Despite everything that was happening politically, and the threat of war, Paris remained at the cutting edge of fashion as these delightful bonnets from Le Journal des Dames et des Modes show. (see also the end of this post)
This was not a good week for Napoleon. Having sent out his new constitution for a plebiscite it was greeted with profound apathy. Organisation for the vote was poor verging on chaotic. In one Breton village the mayor noted day after day in his diary, “No votes… rang the bell, nobody came.” In the end only 20% of the electorate voted. In Paris it was 13%.
Paris was jam-packed with troops, so perhaps the civilian population thought there was no point in voting and that they were living in a military dictatorship.
Napoleon did have support from a group called the Fédéres, a movement harking back to the days of the Revolution – “Terror advances us, death follows us; conquer or die,” ran the blood-chilling motto of one group. They were strongest in areas which had seen foreign invasion, such as Alsace Lorraine, and this week their influence reached Paris. Napoleon promptly harnessed their fervour to dig earth ramparts and fortifications to defend the capital.
On Sunday the London papers described the farewell performance of Mrs Mountain (shown left), not a name a glamorous actress would take today! Mrs Rosoman Mountain (c1768-1841) was the daughter of circus performers named Wilkinson and she made her debut in musical pieces at Covent Garden, then toured the provinces at the end of the century, returning to London in 1800. In that year she sang Polly in the Beggar’s Opera at Drury Lane, beginning a career there as one of the top London performers until ill-health curtailed her appearances.
“Mrs Mountain who has for so long and so deservedly been a great favourite of the public, took her farewell of the Stage last Thursday night, at the King’s Theatre. In the course of the evening Mrs Mountain delivered, or rather attempted to deliver, an Address of respectful gratitude to the public, for the long and warm patronage which she has experienced – her feelings during the recital powerfully affecting her utterance. This Address, as well as the whole of the entertainments, were received with the warmest applause, and she retired, or rather was borne off the stage, amidst the fullest testimony that the occasion admitted, of public respect and esteem. The pressure was so great that much of the iron railing in the passage to the Pit was broken away, and many persons were in imminent danger for some time, but happily no serious accident occurred.” (The Examiner)
On the subject of actresses, on Monday the Morning Chronicle carried an advertisement:
“Green-Room Wives! At the British Forum, removed to the Athenaeum Assembly Rooms, Duke’s-court, Bow-street, facing Covent Garden Theatre, on Tuesday next, the following interesting Question will be discussed, viz: “Is it any Degradation for a Nobleman or Gentleman of rank to marry an Actress? Doors open at seven. Chair taken at eight precisely. Admittance one shilling. Early attendance is earnestly requested, as a Gentleman of distinguished classical attainments has undertaken to open the debate.” In the scene below the audience is leaving Covent Garden theatre and Bow Street is crowded with their carriages.
The Monday papers also reported that “A little miserable Dwarf was exposed before the Queen and Princesses, the Prince Regent, the Dukes of York and Clarence etc on Friday. His name is Simon Paap, a native of Zandvoort, near Haarlem in Holland. He is 26 years of age, weighs only 27 pounds and is 28 inches in height.” (Morning Chronicle) The “little miserable dwarf” was actually a highly successful performer and I have blogged about his London visit at more length in another post.
The country may have been bracing itself for war, but fashionable ladies were still agog to hear about the Paris modes. On Wednesday the Morning Post reported on Paris millinery. Here is another plate from Le Journal des Dames et des Modes, which would have been available in London. Other journals, and London milliners, plagarised it freely!
“Rose is the prevailing colour, and we still see roses in many hats. Fashionable milliners sometimes put at different distances up the bonnet bands of gauze, or ribbands, broadly plaited. The fashion of striped ribbons in one breadth, or in large squares, continues. The edges of these ribbons are almost always white, and the stripes are rose coloured, lilac or green. The white straw bonnets are less common than those of yellow straw. Last year a yellow straw bonnet always has a border of frizzed straw. This year the edging is either of ribbon or a half veil of lace.”
On Saturday the Morning Post’s Fashionable World column informed readers that the next ball at Almack’s would be on Thursday the 18th, and that, “The Duke of Wellington having given a Ball [ie a rout] at Brussels, he will next (it is hoped), give a grand route to the enemy.”
The big Society event of the week, however, appears to have been, “The Hon. Mrs Knox’s Ball. In Upper Grosvenor-street on Thursday night, the above Lady gave a superb Ball and Supper, to a host of fashionables. The mansion is fitted up in all the splendour of modern taste; it was on the above evening lighted up with unrivalled brilliancy. Precisely at eleven o’clock the dancing commenced. There were groups waltzing together in the one drawing room; and two sets, of twenty-five couples each, at the commencement of the country dances, in the other. At two in the morning the company sat down to a sumptuous cold collation, arranged with nouvelle elegance, in several rooms. Dancing re-commenced at three in the morning and concluded at six o’clock.” The guest list included two royal dukes, six duchesses, “the Foreign Ministers”, two marchionesses and endless other nobility.
Fashionable London was certainly managing to divert itself from the threat looming on the continent.
13 responses to “The Road to Waterloo Week 11: Voter Apathy Hits Napoleon, London Debates Marrying Actresses and Spring Bonnets Are in the News”
Was all of this in June 1815? I am interested in the ad for the Almacks’ assembly .
Sorry, of course it was in May. duh!
Would you like me to find the exact wording of the announcement? It wasn’t so much an advert as a mention in the social column
Please do . I thought I had the 1815 Post but don’t.
Morning Post May 16th 1815: ALMACK’s Subscription Ball is now postponed to Thursday next.
There is also The Morning Chronicle 22 May 1815 in the column headed Fashionable Parties: Almack’s. The Second Ball will be on Friday next.
No…hang on… have just magnified the page. I misread it (really bad typeface) Postponed from Thursday next to Friday (and I think, but very smudgy) 26th inst. – so that is the ball the Morning Chronicle has picked up. These on-line resources are great, but I much prefer my own copies where I can get a magnifying glass on them!
An Almacks’ ball on Friday! that is the first I have heard of.. I will look at the info in the Chronicle. The notices had usually been in the ads section of the paper. Thanks for the information.
I find it interesting that the dancing didn’t start at the Hon. Mrs Knox’s Ball until 11pm, and supper was at 2am. As there is no comment on those times the implication is that they were quite normal. I didn’t realise balls started so late then!
I think people went to dinner parties first and perhaps guests were arriving and talking and mingling?
And dancing apparently went on until 6am! They must have slept the day away once at home.
I know! I’ve done it at university with balls that went on until dawn and then stumbled off to have breakfast, but I was young then! How did the more mature manage?
If one sat down to dinner at 6 and dinner lasted two hours they wouldn’t get up until 8 and then wouldn’t get to an entertainment until 9. If one ate later the whole was later. Sometimes the ball was scheduled for after parliament finished or to allow people to go to the theatre. People often attended several events in one evening. A more general time was somewhere around 9 with supper at midnight and dancing until 2. It was well known that ladies slept late in town.
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