Sunday, January 31, 2010

Yay or Nay? Elisabeth of Brunswick

For some, like myself, plaid will never die; my closet is just full of it in a every form and color. But sadly for Niel Gow, his plaid pants and matching socks were met with a Nay. In fairness, the results were split right down the middle; so it wasn't a landslide defeat. But perhaps the rustic look isn't to your liking? In that case let us return to our fancy-wear. Scratch that, we're going straight up Rococo!

Antoine Pesne paints the queen of Prussia (1739) in blue with pink bows. Yay or Nay?

[Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten]

Friday, January 29, 2010

Tart of the Week: Henrietta Countess of Suffolk

Although Henrietta Hobart was born in the lap of luxury in 1689 that didn't mean life was going to be easy on her. Her father, Sir Henry Hobart died in a duel when Henrietta was a mere eight years of age and her mother soon followed three years later. It appears that the family moved in with their cousin, the Countess of Suffolk in order to survive. It was the countess' son, Charles, who would take an interest in Henrietta and in 1706 she would marry him in hopes it would bring security to her family.

It does not take too much imagination to figure out what sort of marriage these happy foundations created. Charles was a drunk and a gambler. He also had a tendency to be violent and there were reports that he beat his new wife. It took Charles no time at all to spend all his money and the little bit his wife had brought to the marriage. This lack of funds sent the couple packing for Hanover to get some work at Electress Sophia's court. Henrietta did well in the foreign country, despite being homesick. She made friends with Sophia's grandson, George (the future George II) whose attention to her was more appealing than that of her husband's. During her time in Hanover, Queen Anne died and the English throne went to George I, Sophia's son. The switch in monarchs in England as well as Sophia's death right before, sent the Howards back to England looking for work.

Henrietta was able to gain a position as a Lady of the Bedchamber to the new Princess of Whales, the wife of George, her newfound friend. Well, it wasn't long before they were more than friends! Isn't it so very Tudors of Henrietta to carry on an affair with the husband of her employer? Her lack of respect for her boss was rewarded with a promotion to full-time mistress, a position that her husband must have been well-aware of. This coveted position came with full benefits: securities, money her husband couldn't legally touch, endless gifts, a trust fund, and property.  However George was still in love with his wife so he treated Henrietta awfully, as many men with mistresses treated their wives.

When the king died and George ascended to the throne as George II, Henrietta went through another promotion, this time as royal mistress to the king. I suspect this coveted position was one of high-stress and her husband constantly bugging her for money probably didn't help. Eventually, she used the money she earned to by him off and make him go away, legally separating from him. When Charles became the 10th Earl of Suffolk in 1731 Henrietta was now too high of rank to serve as a lady of the bedchamber. A perfect chance for Queen Caroline to ditch the Harlot, right? Instead, she promoted her to Mistress of the Robes!  Queen Caroline liked having Henrietta under her thumb and specifically holding her water basin in the morning.  Henrietta was merely a court pawn to both the king and queen, used and abused.

In 1733 the Countess of Suffolk became a widow after many miserable years of marriage. By 1734 Henrietta, well-off from her mistress position (not the robes one) and weary of life at court, retired from her positions with the king and queen.  The queen argued with Henrietta about her retirement but the strangely enough it was George who was happy to let her go. She was given a pension from the king to live comfortably in retirement. Henrietta didn't wait long to marry and her new choice was George Berkeley, which surprised many. Lord Hervey described him as "neither young, handsome, healthy, nor rich" but Henrietta saw past all that and was deeply in love with him. The two were soul mates. She happily spent her days with George and intimate friends which included at one point or another, Alexander Pope and Horace Walpole.

Henrietta was heartbroken when her beloved husband died in 1746. She spent the reminder of her life in ill-health before finally dying in 1767 and was laid to rest beside the man she loved the most at Berkeley Castle.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Powder Me

Do you spend your mornings being tortured with the decisions of what to wear? Should it be the polonaise or anglais, the red waistcoat or the green? There is simply just too much to think about. And what about that hair? You have the style down but what about the powder? The eighteenth century had people powdering every inch of themselves creating an endless demand for those in the powder business.

You could powder your hair just about any color you wished ranging from the pristine white to the macaroni-approved, unnatural colors, such as blue. In the early part of the century, white was the established color of choice but by the end grey seemed to take over in popularity. Of course, you could always just go without...but then again with all that pomade in your hair and lack of regular shampooing, maybe powder was the best way to go.

Just for fun, I thought I'd whip up an online quiz (a short one, mind you) to help determine the right powder color for you. But as for brand or scents, that is up to you; personally you will usually find me with Lush's Candy Fluff in my hair (no lie) because my hairdresser to this day always recommends it to prevent over-washing. See, they knew their hair then! Take the quiz here and don't forget to tell us your result!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Stomacher

The illusion of shape is a common challenge in fashion and one of the many tools to procure this shape was the stomacher. While many people may tend to associate stomachers with the 18th century, they had been around for centuries, giving a narrow-wasted illusion to its wearer.

Stomachers are a triangular and stiff piece of fabric that is used to connect the two sides of a gown or jack around the front. While this clothing panel may have begun as a functional implement, the 18th century gave rise to it as a fashionable piece. Robes a la francaise were known as open gowns due to the fact that they were "open" to reveal the stomacher. Stomachers could be sewn into the garment or they were attached to the reverse of the bodice and could be removed. The overall effect displayed a perfectly flat chest, for a ladies' midsection should be smooth and almost cone-like. These accoutrement's were usually lavishly adorned with embroidery, ribbons, or even fancy jewels. In the middle of the century there was a trend for rows of bows descending the stomacher, these were called en échelle or ladders. Judging by her portraits, Madame de Pompadour was quite a fan.

Here are some surviving stomachers which show just how elegant and amazing these accessories could be.

circa 1760


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Squee! Emma Twitter Party!

Don't forget, North American Austen-fans; part one of Emma premieres tonight at 9:00 on PBS!

Also, don't forget to join us for the Twitter party happening at the same time. Mr. Collins would want you to know only the most illustrious people will be there. Here are some that I know are attending:

Yours Truly, @GeorgianaGossip
Lauren of Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide, @MarieGossip
Vic of Jane Austen's World, @JaneAustenWorld
Laural Ann of Austenprose, @Austenprose
Masterpiece on PBS, the grand MC of the party @masterpiecepbs

What a witty crowd! Don't forget to label your party tweets with #emma_pbs.

For other hilarious Austen giggles I have to include Under the Mad Hat's Pride and Twitterverse.

Will you be joining us? Let me know with your twitter user name. See you at the party!

Yay or Nay? Niel Gow

There was a resounding Yay for the classic look of Maria Anoinetta's grand display of a robe a la francaise. I am happy that many were in agreement with me that she could do without the cherubs in her ensemble though. The selection this week I couldn't resist putting up, based on its small reaction from a post of last week.

Henry Raeburn paints Niel Gow (1787) in his Prussian blue wool coat and waistcoat, plaid pants, and plaid stockings; no doubt celebrating the uplifting of the tartan ban. Yay or Nay?

[National Galleries Scotland]

Friday, January 22, 2010

There is Always an Excuse for a Party

1781 was the height of Mary "Perdita" Robinson's celebrity. This is most likely because she and the Prince of Wales had just broken up and EVERYONE knew about it. His new squeeze was "Dally the Tall, Grace Dalrymple Elliott, whom was newly single from her scandalous divorce. Naturally, it was claws out for the two tarts.

By October of that year Perdita had decided she had enough and needed a little getaway. Her fifteen minutes of fame allowed her to visit the French court and rub shoulders with Marie Antoinette. Grace was more than happy to see Perdita embark. According to the papers, she threw a party to celebrate the lack of competition for the Prince's affection (even though that was soo over).
"...Dally the Tall gave a superb fete last night at her house near Tyburn Turnpike, in consequence of the Perdita's departure for the Continent, whose superior charms have long been the daily subject of Dally's envy and abuse."
Perhaps the press just misconstrued Grace's intentions for a good time. But then again, a themed party is always much more fun.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Emma on PBS this Sunday

The wait is over! This Sunday, 24 January, the first episode of Jane Austen's tale of a rich-girl matchmaker, Emma will grace North American televisions. This new version has a delightful cast which includes Romola Gari, Michael Gambon, and the ever-delicious Johnny Lee Miller.

Be sure to tune in this coming Sunday at 9:00 (check your local listings!) to see part one. To make things a little more fun, PBS has invited everyone to partake in a twitter party where you can dish about the movie. It's like a giant, gossipy tea party! You Know Who can't miss that! Will you be there?

Masterpiece's Official Emma Site
Twitter Party Invitation

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When Plaid Wasn't 'In'

The British have a nasty history of trying to ruin the Celtic spirit with crazy psychological laws and bans. During the Jacobian uprising of 1745 George II began to worry about Scotland revolting and decided to implement another spirit-crushing law intended for a certain nationality. The law declared that no one
"shall, on any pretext whatsoever, wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland clothes the Plaid, Philabeg, or little Kilt, Trowse, Shoulder-belts, or any part whatsoever of what peculiarly belongs to the Highland Garb; and that no tartan or party-coloured plaid or stuff shall be used for the Great Coats or upper Coats..."
No plaid? I wouldn't survive. The ban on plaid didn't apply to soldiers uniforms. The reason for this: the sight of plaid struck fear into enemies. But Scottish peasant and noble alike were forbidden from donning the fabric of their heritage. Those who dared challenge this decree faced a prison sentence. Well, I happen to know one such daring individual, Jane Duchess of Gordon. The Duchess didn't fear the law and was known to wear plaid; and she got away with it too! No doubt she escaped persecution due to her constant sucking up to the king! It didn't matter too much anyway because by 1782 George III lifted the silly fashion ban.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Georgie, Vicky, and their Overbearing Mothers

This weekend I finally got around to seeing The Young Victoria which was an absolutely dazzling film. I will try not to go on about how everyone should see it or how the acting and costumes were fabulous but I will just tread lightly on a fun discovery.

While looking up images of Victoria, Duchess of Kent (Queen V's momma) I came across this 1821 print on Wikipedia depicting the Duchess and the future queen.

Any Georgiana fans might look at that and go "Hmmm, that looks quite familiar." Why yes, because Joshua Reynolds has one just like it from 1759 portraying Lady Spencer and Georgiana. Interesting, no?

There was actually a few similarities between Victoria and Georgiana when it came to their relationship with their mothers. First of all, they both were named after their mother, with the intention of being their mother's obedient little clone. Both the Duchess of Kent and the Countess Spencer had strong and planned-out aspirations for their daughters, they were both somewhat over-protective, and they both were criticized for it by their contemporaries (you may recall Walpole sarcastically referring to Lady Spencer as the "goddess of wisdom"). Both the Duchess and Countess dearly loved their daughters and wanted the best for them but their stern ways made them seem cold and even unloving. This really backfired on the Duchess of Kent since Victoria would later ground her mother when she became queen. Georgiana, however, always looking to please, always seemed to accept her mother's ways and believe herself a better person for them.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Yay or Nay? Maria Antoinetta

Did you enjoy your empire fashions? It appears so because this time, Pauline Bonaparte got a Yay from the masses, although many of you wanted to burn her headband. This weekend we are going to look at a different royal beauty in a classic gown.

An unknown portrait of the Spanish princess, Maria Anoinetta shows her in the classically 18th century embroidered gown, with simple plume and jewel accouterments. Yay or Nay?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Exciting Business for Chatsworth 2010

For anyone planning any upcoming excursions to Chatsworth, this is the year to do it. As reader, Polonaise pointed out there will be a lecture on our favourite Duchess on April 28. What I would give to be able to attend that! Whats more, Chatsworth is not only opening up a new tour route but a whole gallery dedicated to Georgiana. Swoon. But don't step into your carriages just yet. Chatsworth House does not open until March. In the meantime you can get all excited with updates from the official website and blog.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Oh No She Didn't! Poor Bess

Bess, being Georgiana's confidant, was very well aware of the Duchess' mounting debts. By the time Georgiana successfully delivered a healthy child, Bess was living in Turin, Italy. She was both jealous and fearful that this child would bring husband and wife closer together and she would soon be forgotten. At the time Bess was being supported by the Devonshires, but strangely enough would find herself running out of money. Is Turin a pricey place? Either way, her letters to Georgiana begged for money and contained a lot of 'I owe ya one!' which was slightly suspicious because she used to only reluctantly accept gifts of money. Georgiana's letters to Bess talk of how she would of course give Bess the money she needed, and then would consist of her thinking out-loud (via letter) about how she would manage to sneak the money to Bess with all the debts she was already worrying about. Not only was Bess well-aware of Georgiana's debts, she was not in need of extra money. She threw what money Georgiana spared to her in the bank. So much for IOUs.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Integration in the Army

During the American Revolution one in twenty soldiers was a black man. Soldiers fought in integrated troops during that first US war. It wouldn't be until the Korean war -almost 200 years later, that the US would integrate troops.

The British recruited many black people to the Tory cause, promising freedom if Great Britain was victorious. If they held true to their word, slavery would have been obsolete in British North America.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Yay or Nay? Pauline Bonaparte

I certainly would not boast of being able to predict the outcomes of the weekly Nay or Yays. I was sure that María de las Nieves Fourdinier would not appeal to the masses but surprise, she was met with a strong Yay! This week let us rejoin an old friend.

Robert Lefevre paints Marie Pauline Bonaparte (1808) once again, this time without her breast showing, in her white and gray gown. Yay or Nay?


Friday, January 8, 2010

Tart of the Week: Flora MacDonald

In 1722 in the northern islands of Scotland a little girl named Flora MacDonald was born, destined to become an icon of Scottish patriotism. Her father died while she was a child and her mother remarried another MacDonald (there weren't many other clans on the sparsley populated island). Gossip has it, that new Husband MacDonald actually abducted Mrs. MacDonald to marry her! That would explain why Flora was raised by the head of the clan instead of her mother. When she was thirteen, a friend of her mother had Flora join her own daughter in receiving a lady's education in Edinburgh.

Scotland was politically abuzz in the early eighteenth century. The Jacobite political movement had been afoot, trying to restore a Stuart king to the throne of England, ever since Queen Mary (with her Dutch husband) took the throne from her Catholic father in 1688. Prince Charles Stuart was the grandson of King James II and known as Bonnie Prince Charlie to the affectionate Scots and the Old Pretender to those who opposed his claim to the throne. Charles himself, fancied the English throne and fought for his right to it, therefore becoming the newest mascot of the Jacobite movement. The young prince was also just two years older than Miss Flora MacDonald.

In 1745 Flora was back in the northern islands of Scotland when Charles ended up hiding out there after a defeat at the Battle of Culloden. He wasn't safe there and needed to get out before the local militias discovered him. The person willing to do that job was Flora. She dragged- up the prince, disguising him as her Irish maid, Betty Burke, and secured a passport to the mainland. That is how Bonnie Prince Charlie passed right under England's nose, thereby saving Charles' life as well as preserving the Jacobean sense of hope. However, the plan wasn't foolproof and after arousing some suspicion in trying to arrange further transport for Charles, Flora was summoned for questioning. By then Charles was safe and Flora proudly confessed to her crime, stating that it was an act of humanity, one which she would have done to any soul in peril. But just look at that tartan gown she wears, Flora was feisty, daring, lass willing to risk everything for a cause she believed in.

Her actions landed her on a nasty ship ride to London to be thrown into the Tower of London. Flora was only there briefly before she was allowed to live on parole before being released. The people of England seemed to take pity on her due to her excellent tale of female heroism. As we all know, the English public loved good stories, especially when they concerned someone sticking it to the king. Flora's new celebrity welcomed her into society and even allowed her to meet people such as Samuel Johnson and even the son of the king she allegedly took action to dethrone. When the prince asked her why she did it, her response was that she would have done the same for him if he had been in need. She obviously had no problem being blunt!

After all that Prince Charlie fuss died down, Flora decided to settle down and marry. The man was yet another MacDonald, Captain Allan. The two would eventually move to North Carolina. When the American Revolutionary War broke out, the couple surprising sided with the loyalists, thinking the Colonies would loose. With Flora's history with the monarchy, she feared what would happen to her and her family if King George found out her treasonous ways hadn't died. Luckily, her family survived the war. However, by 1779 she had decided that living in the newly formed United States wasn't for her and it was time to move back to her beloved Scotland. During the voyage, pirates attacked the ship and the ever-stubborn and spirited tart refused to leave the deck, sustaining an arm injury.

Flora eventually did make it back to her native land and remained there until her death in 1790, at the age of 68 -two years after her former partner-in-crime, Bonnie Prince Charlie died.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Johan Zoffany, Colonel Blair with his Family and an Indian Ayah, 1786

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Vauxhall Gardens by Thomas Rowlandson

We can thank Thomas Rowlandson for such great insight into celebrity doings of the late 18th century. In one his more famous prints, Vauxhall Gardens, he congregates all the big social players of London at the time, doing what they do best. Although the two definitions can overlap, the difference between celebrities and historical figures is that celebrities fame is short-lived and they can be forgotten over time. One of the things I enjoy about Vauxhall Gardens is seeing which celebrities of the time are historical figures and who just faded into obscurity and is just a random name on a page.

Now let's see who I can point out for you!

On the left, in the dining box, is Samuel Johnson and his crowd. However, I will note that this is up for debate among historians as to whether this is true. Pigging out with him is Boswell, Goldsmith, and Mrs. Thrale.

Above them, singing to the crowd, is another figure historians haven't agreed on. Some say it is the celebrated singer, Mrs. Weichsel others say it is her daughter, Elizabeth Billington who surpassed her mother's fame. Leading the orchestra behind her is composer, François-Hippolyte Barthélémon.

Below her in the crowd, observing some fabulous ladies with his monocle is Topham Beauclerk. And who might those ladies be who are catching Topham's eye?

Dead center, is Georgiana (in white) and her sister Harriet, in a blue riding habit. Both ladies are gossiping away unaware of the fact they are being checked out. Fluttering around them are Admiral Paisley and the editor of the Morning Herald, Sir Henry Bate. Next to him in the kilt, is the editor of the rival publication, the Morning Chronicle, James Perry. What a gossipy grouping! Perhaps those journalists are following our favourite ladies around in order to find a good story to put in print.

If they would only direct their attention the other way they would see the ravishing Mary Perdita Robinson, accompanied by her loser husband. On the other side of her is none other than the Prince of Wales, whispering sweet nothings into her ear, despite the fact that in reality the lovers had disbanded by then.

Monday, January 4, 2010

On Georgiana

"I regret the Duchess's departure very much. As for Lady Elisabeth, she is nice enough but one can do without her, but the Duchess has a thousand good qualities and an excellent heart."

Lady Sutherland

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Yay or Nay? María de las Nieves Fourdinier

Leave it Boswell to finally look decent and still be rejected by our panel. Johnson's companion had a few Yays in there but still achieved an overall Nay. Many people didn't agree with his sloppy buttoning or the odd choice of colors. I'm going to take another chance this week and throw out another person who went with complimentary colors.

Luis Paret y Alcázar paints María de las Nieves Fourdinier in her open gown of burnt red and sage satin. I wonder if she powdered that hair blonde... Yay or Nay?

[Museo del Prado]

Saturday, January 2, 2010


I normally don't like making resolutions for the new year because they are just made to be broken. But this year I will give it a try. My resolutions for 2010 are:

Only gossip behind the shield of a fan (and blog).

Stop teasing the rakes.

Do you think I will be able to uphold them? I know I can manage at least one...

So what are your New Year resolutions?