Tag Archive | Regency Rites

The Rise and Fall of Beau Brummell

The epitome of a Regency dandy was a young man by the name of George Brummell. George did not grow up in the lap of luxury—his grandfather was rumored to be a personal servant—but his father was secretary to Lord North, and he was sent to Eton at the age of twelve in 1790, where he became very popular. Because of his attention to fashion and grooming, it wasn’t long before he became a great friend of the Prince Regent, who, in 1794, gave him a commission in his own regiment, the 10th Hussars. Brummell, nicknamed “Buck” by his intimates, spent most of his time on military leave, until he inherited 30,000 pounds and resigned, setting up his own household in 1798 at No. 4 Chesterfield Street.

BEAUBRUMMELL copy

Brummell decreed that cut and fit in a gentleman’s clothing were more important than elaborate fabrics. His insistence on cleanliness had the effect of pulling English gentlemen out of the stables and into the baths, and then poured into closely-fitting, well-cut clothing, including snow-white neckcloths tied into elaborate knots, smoothly shaved faces, and hair that required three hairdressers—one for the front, one for the sides and one for the back.

“The Beau” was known for his audacious wit and his condescending comments centering on the bad taste of others, men and women alike. A set-down from him could ruin a young person’s reputation and send them running from London in shame. Brummell and his dandies made it unfashionable to show emotion or any concern for the consequences of their actions. Although he had no social standing of his own, he had even the highest-ranked gentlemen admiring and copying his dress and behavior. Along with Lord Alvanley, Henry Pierpont and Henry Mildmay, he was part of the “Dandy Club” of Watier’s.

Unfortunately, Brummell’s extravagance, gambling and sharp tongue also led to his downfall. In 1813 at a party, the Prince Regent snubbed Brummell and Mildmay, staring them in the face while refusing to speak to them. Brummell quipped to Alvanley, “Who is your fat friend?” and that was the beginning of the end for Brummell.

In 1816 he fled to Calais where he lived in poverty until his death of syphilis in 1840.

londonrem

#4 chesterfield st.

No. 4 Chesterfield Street

Laudermilk, Sharon H. and Hamlin, Theresa L., The Regency Companion, Garland Publishing, 1989.

The Regency Gentleman series

The Regency Gentleman: His Upbringing

The Fashionable Gentleman

The Rise and Fall of Beau Brummell 

Gentlemen’s Clubs in Regency London

Captain Who?

Gentlemen’s Sports in the Regency

The Gentleman’s Passion for Horses

Riding to the Hounds

The Regency Gentleman’s Passion for the Turf

A Regency Gentleman: His Upbringing

Privileged children were born at home, typically with the aid of a midwife, and immediately handed over to a wet nurse, since upper class ladies did not nurse their own children. Brought up by servants or dependent relatives, children saw their parents rarely, always accompanied by servants.

Later, a young gentleman might be tutored by a local clergyman or by a hired tutor or governess. When he could read and write, he would be sent off to public school, such as Eton, Rugby, Harrow, Westminster, Winchester and Charterhouse. The course of study centered on the classics, the French language (used often in polite society when servants were present), drawing and fencing. However, life at public schools could be traumatic.

Eton

Eton

In spite of the outlandish fees charged by these exclusive schools, the accommodations were abominable. Sleeping chambers were cold and damp, food barely edible and scant, and the older boys bullied the younger ones unmercifully. The older—and bigger—boys forced the younger ones as servants—a system known as fagging—and often such treatment resulted in revenge against a headmaster who allowed such brutal bullying to occur. Headmasters, too, were known to cane a boy’s bare buttocks until it bled.

The idea was that a boy who could survive public school and learned the meaning of obedience could be trusted to command—servants or regiments— or succeed in whatever place in Regency society he was fated to take.

Following public school, our young man could go on to Oxford or Cambridge, although he could devote himself to other pleasures—eating, drinking and wenching—as well. Most university students did a fair amount of both.

On the Town

Prior to the Napoleonic Wars, a young man would go on a tour of Europe with a tutor (“bear-leader”) to sample the pleasures of Europe. During the Regency, a young man was more likely to take up a commission in the army (particularly if he was a younger son) or simply learn his way around London, therefore earning his “town bronze.”

A young gentleman was expected to be skilled in fighting with fists, swords, and firearms, as well as gaming. Coolness, courage, and a “stiff, upper lip” were essential for a young man about town. He was also expected to be stylish enough to be accepted into gentlemen’s clubs and ballrooms, including Almack’s Assembly Rooms. Gentlemen, too, were scrutinized by the patronesses before being issued the coveted vouchers.

Other frequent amusements by young bucks might be parading up and down Bond Street and “accidentally” tripping people with their canes, catching the edge of a lace gown with their spurs, or quizzing people with their quizzing glasses. These young men “raising Cain” were the scourge of the night watchmen with their tricks on unwary passers-by.

And then there were their “bits of muslin” or wenches. A young man was expected to marry for money or connections, make sure his heir was his, and then proceed to find passion with a series of mistresses. While discretion was expected, most of society turned a blind eye to these foibles, at least on the part of gentlemen. Ladies’ behavior was much more closely scrutinized.

Laudermilk, Sharon H. and Hamlin, Theresa L., The Regency Companion, Garland Publishing, 1989.

The Regency Gentleman series

The Regency Gentleman: His Upbringing

The Fashionable Gentleman

The Rise and Fall of Beau Brummell 

Gentlemen’s Clubs in Regency London

Captain Who?

Gentlemen’s Sports in the Regency

The Gentleman’s Passion for Horses

Riding to the Hounds

The Regency Gentleman’s Passion for the Turf

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

Regency Rites: The London Season

The Haut Ton

The haut ton referred to the members of some three hundred families who owned large estates that supplied their primary income. Sometimes they were called “the upper ten thousand.” Not all were titled, but they were usually at least well-connected and wealthy enough to stand the enormous expenses of socializing with the crème de la crème of English society, which included:

  • owning or renting a suitable residence in a fashionable area of London (in addition to a great country home on their estate), along with the requisite servants, stables, etc.
  • extensive wardrobes in the first stare of fashion for all members of the family who participated in the Season
  • food, drink, decorations, musicians, etc. required to provide entertainment for other members of the ton in grand style
  • costs of renting theatre boxes, purchasing entrance tickets to public entertainments, such as the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, Astley’s Amphitheatre, etc.
  • allowance or pin money for wives, sons or daughters.

What was the London Season?

Lady Theresa

Lady Theresa

The London Season evolved from the legislative sessions of Parliament, which would run roughly from January/February to June. Generally, a peer would bring his family to London sometime after the holidays, which provided a perfect opportunity for their families to socialize and seek suitable spouses for their children. The Season didn’t heat up until spring, though, and by the end of June, most of the first families escaped the odiferous heat of London for the fresh air of their country estates or perhaps a seaside resort.

Many families would return to London in September for the “Little Season,” which was much less prestigious, but few were left in Town by the end of November.

Essentially, anyone who was anyone would participate in the London Season, even if they had to run up enormous debts to do it.

In Treasuring Theresa, an earl’s daughter such as Lady Theresa would be expected to have a London Season and make a suitable marriage. Unfortunately, however, her first Season was unsuccessful, and later, there was no money for it, so when childhood sweetheart Reese Bromfield broke her heart by betrothing himself to another, Lady Theresa’s options for marriage were limited. Incidentally, Reese Bromfield, as the son of a squire, was not highly-connected, but as the son of a wealthy member of the gentry, he would have been welcomed to participate in the ton, although not, perhaps, in the highest circles.

What did people do in the London Season?

Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

London offered—and still does to this day—an endless number of delights for visitors, regardless of status. In the early 19th century, one could walk or ride through the park (Hyde Park or Green Park were quite popular), visit the British Museum or any number of museums or galleries, attend a circus performance at Astley’s Amphitheatre, visit the Pleasure Gardens of Vauxhall with its nightly fireworks, and attend the theatre or opera. The best shopping in the world could be had on Bond Street, and for the gentlemen there was racing, boxing, gaming, and all sorts of attractions that couldn’t be found on a remote country estate.

For the haut ton, there were balls and parties, soirées, routs, musical evenings, Venetian breakfasts, al fresco teas, extravagant dinners…all sorts of opportunities to hobnob with wealthy aristocrats and politicians and make connections that could potentially lead to even higher status and prestige.

Hyde Park

Hyde Park

It was all great fun—but very expensive, especially for those who succumbed to the gambling fever. Entire fortunes were won and lost in this period—and not just by the gentlemen either. Before she died in 1806, Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, had lost what amounts today to a billion dollars. (See Lady P’s insights on that here.)

What did people do the rest of the year?

Whatever they wished! Many spent the summer on their country estates, which generally sported expansive mansions with huge ballrooms that could be used for house parties, during which they would entertain their friends from other parts of England for a week or more. Sometimes gentlemen took a personal interest in their estates, but often the management was left to a steward or estate manager so that the owner was free to participate in local society, or travel to the seaside, or take the waters at a spa resort, such as Bath. Hunting and fishing were popular sports for the gentlemen.

Damian Ashby, Lord Clinton

Damian Ashby, Lord Clinton

In Treasuring Theresa, Damian Ashby was a society dandy who despised the country, except for the income it provided him. Lady Theresa despised the superficiality of the ton and preferred life on her country estate, where she counted among her friends villagers and commoners, as well as the local gentry. How will these two seemingly complete opposites manage to bear each other’s company for an extended period of time as her dying father wishes?

About Treasuring Theresa (a sweet Regency short story)

At the betrothal ball of the man she had expected to marry herself, Lady Theresa latches on to Damian Ashby, hoping to divert attention from her own humiliating situation. Of course, she’s not seriously interested because he’s a useless London fribble, in her opinion. He is not favorably impressed with her either.

Still, she’s the daughter of an earl, and he’s the heir to her father’s title and estate, so they are destined to spend more time in each other’s company…sooner rather than later. And who knew that the two of them would develop an unlikely attraction to one another?

But can a London swell and a country lady ever make their diverse lives and interests work together?

Note: Excerpts and additional reads—including an epilogue to this story—are available here.

Available

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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