Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mother Knows Best

"Has John ever had any real symptoms of worms? If he has I imagine they might easily be got rid of."

Lady Spencer
20 September 1784

Friday, November 28, 2008

Tart of the Week: Harriet Lady Bessborough

I have been waiting quite a while to present this much-awaited tart her week. The youngest child of Lord and Lady Spencer was born in Wimbleton 16 June 1761 and named Henrietta Frances Spencer. Although her birth name was Henrietta, she was rarely ever referred to as such and was known as Harriet throughout her life. The Spencer household was very devoted to their children, however Harriet did not receive as much attention as her older brother and sister. Georgiana, the eldest was her mother's favorite, and George, as the Spencer heir also was doted upon. So the youngest Spencer child was commonly left out of many things including certain family vacations. Despite her lack of family contact, Lady Spencer made sure Harriet had the best education. Instead of being schooled at home like her siblings, Harriet was sent to convents in France for her education where she met the dauphine, Marie Antoinette. Still, Harriet grew up to be rather frail and quite soft spoken and always looking for love and approval.

By the time Harriet came of age she was a ravishing beauty with connections to the Devonshires, a very good match for any suitor. The man who won her hand in marriage was a cousin of the Duke of Devonshire, Frederick Ponsonby, the Viscount Duncannon. The naive Harriet was happy with her husband at first and children followed promptly. As time went on Duncannon's true nature appeared. He was extremely jealous of the attentions his wife attracted from other men and would sometimes degrade her in public. At home, the abuse continued and family members worried it was physical. Harriet was already under a lot of strain due to poor health and this increased every time she had a child. It is also quite possible she may have made a failed suicide attempt at one point which left her partially incapacitated. Meanwhile debts began to pile up around her because of both her and her husband's gambling habits.

It may come as no surprise to you that all these stresses caused Harriet to find relief in other men's arms and there was no shortage of other men. Harriet's beauty and charm along with her weak disposition made her irresistible to many men. The first of her many affairs was Lord John Townsend, a Foxite. He was soon followed by the rakish Charles Wydham, a friend of the Prince of Wales. Her affair with Wydham culminated at the same time as Harriet's third pregnancy which would produce the future Caroline Lamb. Given the different attitudes and appearances of brothers and their sister, it is highly probably this was not her husband's legitimate daughter. Naughty must run in the family!

It was her affair with the unpredictable Richard Brinsley Sheridan that Harriet found herself in way over her head. The two were friends before lovers but their affair but Sheridan haunted Harriet over, years after the affair had ended. Sheridan was known to show up to her unannounced and make demands. Their relationship was also the final blow to Sheridan's lovely wife, Elizabeth who soon died (prematurely) afterward, likely of a broken heart. The affair was exposed to the public and Duncannon instantly flew into a rage. He threatened to divorce Harriet and leave her to a life of social ostracism. Harriet was horrified but was saved by her brother in law, the Duke of Devonshire, who cooled his cousin's rage. William always did seem to like Harriet.

It was a while before Harriet had another affair. In the meantime she still suffered through bad health and her daughter, Caroline or Caro proved to be quite a handful. Her next affair was with the much younger Tory, Granville Leveson-Gower. This one lasted over 15 years and was deep-rooted, loving relationship that withstood Granville's many ambassadorial missions to far away countries. The two were each other's confidants and trusted advisers. Two children were the result of the relationship, they both conveniently slipped under Duncannon, now Lord Bessborough's radar. Dummy. When it came time to for Granville to marry the affair instantly ended and Granville's bride to be was none other than Harriet's niece and namesake, Harryo, Georgiana's second daughter.

Granville's marriage to Harryo was a happy one. Eventually, Harriet and Granville's children became part of Granville and Harryo's family. Harriet dealt with the loss of her true love stoically and settled down to being a grandmother and even made amends with her stupid husband. When she died in 1821, she requested her eternal resting place to be next to the person she loved the most in life, her sister, Georgiana.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Book Review: Pivilege and Scandal

Amanda Foreman has said more than once that if she were to write Georgiana's biography at this point in her life she would have taken then same angle The Duchess has taken in emphasizing Georgiana's affair with Charles Grey. Although I am personally glad Foreman did not take that approach, fellow author Janet Gleeson did for her biography of Georgiana's sister: Privilege and Scandal: The Remarkable Life of Harriet Spencer, Sister to Georgiana. In fact the paperback form in the UK goes under the name of An Aristocratic Affair. Although Harriet's decade-long affair doesn't define who she is (which Gleeson never infers, of course), it is interesting to see the different vantages of the two books, seeing as the two women did have similar lives.

Harriet was the shy, younger Ashlee Simpson to Georgiana's Jessica. As much as this book doesn't spend all its time comparing the two, I automatically did with both the sisters as well as the books. Awful, I know; so please excuse any further comparisons! Despite being shy, Harriet shared many of the same interests as Georgiana, especially politics. Unlike her sister she quickly birthed an heir and spare to her abusive husband. Harriet's life was filled with suffering due to ill health and stupid men...oh and her daughter Caroline Lamb did not make things very easy either. Many who know the story of Georgiana know that the sisters were very close but will be surprised at just how close the two were. I was surprised to find that Harriet requested to be buried alongside her beloved sister when she succumbed to illness years later.

Gleeson's book gives voice to a fascinating woman who is commonly disregarded in history. You find yourself loving Harriet, despite her human faults, and wondering what could possibly happen next. The writing has a clear, even flow which gives understanding to topics that could be somewhat confusing, such as politics and elections. It is amazing how much information Gleeson was able to procure since most of Harriet's personal letters were burnt. I would highly recommend adding this book to your reading list. It gives a different and interesting perspective to the Spencer and Devonshire families and expands upon the Devonshire House set. So let Harriet take center stage in your reading repertoire and pick up this fabulous book!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Doomed Queens Winner!

I wish I could give away a copy of Doomed Queens to everyone but, alas, there can only be one winner of the drawing and that winner is.....


Congratulations! When you get a chance please send me an email with your shipping address ( Thank you to all who participated! Doomed Queens is available now in bookstores or on Amazon .

A Harlot's Progress: Plate 4

This does not look good.

Oh how the mighty have fallen. Just think, Moll once was comfortably situated in a rich home that she didn't even have to pay for and now she has found herself in Bridewell Prison. Bridewell was once a palace of Henry VIII but was converted into a prison. By the 18th century it was chiefly used to house women, mostly prostitutes, who spent their days being whipped and beating hemp in public-view. This just happens to be exactly what we have come find Moll doing, beating hemp to make nooses. She isn't the only one. Moll is at the head of a line of inmates which also is a heirarchy of wealth. Next to her is a gamester who couldn't leave home without his dog. Beside him is a girl who is so young that she may not even be a teenager-she'll grow up to be a worthy tart. At the very end of the line is a pregnant African or West Indies woman who likely pled her belly in lieu of a death penalty.

Moll, meanwhile, is getting yelled at by the jailer who menicingly holds a switch. Next to him stands his wife who winks as she steals the clothes of Moll's back. Who the heck is she even winking at? Why, it's Moll's servant who we saw in the last plate. Just as Moll's fellow inmate brought his cherished pet to prison with him, Moll brought her cherished servant, who winks back at the jailer's wife as she puts Moll's shoes on. Behind Moll is a man in hanging from gallows which state "Better to work than stand thus." I'm sure Moll would argue that she was working until the magistrate took her to this godawful place. Her answer to that would be on the post behind all the prisoners which reads, "The Wage of Idleness." Sure, Moll "worked" at night but but it was that line of work that got her to Bridewell. Will Moll ever get out Prison? Or is this the end of the line for her?

A Harlot's Progress Plate 1

A Harlot's Progress Plate 2
A Harlot's Progress Plate 3
Next >>

Monday, November 24, 2008

Crim Con Court

Perhaps you have seen the phrase "crim. con." getting tossed around here, especially in reference to certain tarts. Crim con is the abbreviation for Criminal Conversation, trials usually connected to divorce...but not actual divorce trials. When a tart wandered into another man's arms and her husband found out he could charge that man of, well, trespassing. Although enlightened thinking may have given women more rights and freedoms than they previously had, they were still considered property of their husbands. Crim con trials are a perfect example of this primeval state of mind still being practiced.

Here is how these trials typically went down: Lady Tart and Lord Rake would conduct a steamy, semi-public affair. When Lord Cuckold discovers his wife's infidelities he is outraged but mostly embarrassed in how Lady Tart emasculated him in front of everyone. Lord Cuckold has many different options for revenge on his wife, one being divorce, which is extremely costly and time-consuming. In order to seek revenge on Lord Rake he can press crim con charges and, if Lord Rake is found guilty, get some money out of him. Crim Con's weren't exclusively for husbands who had been cheated on. They were originally masterminded for husband's who wanted "justice" if their wife had been raped. Sex wasn't even a criterion to validate the case, you could sue for any form of tarnishing the property.

So basically crim con is suing that guy for fooling around with your wife. You can still do that today, there just isn't a special name for it. It makes good daytime television though.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

For Sale

Sometimes Amazon scares me with its recommendations. I think it's a little too close for comfort! This was on my homepage and I had to share, despite its lack of Georgian style.

Perfect for any tart, this sterling silver bracelet reads well behaved women on the outside and rarely make history on the inside. I think this might be the perfect holiday gift for that special tart in your life. Especially if that tart is you!

Chapeau a la Caravan

Mythosidhe just posted this fabulous portrait and I had to pass on her discovery, Mrs. Daniel Dennison Rogers by John Singleton Copley circa 1784 contains the same English principals of portrait painting but brings an American electricity in the colours and background. Copley brings the drama to this piece that so many English portraitists failed to bring; can't you just hear the Gone with the Wind theme playing behind her? But what got me all excited about Mythosidhe's find is the hat Mrs. Rogers is wearing. Lauren will correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe it is the chapeau a la caravan, which she actually made when we went to the racetrack this summer. I had never seen one in a portrait, so what a pleasant surprise to see it in an American portrait.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


"You have told me how foreign women revenge - I will show you how an English woman can."

-Harriet, Countess of Bessborough to Lord Byron

Friday, November 21, 2008

Tart of the Week: Princess Caroline

The marriage of George, Prince of Wales to his consort is either a tale you want to laugh at or just shake you head in pity. For Caroline of Brunswick, it was definitely not a laughing matter. But our tarts usually don't take these things lying down...well, in a manner of speaking they don't...
Caroline of Brunswick was born in 1768, the daughter of the Duke of Brunswick and Princess Augusta of Wales, George III's sister. Caroline turned out to be an average-looking girl who was nice enough, but she had a few bad habits. She was noted to be crass and vulgar and didn't see any reason to bathe often. She had even been described as smelling "like a farmyard." So who better to sell her off in marriage to than her cousin, the Prince of Wales.

If you recall, the prince was already very much, although illegally, married to Mrs. Fitzherbert. He had merely agreed to the marriage in order to get his father to pay off the massive debts he had accrued. Well, the wedding spelled doom from the start. The cousins met for the first time three days before the wedding. Caroline was 26, and considered an extreme spinster, especially by rich aristocrat standards. The 32 year old George was instantly disgusted, after their initial contact he recoiled and asked for a drink. At the wedding, Caroline's gown was so over-decked in jewels and ermine fur, she could barely stand under the weight of it. When George got to the altar it was only with the assistance of his groomsmen because he was so incredibly drunk that he couldn't stand. Meanwhile, he kept staring back longingly at his trusty tart, Lady Jersey, who had already begun torturing the poor, stinky princess. When everyone went to retire after the celebrations George ended up passed out on the bedroom floor, too drunk to perform his husbandly duties. In the morning when he woke up, he deflowered his bride and then vowed never to touch her again.

Nine Months later Princess Charlotte was born. Two days after that George made up his will, leaving everything to Mrs. Fitzherbert and a shilling to Caroline. He also wanted Caroline to have no part in raising her daughter. He hated Caroline so bad, and for no good reason either! After two years of dealing with George's immature behavior toward her, Caroline was finally like, "F this!!" and allowed herself to be banished to a country estate. The English people were sad; they had been cheering her on since they hated George and Lady Jersey so much.

Once Caroline had a house to herself she decided that if George was going to spend his days cheating on her with countless women, why shouldn't she be able to do the same? And that is what she did. With women and men. She was also rumoured to dance half-naked at dinner parties. While Harriet was visiting the continent, she unexpectedly ran into Caroline:
"The first thing I saw in the room was a short, very fat, elderly woman, with an extremely red face (owing I suppose, to the heat) in a girl's white frock looking dress, but with shoulder, back and neck, quite low (disgustingly so), down to the middle of her stomach....She was dancing and at the end of the dance a pretty little English boy ran up and kissed her. I was staring at her from the oddity of her appearance, when suddenly she nodded and smiled at me, and not recollecting her, I was convinced she was mad, till William pushed me, saying: 'do not you see the Princess of Wales nodding to you?'"
Caroline's sadness at the loss of visiting her daughter caused her to adopt children left and right. When George caught wind of this (eventually) he saw it as an opportunity to accuse Caroline of bearing other men's children. He launched an investigation of her fidelity in 1806 which didn't prove anything against her. Still, Caroline decided to move out of England to avoid any further investigation.

While living in Europe Caroline partied hard and racked up huge amounts of debt. She also continued sleeping around. Meanwhile (in 1813) her only daughter, Charlotte, died in childbirth. Caroline was devestated. In 1820 George III finally kicked the bucket and it was time for George IV to be crowned. Caroline came racing home to claim her right as queen. As you can guess, George attempted to prevent this at all cost. First, he offered her large amounts of money-but Caroline wanted the power to help the people of England, and money couldn't lure her away. Next, George sued her for adultery, a crime that could stripe her of her title and head. It was at this trial that Caroline claimed she had committed adulterly with only one man: George, her husband. She had a solid point too because he was technically married to Mrs. Fitzherbert, whom he never divorced. The jury saw her point too and George lost his case.

However on the night of the coronation Caroline suddenly fell ill with severe abdominal pains. She was convinced she had been poisoned, and quite honestly, who can blame her for this claim. She died three weeks later, just barely a queen of England.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Book Review: Doomed Queens

An anonymous person once said, "Well behaved women seldom make history." This all-too-true quote constantly ran through my mind while reading Kris Waldherr's latest book, Doomed Queens. Who doesn't like reading about women who chose not to behave? Certainly not us.

Doomed Queens covers just about 3,000 years of queens who met unfortunate ends. The tales of 50 unfortunate queens' lives are retold with sassy panache and humorous commentary. To make the book even more fun Waldherr includes a graphics key that alerts readers to the method of doom. Some of these methods include beheadings, drownings, being burned alive, and imprisonment. Not only does Waldherr include some contemporary portraits of the queens but her own fabulous illustrations-accompanied by some great graphic design. I only wish she had an illustration for every queen. Oh, and did I mention, the book comes with its own paper dolls? Because it does! I became better acquainted with some queens and introduced to others. Here are some of my favorites from the book:

Juana of Castile

Marie Luisa of Orleans

Elisabeth of Bavaria

If you've been enjoying the lighthearted and (hopefully) fun approach to scandalous history that we try to give you here in the Gossip Guides, I think you will also enjoy this romp through unfortunate women rulers. I am so sure that you will like Doomed Queens that if you leave a comment before Monday 24 November you will qualify to be the one lucky reader to win a copy of the book courtesy of the fabulous Ms Waldherr.

Afterthought: If you would like to meet the author and see some of her art and are in New York City this weekend you should drop by her studio and ask her about her book!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Modes of Transportation: Carriages

Carriages were a very important aspect of the aristocrat's wardrobe. Well, not wardrobe, unless you were a certain famous actress who needed everything to match her newest gown. But carriages were very important for showing off just like those rich guys in their sport cars or, my personal favourite, the guys who rev their engine super loud when you walk by. Idiots.

The rich and famous used carriages in much the same way in the 18th century. A daily parade of the decorated vehicles would troll up and down the main streets of London. Your coat of arms on the sides displayed your family's wealth and influence, or maybe who you were dating at the time. The interior decoration had to be of the finest upholstery. Here are a few of the most popular types of carriages used in the Georgian era.

The coach was the basic mode of elegant transportation. It was an enclosed, four wheel carriage driven by a team. These were considered very fancy and you had to be careful to make sure you weren't over-dressed if you went out in one. For instance, your gold coronations state coach is not appropriate for driving up and down the streets on a Sunday.

The Vis-à-vis which literally means "face to face" was given its name because, you guessed it, passengers sat face to face with each other. These could be contained or roofless such as the horse drawn carriages that grace metropolitan parks for tourists. These were marketed as the social carriages.

Another pleasure carriage was the chaise which usually only had two wheels and a movable hood. They were quick and light, in case you were late for your faro game and still wanted to look fabulous and not rushed on the way over.
It was because of their aerodynamics that chaises were chosen for delivering the mail. Post-chaises had a closed body, four wheels, and could seat two to four people on the fast journeys to deliver the post. Usually the driver would sit astride the horse instead of guiding it from the carriage.

Hackney carriages may be an old-fashioned term for taxicabs but that's pretty much what they were in the 18th century too. They were simply carriages kept for hire. The first hackney licenses from England date to around 1662.

Phaetons became popular in the beginning of the 19th century, just in time for those regency romances. This springy, single horse carriages had huge wheels and were good for those country drives.

I think the Vis-à-vis would be my carriage of choice. That is, when I was not using my sedan chair, of course!

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Duchess Poll Results

The results are in, as chosen by you! Before the release date of The Duchess I asked you if you were going to see it. 32 People submitted their opinions and this is what they said:

16 (50%) said I already have my feathers set aside for my grand entrance at the premiere!

9 (28%) said Yeah, I'll see it eventually

2 (6%) said Psh, yeah right, I don't want to witness the murder of a good name

5 (15%)said I'm not stuck in America so I saw it weeks ago!

Last month I asked those who had seen the film to give it their rating on a scale of 5 stars. 113 more people participated in this poll, which resulting in you giving The Duchess an average rating of:
Thanks to everyone for participating!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Tart of the Week: Susannah Maria Arne

Susannah was born into the musical household of the Arne family in 1714. Actually, the household wasn't that musical at all, Susannah was the daughter of an upholster who was the son of an upholster. Her brother, Thomas, who was four years older than her, had an aptitude for composition and managed to escape the family business when a composer noticed his talent and took him under his wing. Thomas' escape must have inspired both of his siblings, who followed him into the music business. Susannah was noted for her beautiful contralto voice so it was no contest that her brother cast her in his first opera, Rosamund, which debuted her to the London stage in 1733.

Susannah and her voice quickly caught everyone's attention. One person who was especially impressed by the young talent was Handel who wrote in parts in Messiah and Samson especially for Miss Arne. He even took it upon himself to tutor her in music and perfect her voice for her rolls. Since Susannah could not read music, Handel would tirelessly teach her her parts note by note.

In 1734 Susannah married Theophilus Cibber the actor-progeny of theatre big-wig Colley Cibber of Drury Lane. As you may have guessed already, the marriage turned out to be a disaster. Cibber's spend-thrift ways led him to sell some of his wife's possessions in order to settle his debts. Mrs Cibbers was happy with her successful career on stage but her incompetent husband was making her miserable.

In order to relieve some of their debts the Cibbers took on a tenant by the name of William Sloper. However, this did little to lift the escalating debts and Cibber began scheming more ways to acquire money. Sloper not only had to pay rent but also full maintenance for all three of them. It was possibly at this point that Mr Sloper was beginning to look really good to Susannah. Not only was he well-off, he wasn't stealing her clothes and making her miserable. Susannah began a relationship with the tenant which her husband seemed to endorse. That is, until he slapped Sloper with a crim con. (divorce/adultery) lawsuit in 1738. As you can imagine, the trial was the talk of the town. But as the charges were brought forth, evidence also began to appear that was not in Cibber's favour. It seemed as thought the affair may have actually been a ménage à trois between all three parties. In fact, some gossip suggests that Cibber initiated the affair between his wife and tenant by forcing her to sleep with him at gunpoint. The jury was not impressed and awarded Cibber a measly £10 instead of the £5,000 he expected.

After the trial Susannah ran away with Sloper and the two had a child together. Meanwhile, Cibber was out for blood and filed a counter-suit. This time he was awarded £500 of the £10,000 he expected. His reputation was forever ruined and he later died in a shipwreck on his way to Dublin.

Although Susannah's reputation was now tarnished she continued to be successful on stage and still worked with Handel. She lived in Dublin until the gossip died down and then moved back to London to continue with her career on Drury Lane. Here she was able to leave her nasty past behind her and work alongside David Garrick as a tragic actress. When she died in 1766 she was honoured in death by being one of the few actresses to be buried in Westminster Abbey.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Devonshire Progeny: Charlotte

Charlotte was not the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire but she was raised by both of them. She was actually the Duke's first (known) child and was born of the commoner Charlotte Spencer (no relation of Georgiana or her Spencer family). Charlotte was born in 1774, the same year that Georgiana married William so he technically hadn't committed adultery in Charlotte's conception. However, he did keep Charlotte's mother as his mistress after her birth, so we can't totally clear him of those early adultery charges.

Charlotte's early life was likely comfortably lived with her mother by the grace (and wallet) of the Duke. He likely provided them with a decent home and even paid for Charlotte to have a nurse. By 1778 he had tired of his mistress, and unfortunately for the the tot, Charlotte Spencer died not too long after the breakup. Now Charlotte was both motherless and a bastard-child. Most children in this situation were doomed a horrible and short existence unless they were charitably recognized by their father. Despite his coldness, and awkwardness with human affection, William was no monster and took his illegitimate daughter, and her nurse, into his home.

By the time the four or five-year-old came into the Devonshires' home, Georgiana and the Duke had been married at least four years and still had no children of their own. You may think that having the illegitimate daughter of her husband in her home would send Georgiana into a rage, but it did not. She immediately doted on the child and gushed about her as if she were her own, much to her mother's horror. Georgiana seemed impertinently ignorant of the whispers about welcoming the little girl into her family. At the time little Charlotte had no surname so the last name of Williams was created for her to distinct her as her father's child-though not legetimate child.

Charlotte grew up dearly loved by both Georgiana and William but with the arrival of Bess she became a neccessary tool in order to keep Bess close to the Devonshires without causing too much scandal. Lady Bess Foster was given the position of Charlotte's governess when the girl was about nine years old. As soon as this arrangement was settled the two set off for France to further Charlotte's education and refine her as a proper little lady (with Bess!? Dear lord, they should recheck her papers...). When Bess got bored with her task at hand and went partying in Europe poor, introverted Charlotte was dragged with her. Georgiana was horrified when word got to her that Bess and Charlotte were living in Naples with two of Bess' lovers. Eventually it was decided that Bess might not be the best fit for Charlotte, who seemed traumatised by her experiances abroad with Bess rather than "much improved." She was left in Paris to continue her education, even through the Revolution.

In 1794 the Devonshires were happy (and relieved) when their agent's nephew asked for Charlotte's hand in marriage. He was no aristocrat, but it was a good and secure marriage, especially considering Charlotte's unfortunate background. Nothing else can really be known of her after that, but Charlotte was likely relieved to settle down to the quiet life of a wife after her circus-like life as a Devonshire.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Flirting shamelessly with the "geeks" has paid off! My laptop is back in my loving arms, earlier than anticipated. They not only replaced my unfortunate screen but threw in a new keyboard for free so I'm pleased.

Thank you for your patience with the delay in gossip. Now everything should be up and running as normal!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Harlot's Progress: Plate 3

It would appear that things have gone quite array for our naughty heroine, Moll since we last saw her. Her fabulous pad as been reduced to a barely-tolerable hovel. No longer do fine paintings grace the walls, now all Moll can afford is prints of Macheath and William Sacheverell that any average person could buy off the streets. Moll no longer has the security of being a kept woman, she is a common street prostitute; not the most glamourous of jobs but it puts gin on the table. She has a cat for company who does a very good impression of the compromising position Moll commonly finds herself in by nightfall. Look, she can still afford a maid...a maid with syphilis but a maid just the same! Actually, come to think of it, Moll doesn't look so good either. She has sores festering on her once-virginal face. Judging by the two medicine bottles on her sill; Moll shares the same venereal disease as her grumpy maid. But luckily, alcohol keeps one merry. Moll happily shows the maid the watch she nicked from last night. Oh but Moll, it appears your time has run out!

The magistrat Sir John Gonson has entered her chambers in order to arrest our Covent Garden beauty but is quickly distracted by the witches' hat and broom on the wall. Is our fair one tempering with the occault? Or even more disgusting for the magistrate to envision: perhaps she does a bit of role-playing with her clients? *Shudders* Either way, this doesn't look too good for Moll. Will her sharp wit be able to get her out of this scrap?

A Harlot's Progress: Plate 1

A Harlot's Progress: Plate 2

Monday, November 10, 2008

Supermodel Height in the Georgiana Era

Anyone who has visited a historical building is well-aware that our ancestors were much shorter than we are now. But how short exactly? Gertrude Mahon was known as the pocket-size Venus because of her height of 4 foot 1 inch, so we know this would put her in the category of "short." On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are a few notable women of 18th century supermodel height standards. One was Thomas Jefferson's daughter Martha (aka Patsy). When Georgiana (also of supermodel height) was introduced to Patsy she was reputed to have said something along the lines of, "It is nice to meet someone the same size as me." Grace Elliott was considered to be extremely tall, hence her nickname of "Dally the Tall" (Lady Craven had a much meaner nickname for her: "Glumdalclitch", after the giantess in Gulliver's Travels).

So how tall were these women? Would they be considered tall today? Carlyn Beccia explains in The Raucous Royals how the average height for a man in 18th century Europe was about 5.5 feet. In England this went up to 5.6 feet for men but only 5 feet for women. Interestingly, Scottish women averaged at about 5.3 feet at the time. Although we don't know exactly how tall Grace, Patsy, and Lady G were, I think it can be easily assumed that by today's standards, they weren't that tall at all! In fact, they were short to average. That means my petite 5'3'' stature would tower over most women of the 18th century. Grace's biographer, Jo Mannings estimates that Grace was between 5.3-5.7 feet tall. Funny to think of when, at 5.6 feet, Kate Moss is notably one of the smallest supermodels today.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Tart of the Week: Gertrude Mahon

Gertrude getting dressed for a night out with Grace and Mary

With the introduction of this tart we have closed on the celebrity courtesan quartet of the late 18th century. Gertrude Mahon, known as the Bird of Paradise, along with Mary "Perdita" Robinson, Elizabeth Armistead, and Grace "Dally the Tall" Elliott formed a celebrity team of the most notorious fallen women of the time. They were both friends and fierce rivals. Of these four women, the least is known of Gertrude whose nickname was perhaps the most complimenting.

Gertrude Tilson was born in 1752, the daughter of a couple in both of their second marriages. Her father, James Tilson had already caused a scandal when he married the widowed Countess of Kerry and squandered their money.* The widowed Countess herself, had no better a reputation but had successfully given her first husband an heir so could do whatever she pleased. And so the future courtesan was born, daughter to two persons of bad repute, and half-sister to the Earl of Kerry. She was raised in extravagance beyond her parents' means in London. Rumor has it, that their home was also the home of two extremely spoilt lap-dogs and numerous pet birds; kind of like the Osbourne's house.

Gertrude was very lovely, with black hair and dark eyes and a waist said to be about 18 inches in circumference. She was also notoriously tiny, even by 18th century standards: about 4 feet, 1 inch tall. These looks attracted many suitors but the one that captured Gertrude's fancy was a Mr. Gilbreath Mahon, an adventurous Irishman who was skilled in the fiddle, but not so much in making a good living. Even Lady Kerry would have objected to the gamester so Gertrude opted to run away in the night and elope with her dashing Irish love. The couple made it to Dover and while waiting for a vessel at an inn were apprehended by men who Lady Kerry had sent after them. Gertrude pled exhaustion and asked to nap before the return which was granted. Meanwhile Mahon drowned his sorrows in drink and asked the men to join him. Soon a huge drunken party was downstairs, and Gertrude slipped out of her upstairs room and hurried to the newly-arrived vessel. After drinking the captors under the table, Mahon joined her in Calais.

Gertrude was quickly forgiven by the family but Mahon was never received. The marriage quickly grew sour after the birth of their son and it wasn't long after that Mahon abandoned Gertrude and ran away with some other young girl. Gertrude was not too upset about her husband's abandonment. But a year later, in 1775 she was devastated when her mother fell ill and died. Now Gertrude was left with no means of income or protection. Her dim-witted half-brother refused to even help her. There was only one option for her to put food in her mouth and (pretty) clothes on her back.

Soon Gertrude was seen at all the social hot spots and masquerades. The newly-divorced Grace Elliott was also making appearances at the same time so it was not long before the extremely tall Grace and minute Gertrude were seen arm in arm, laughing gaily together as they sipped their drinks. Her new occupation was not only earning her money, celebrity, and friends in high was a lot of fun too! Her love of bright, colorful clothing and plumage was what earned this courtesan the nickname of "Bird of Paradise." The press delighted in their crafty name and spent many hours coming up with metaphors for her every move, "The Bird of Paradise is seen hopping about in rather a disconsolate manner. We fear she has had too much saffron administered in the waters of her cage lately."

Lovers came and went. She even accompanied one to Newgate when he was imprisoned for their debts. However when a good masquerade was scheduled, she flew the coop. Her estranged husband, who was now in Jamaica, prevented Gertrude from marrying any of her lovers so she was doomed into tart purgatory. For some time she attempted to lure the Prince of Wales to be her lover but didn't seem as successful as her cohorts in this endeavor. When she didn't get his attention in her opera box, she took to the stage. Gertrude had a small stint as an actress, but not a very memorable one.

Eventually debt sent her to retreat to Dublin where she was welcomed with open arms. Here she found some success not only on the stage but also as a fashion icon. She was known in London to always be sporting extravagant headgear and in Dublin her haberdashery set trends.

She returned from Dublin and seemed to settle into a retirement. Her beauty was finally fading but she still would get a part in a play here and there. With every year that passed her name was seen less and less in the papers until she was a forgotten figure. Even the date of her death remains a mystery because the papers, who were so enamored with her in her youth, never published an obituary.

*Other evidence suggests that Gertrude was actually the neice of the earl of Kerry.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Book Review: Lady Worsley's Whim

When you first begin to read Lady Worsley's Whim you may have to stop and recheck to the book jacket to confirm that it is indeed Non-fiction. Hallie Rubenhold, author of the acclaimed, The Covent Garden Ladies, elegantly writes her biography of both Sir Richard and Lady Worsley in a way which reads like a novel. Given the entertaining antics of the Worsleys and Rubenhol's skills with the pen, I read this biography in record time. I honestly could not put it down!
In an era that valued attractiveness above all other feminine attributes, no one ever raved about Seymour Dorothy Flemming's beauty. No poet ever sang in praises of her prettiness, no gossipy matron ever remarked on her fine figure and in the many printed paragraphs which appeared during her life, at no point did any writer mention her comely features. Although she was not plain, her blue, almond-shaped eyes and mousy hair were considered distinctly ordinary. She had inherited her small stature and later her predisposition to plumpness from her mother, Jane Colman. From her father, Sir John Flemming, she had inherited an enormous fortune.
So begins the story of "a girl called Seymour." If you may recall, Seymour was a tart of the week in May. Like many women of the time she was married at a young age and soon disappointed by her marital situation. This led Seymour to wander into the arms of quite a few men. Strangely enough, Sir Richard did nothing to deter her from doing so. In fact, it would appear he encouraged her infidelities for his own voyeuristic pleasures. He even invited one lover, George Bisset to live with them which is strikingly similar to the menage a trois between the Devonshires and Lady Bess Foster. However, when Lady Worsley decided to elope with Bisset and live a separate life with her lover, Sir Richard was outraged and pressed crim. con. charges against Bisset. However, Sir Richard never expected Lady Worsley to dampen her reputation further by actually inviting her lovers to testify at the trial in order to reveal her husband as a pimp and cuckold.

Rubenhold is not only successful in her style of writing but also in bringing an understanding to both individuals and their situations. She presents new, never-revealed information and makes some valuable assertions into the lives of the mismatched couple. I was delighted to find that there were no slow points in this biography and that Rubenhold's ability in storytelling made the chain of events easy to follow and understand. Other points in this book even had me laughing out loud. Even after the height of the couple's notoriety when they went their separate ways, Rubenhold can still keep your interest in their activities.

If biographies bore you and have deterred you from learning your 18th century gossip, Lady Worsley's Whim will be the right fit for you. If you love biographies or 18th century scandals you will also find this to be a delightful read and a breath of fresh air. Do check it out and get the juiciest of gossip on this tart and her husband's unique story.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Westminister Election of 1784

Every liberal mind revolts at the wretched abuse now leveled at the most amiable of our country women! The base and blurring hand of calumny, however, is raised in vain against the lovely DEVON and her SISTER PATRIOTS, who at this juncture, so much resemble the fair celestials of the Grecian bard, whose attributes of divinity never appeared so brilliant as when forming a shield for the HEROIC LEADER of the OPRESSED PEOPLE!
The Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, 24 April 1784

As the world watches in anticipation of the US election (I know that sounds pompous but unfortunately is true), I thought today would be an appropriate day to talk of an election that was very important to Georgiana. This election went down in infamy because, for the first time, it appeared as if women could make an impact in politics.

The 1783 election of Pitt as Prime Minister sent the Whigs scrambling to secure a dominance over the the Tory MPs. Charles Fox, perhaps the biggest Whig of all, decided a good way to do this would be to run for a seat in the borough of Westminster. Westminster was perhaps the most coveted borough due to its voter size and the fact that it could boast that every male homeowner could vote, unlike other boroughs. Two seats were up for grabs, and there were only three candidates: Fox; the naval hero, Lord Hood; and the rich landowner, Sir Cecil Wray. It was one Whig verses two Pittites and Fox needed all the help he could get.

Of course, this is the 18th century, so things were done a little differently...and maybe, were a little more fun. If you went to the theatre at this time you may have gone just for the circus of the elections. On one side the Duchess of Rutland would be screaming from her opera box, "Damn Fox!" while Lady Maria Waldengrave would retort with, "Damn Pitt!" Ladies, ladies, please; I am trying to enjoy La Reine de Golconde! Obviously, aristocratic women were getting more passionate about politics, despite not being able to vote.

Georgiana loved this circus and decided to put herself right in the middle of it. One can only wonder if she knew what she was getting involved in. She became the ringleader of aristocratic ladies canvassing night and day for Fox. Walking through the cobbled streets with foxtails in her hat, Georgiana would hand out medals to those who professed their support to Fox. Sometimes she would even go door to door into the middle and working class homes to talk to the voters who were on the fence. Her Grace was even known to thrown down a beer with Joe the Plumber Butcher and talk politics. The people of Westminster found that the tall, fashionable, celebrity wasn't all just feathers and faro; she actually presented some really good points. In the process the new mother worked herself to absolute exhaustion.

Georgiana wasn't the only one working her butt off. The person who was by her side almost every day was her devoted sister (to both her and the Whigs), Harriet. Other canvassing team leaders were Mrs. Crewe and Mrs. Damer. The women/tarts who made up these teams consisted of, The Duchess of Portland, the three Ladies Waldengrave, Lady Jersey, Lady Carlisle, Mrs. Bouverie, Lady Worsley, Mrs. Robinson, and Lady Archer.

Of course, being a woman in a man's world and a man's race made Georgiana the target for scathing lies about her methods of securing votes. When rumours came about that Georgiana had exchanged a kiss with a butcher for a vote for Fox, the press ran away with it. Although, Harriet (and maybe the other canvassers) did this, Georgiana always fervently denied doing it. In fact, a bunch of Hood supporters cornered her when she was in their shop canvassing, and demanded kisses of the frightened duchess. The male-driven press and opposing party just couldn't accept that Georgiana's wit and charisma were winning votes, and not her sexual abilities. In satirical prints, and all-out war erupted, with one side criticizing her for kissing butchers, and the other hailing her as an allegory for politics and justice. Hundreds of these prints were published (and are on my broken laptop) but what was and is noticeable is the absence of criticism of the few Tory women-canvassers. Apparently, the campaign was also a celebrity-competition.

After all the criticism and exhaustion Georgiana retired from canvassing. But the votes were so close she was begged to come back. Against her mother's wishes, she returned to canvassing and not a minute too soon too, Fox won the second seat over Wray by 200 votes. Georgiana and the other ladies' efforts did not go to waste.

I will make the argument that without these patriotic women's help, Fox would not have won the election. He was criticized for being quite lazy in the process while his canvassers blistered their feet campaigning for him. He also was behind in the polls many times, and would sulk and become a recluse at Brooks as a reaction, all while his supporters tireless converted voters. The 1784 Westminster Election upset many because it proved that women (shock!) could change the results of an election.

Monday, November 3, 2008

What a Nightmare!

Gentle Readers,

It is with great regret that I inform you that my closest companion-my laptop- is feeling under the weather and, after a strong fight, is in the laptop hospital. While it is being diligently cared for by "geeks" I am left with an old, crappy desktop that doesn't contain the same database of gossip as the pc in question.
So I fear the the beginning half of November will be filled with less gossip. I would like to compare this to when parliament wasn't in session so all the peers and aristocrats would retreat from London into their various country estates. The scandal still continued, but the gossip spread a little slower.
Thank you for your patience, and please do continue to check back!

PS-Of course, gossip is still being spread in France!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

It's Marie's Birthday, Let's PARTY!

Happy B-day to a BFF of Georgie's, the Archduchess of Fabulous, Marie Antoinette. To celebrate, Joy over at Cupid's Charm is holding a Birthday Soiree, and everyone is invited! She asked us to post an item we have made or purchased, inspired by Marie. God knows, I have made many purchases in the sacred name of Marie Antoinette, but I thought I would post these shoes I whipped together for my Halloween costume this year. They are nothing spectacular but you get the picture!

So join the celebration and check out the soiree at Cupid's Charm today!