martyr,” where “the wind musique when the angel comes down is so sweet that it ravished me, so that it made me realy sick, as I have formerly been when in love with my wife.”

Joseph Addison by Sir Godfrey Kneller

Joseph Addison

Joseph Addison of The Spectator tells about the ladies of fashion in 1711 who took the notion of wearing patches on the right or left side of the forehead to indicate their adherence to a certain political party. Addison “tells us of Rosalinda, a famous Whig partisan, who had unfortunately a very beautiful mole on the Tory part of her forehead, which misled several coxcombs “to converse in the wrong strain, when on a sudden she has given them an unexpected fire which sunk them all at once.” Then there was Nigranilla too, “unhappy in a pimple, which forces her against her inclinations to patch on the Whig side.”

The Trunkmaker of the Upper Gallery

Addison’s immortal paper begins:

It has been observed that of late years there has been a certain person in the upper gallery of the playhouse, who, when he is pleased with anything on the stage, expresses his approbation by a loud knock upon the benches or the wainscot which may be heard over the whole house.

The Trunkmaker was a large black man whom nobody knew, who was never seen to smile, “but upon hearing anything to please him takes up his huge oaken plank and laid it upon the next piece of timber that stood in his way with exceeding vehemence. If the audience does not concur with him, he smites a second time, and if the audience is not yet awakened, looks round him with great wrath, and repeats the blow a third time, which never fails to produce the clap. …[H]e seldom went away from any tragedy by Shakespeare without leaving the wainscot completely shattered. The players cheerfully repair at their own cost whatever damages he makes… [T]he actors valued no applause which had not the sound of the oak plank in it.

During this time, it was common for certain fashionable braggadocios to linger on the stage and distract the audience from the play. Although Queen Anne issued a royal proclamation against it in 1711, but it was obviously not enforced, as can be seen in Mr. Hogarth’s painting of the Third Act of The Beggars’ Opera, where, in addition to the actors on the stage can be seen in the box on the right, the “Duke of Bolton ogling Vinnie Fenton, who he will presently remove from the stage and marry…” and the crowd of spectators on the stage in 1727.

William Hogarth, Act III, Beggar's Opera

William Hogarth, Act III, Beggar’s Opera

As Boulton has stated, the activities of the stage were only part of the entertainment. Observing the other audience members—particularly the noble ones—was a particular interest of Samuel Pepys. A rejected swain might get his revenge by throwing rubbish at a pretty actress on the stage. A particular target for disgruntled audience was the harpsichord, but if the play or grievance was really bad, the benches and seats and other furnishings might be destroyed as well.

Opera at the King’s Theatre in Haymarket

Opera was first patronized by King George I, who “gave a subscription of £1000, as well as his own name, to the Opera House.”

Farinelli

Farinelli

Fashionable London was so fond of opera in 1735 that it paid £5000 a year to Farinelli, and when that incomparable singer was at the Haymarket an enthusiastic lady in the boxes was heard to exclaim in her ecstasy, “One God, one Farinelli.” Then singers and their competing merits were a continual joy to generations of noble patrons, and their preferences for one singer or another often inspired ladies of high fashion with very unfashionable feelings. Thus when the rival warblers Cuzzoni and Faustina were appearing at the opera in 1726, they each had a party of thick and thin supporters in distinguished circles. There was the Countess of Pembroke at the head of her party in a box, who was prepared to go all lengths for Cuzzoni; the Countess of Burlington and Lady Delaware, with their train of young men in another, were fierce and determined on behalf of the Faustina. So when Cuzzoni came on the noble faction which supported Faustina hissed her into silence, when Faustina appeared she was shrieked off the stage by the devoted band at the back of my Lady Pembroke.

By the early nineteenth century,

…there was a cult of deportment which developed in social London, and constituted a tyranny under which society groaned for a couple of generations. Beau Brummell and his set at the clubs in St. James’s Street represented the male element of this autocracy of fashion, the lady patronesses at Almack’s in King Street the feminine; and at the opera they both united their forces… There was the peerless Mr. Brummell, with his satellite exquisites in Fop’s Alley, the interest of the whole mankind of the house, we are asked to believe, centred in the question of his raiment for the evening… The ladies of the grand tier, we are told, including the chaperons, were more anxious for his notice than for that of the Prince Regent. The opera, in fact, like Almack’s, was a social function which entirely outclassed anything of the sort at Court after the retirement of the poor blind King George the Third. There was no question of getting in by the mere payment of money, a committee of ladies supervised the issue of every ticket, and a man or a lady went to the opera or did not, according as their social position was or was not considered worthy of that honour by the Lady Patronesses… who controlled London society from the time of the Regency until her Majesty came to the throne. [They] were accustomed to sit in conclave upon all the young men about to enter life, and decide as to whether or not they were eligible for admission such stately functions as Almack’s and the opera.

Interior of theater at Sadler's Wells, 1810

Interior of theater at Sadler’s Wells, 1810

 

Amusements of Old London series

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!

Romance of London: Mrs. Cornelys at Carlisle House

Romance of London: Strange Stories, Scenes And Remarkable Person of the Great Town in 3 Volumes

John Timbs

John Timbs (1801-1875), who also wrote as Horace Welby, was an English author and aficionado of antiquities. Born in Clerkenwell, London, he was apprenticed at 16 to a druggist and printer, where he soon showed great literary promise. At 19, he began to write for Monthly Magazine, and a year later he was made secretary to the magazine’s proprietor and there began his career as a writer, editor, and antiquarian.

This particular book is available at googlebooks for free in ebook form. Or you can pay for a print version.

Mrs. Cornelys at Carlisle House

Teresa Cornelys - Carlisle House Soho

Teresa Cornelys at Carlisle House, Soho

Teresa, by birth a German, and during man-years a public singer in Italy and Germany, settled in London about the year 1756, and for twenty years entertained “the votaries of fashion of both sexes” with great success. For this purpose Mrs. Cornelys obtained possession of Carlisle House, in Soho Square, formerly the mansion of the Earl of Carlisle.

Carlisle House

View of Soho Square and Carlisle House

View of Soho Square and Carlisle House

Carlisle House was of considerable extent: the Catholic chapel in Sutton Street was the banqueting-room, and the connecting passage between it and the house in Soho Square was called “the Chinese Bridge.” The arched entrance below the chapel was exclusively for chairs or sedans.

Mrs. Cornelys's assembly room at Carlisle House

Mrs. Cornelys’s assembly room at Carlisle House

The Antecedent of Almack’s?

TICKET

The nobility and gentry had the entrée of Carlisle House by payment of an annual subscription, for which they received a ticket of admission to all entertainments given there. They had the privilege of lending their tickets to friends, provided they wrote “the name of the person upon the back of the said ticket to whom they have lent it, to prevent any mistake.” Mrs. Cornelys had great success; but she had her troubles in powerful competitors; for we find her issuing this advertisement: “Whereas, it is been industriously reported, to the disadvantage of Mrs. Cornelys, that she has expressed herself dissatisfied with a subscription now on foot to build a large room in opposition to her; she esteems it her duty, in this public manner, to declare that she never once entertained a thought so unjust and unreasonable…” The “large room” here referred to in opposition is thus referred to by Horace Walpole, in a letter dated Dec. 16, 1764: “Mrs. Cornelys, apprehending the future assembly at Almack’s, has enlarged her vast room, and hung it with blue satin, and other with yellow satin; but Almack’s room, which is to be 90 feet long, proposes to swallow up both hers, as easily as Moses’s rod gobbled down those of the magician’s.” However, Mrs. Cornelys made additions to Carlisle House, with new embellishments, furniture, and decorations, which in the year 1765 cost some 2,000l… in consequence of which she was compelled to charge subscribers an additional guinea.

A musical evening at Carlisle House

A musical evening at Carlisle House

The ball on Feb. 26, 1770

…Mrs. Cornelys gave a magnificent fête to some 800 maskers. Walpole devotes great part of a long letter to a description of this masquerade, at which he was present.

Our civil war has been lulled asleep by a Subscription Masquerade, for which the House of Commons literally adjourned yesterday. Instead of Fairfax’s and Cromwells, we have had a crowd of Henry the Eighths, Wolseys, Vandykes, and Harlequins; and because Wilkes was not mask enough, we had a man dressed like him, with a visor in imitation of his squint, and a Cap of Liberty on a pole… The ball was last night at Soho; and, if possible, was more magnificent than the King of Denmark’s…

…The mob was beyond all belief: they held flambeaux to the windows of every coach and demanded to have the masks pulled off and put on at their pleasure, but with extreme good humor and civility. I was with my Lady Hertford and two of her daughters in her coach: the mob took me for Lord Hertford, and huzzaed and blessed me! One fellow cried out, “Are you for Wilkes?” Another said, “D—n you, you fool, what has Wilkes to do with a masquerade?”

Among the company were Lady Waldegrave, Lady Pembroke, the Duchess of Hamilton, Mrs. Crewe, Mrs. Hodges, Lady Algeria Carpenter, &c. The characters assumed were very eccentric. Sir R. Phillips appeared as “a double man,” half-miller, half chimney-sweeper. The Earl of Carlisle figured as a running footman; Mr. James, the painter, as Midas. The Duke of Devonshire was “very fine, but in no particular character.” And “Lord Edg—b, in the character of an old woman, was full as lovely as his lady.” The ladies were superbly dressed. “The Countess Dowager of Waldegrave wore a dress richly trimmed with beads and pearls, in the character of Jane Shore.” “The Duchess of Bolton, in the character of Diana, was captivating.” “Lady Stanhope, as Melpomene, was a striking fine figure.” “Lady August Stuart, as a Vestal, and Lady Caroline as a Fille de Patmos, showed that true elegance may be expressed without gold and diamonds.” “The Countess of Pomfret, in the character of a Greek Sultana, and the two Miss Fredericks, who accompanied her, as Greek slaves, made a complete group;” and to eclipse all, “Miss Moncton, daughter to Lord Galway, appeared in the character of an Indian Sultana, in a robe of cloth of gold and a rich veil. The seams of her habit were embroidered with precious stones, and she had a magnificent cluster of diamonds on her head: the jewels she wore were valued at 30,000l.”

BIGAMOUS DUCHESS OF CHUDLEIGH

The Bigamous Duchess of Kingston

An “opera strife” leads to bankruptcy

In the following year, 1771, Mrs. Cornelys got embroiled in an opera strife. Walpole writes, Feb. 22, 1771: “Our most serious war is between two Operas. Mr. Hobart, Lord Buckingham’s brother, is manager of the Haymarket. Last year he affronted Guadagni, by preferring the Zamperina, his own mistress, to the singing hero’s sister. The Duchess of Northumberland, Lady Harrington, and some of the great ladies, took up the brother, and without a license erected an opera for him at Madame Cornelys’s… Mr. Hobart began to starve, and the managers of the theatre were alarmed. To avoid the Act, she pretended to take no money, and had the assurance to advertise that the subscription was to provide coals for the poor, for she has vehemently courted the mob, and succeed in gaining their princely favour. She then declared her masquerades were for the benefit of commerce.… At last, Mr. Hobart informed against her, and the Bench of Justices, have pronounced against her. Her opera is quashed, and Guadagni… is not only fined, but was threatened to be sent to Bridewell.

Mrs. Cornelys’s masquerades were characterized not only by indecency, but also by mockery of solemn feelings and principles… The lessees of the theatre, injured by her popularity, opposed her; and she was convicted before Sir John Fielding for performing dramatic entertainments without a license.… Next, bills of indictment were preferred to the grand jury, insinuating of Mrs. Cornelys “that she does keep and maintain a common disorderly house, and did permit and suffer diverse loose, idle, and disorderly persons, as well men as women, to be and remain the whole night, rioting and otherwise misbehaving themselves.” In November following, appeared in the bankrupt list of the London Gazette, “Teresa Cornelys, Carlisle House, St. Anne, Soho, dealer.”

Pantheon_from_Papworth's_Select_Views_1816

The Pantheon, one of the competitors of Mrs. Cornelys’s that eventually caused her downfall

Mrs. Cornelys’s last stand

Nevertheless, Mrs. Cornelys resumed her revels here with great spirit in 1776. Two years later, Carlisle House was again advertised to be sold by private contract…

…Mrs. Cornelys attempted to retrieve her fortunes in various places; one being in a large detached mansion, known as Knightsbridge Grove, in Porter’s Lane, approached through a fine avenue of trees from the highway. At length, in 1785, Mrs. Cornelys gave up her precarious trade. “Ten years after,” says Davis’s Memorials of Knightsbridge, “to the great surprise of the public, she reappeared at Knightsbridge as Mrs. Smith, a retailer of asses’ milk. A suite of breakfast-rooms was opened; but her former influence could not be recovered.” The speculation failed; and at length she was confined in the Fleet Prison, where she died August 19, 1797.

In the literature of the day

Murphy, in his Epilogue to Zobeide, 1771, refers to her popularity:

Oh farewell!

For her each haunt that charms a modern belle!

Adieu, Almack’s! Cornelys! Masquerade!

Sweet Ranelagh! Vauxhall’s enchanting shade!

Combe, in his satire, The Diobalady, 1777, thus severely castigates the licentiousness of the amusements:

The ready ministers of hell’s commands, Obedient, fly and take their several stands

At Court,  Cornelys’, and the Coterie;

Where vice, more vicious by effrontery,

Fearless, unblushing, braves the eternal laws

Of God and man, to aid the devil’s cause.

Note: Teresa Cornelys was one of the mistresses of the famous lover, Casanova, to whom she bore a child.

casanova-tour

Giacomo Girolamo Casanova

 

Romance of London Series

  1. Romance of London: The Lord Mayor’s Fool… and a Dessert
  2. Romance of London: Carlton House and the Regency
  3. Romance of London: The Championship at George IV’s Coronation
  4. Romance of London: Mrs. Cornelys at Carlisle House
  5. Romance of London: The Bottle Conjuror
  6. Romance of London: Bartholomew Fair
  7. Romance of London: The May Fair and the Strong Woman
  8. Romance of London: Nancy Dawson, the Hornpipe Dancer
  9. Romance of London: Milkmaids on May-Day
  10. Romance of London: Lord Stowell’s Love of Sight-seeing
  11. Romance of London: The Mermaid Hoax
  12. Romance of London: The Bluestocking and the Sweeps’ Holiday
  13. Romance of London: Comments on Hogarth’s “Industries and Idle Apprentices”
  14. Romance of London: The Lansdowne Family
  15. Romance of London: St. Margaret’s Painted Window at Westminster
  16. Romance of London: Montague House and the British Museum
  17. Romance of London: The Bursting of the South Sea Bubble
  18. Romance of London: The Thames Tunnel
  19. Romance of London: Sir William Petty and the Lansdowne Family
  20. Romance of London: Marlborough House and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough
  21. Romance of London: The Duke of Newcastle’s Eccentricities
  22. Romance of London: Voltaire in London
  23. Romance of London: The Crossing Sweeper
  24. Romance of London: Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s Fear of Assassination
  25. Romance of London: Samuel Rogers, the Banker Poet
  26. Romance of London: The Eccentricities of Lord Byron
  27. Romance of London: A London Recluse

Why I Write/Read Historical Romance (Giveaway)

courtship

#1 Courtship

I just really like it when the hero has to put in some effort to win the girl and they don’t just fall into bed at the first meeting.

regency courtship

#2 Strong Heroines

I wanna be Skye O’Malley!

skye

#3 Heroes

Dare I mention Jamie Fraser? Kilts?

sam

Click here for my post on everything Outlander.

Click here to join the Bluestocking Belles’ June 11th chat on Outlander (with Outlander prizes).

#4 Family Values

Well, I’m not claiming they are all good family values!

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#5 Gowns

What’s not to like about a stunning ball gown? Especially when someone else has to wear the corset.

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#6 Stately Homes

And don’t forget the servants to keep it all sparkling clean!

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#7 Country Estates

Fresh air, sunshine, gardens (and gardeners). And don’t forget house parties!

Click here for some English manor houses on Pinterest.

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#8 Favorite Authors

Georgette Heyer, Mary Balogh, Sabrina Jeffries, Elizabeth Hoyt, Jean Plaidy, Elizabeth Chadwick, Susanna Kearsley, Diana Gabaldon, Stephanie Laurens, Jude Deveraux, Johanna Lindsey, Julia Quinn, Julie Garwood, Amanda Quick, Jo Beverley, Victoria Alexander, Carla Kelly… and many more!

Click here for Amazon’s Top 100 Historical Romance Authors!

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Click here for a past post on Georgette Heyer.

#9 Almack’s Assembly Rooms

The Patronesses. The vouchers. The Marriage Mart. The dry cake. No waltzing without permission.

Click here for a past post on Almack’s.

#10 Pride & Prejudice

Colin Firth is the ultimate Darcy. Don’t you dare dispute it!

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To be continued… by you! Why do you read or write historical romance?

A random commenter will win a set of sparkly stuffed Christmas ornaments from the UK!

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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