Category Archives: courtship & marriage

How Romantic Was An Elopement?

The romance and drama of an elopement is a popular theme in the historical love story, but it must have been an uncomfortable and expensive procedure, even without the risk of the rope ladder giving way and tumbling the young lady to the ground, or the furious father giving chase with his shotgun or horsewhip to chastise the bridegroom to within an inch of his life.

The post chaise was the fastest and safest way of evading Papa, although the popular name for these vehicles – yellow bounders – hints that expressions of passion must have been difficult as it swayed and lurched along the ill-made roads. How many nervous brides succumbed to travel sickness and second thoughts by the time the first inn was reached?

They also had a reputation for causing accidents because of the furious pace of escape, as a delightful print I picked up in Paris shows. A chaise and four, with the two postilions urging on the horses, leaves mayhem in its wake. A horse falls, its rider spills into the road and a pig bolts in terror while the lovers are lost to everything in their own private world inside the carriage.

The Great North Road by Charles G Harper (1901) casts a cynical eyes at the post chaise and its passengers –

“Everyone is familiar with the appearance of the old post-chaise, which according to the painters and the print-sellers, appears to have been principally used for the purpose of spiriting lovelorn couples with the-speed of the wind away from all restrictions of home and the Court of Chancery. A post-chaise was (so it seems nowadays) a rather cumbrous affair, four-wheeled, high, and insecurely hung, with a glass front and a seat to hold three, facing the horses. The original designers evidently had no prophetic visions as to this especial popularity of post-chaises with errant lovers, nor did they ponder the proverb, ‘Two’s company, three’s none’, else they would have restricted their accommodation to two, or have enlarged it to four.”

The gentleman planning an elopement would do well to visit his banker first – eloping in any style was an expensive business. There were the bribes of course – the lady’s maid, footmen who must turn a blind eye, the gardener whose ladder might be borrowed. The postilions, who would know at once that something illicit was afoot, would need their palms greasing liberally as would the landladies of the inns along the way if the happy, if queasy, couple wanted a good room for their first night of bliss.

The image above is from a book called Takings: or the Life of a Collegian. It is a satirical romp through the life of a young man by R.Dagley (1821). The picture is captioned ‘Taking Amiss’. Here the ‘hero’ Tom is eloping with his love – note the sign on the wall ‘To the Boarding School’ – the young lady is clearly below age.

At length the wished-for moment was at hand.

(Why should Time creep so slowly when we call?)

The cautious signal by the lovers plann’d,

Was heard and answere’d by the garden-wall

And now her drapery the nymph displays,

Now they [Tom has a friend along to support him] assist, and seat her in the chaise.

 

Not everything goes according to Tom’s plans, however: “One lodging, he conceived, for both would do, But Charlotte resolutely called for two”. Frustrated, Tom settles down to woo her, but has not succeeded by the time her furious relatives locate them and he finds himself facing a duel.

Another significant cost was the hire of the post chaise itself. A prudent lover would hire four horses, to achieve twelve miles an hour, and the chaise cost one-and-threepence a mile. On top of that there were toll gates to pay every few miles and food and accommodation. The canny eloper armed himself with Cary’s New Itinerary or an Accurate Delineation of the Great Roads (as does the writer trying to work out her hero and heroine’s route today!) This at least ensured that the post boys were not adding on a profitable mile here and there.

London to Gretna via Manchester, according to Cary, is 320 miles. That is £20 for the chaise and horses alone, at a time when a housemaid would be glad to earn £16 a year, all found.

Does an elopement still strike you as romantic? Would the thrill of the escape and the delight of being alone with the loved one at last outweigh the discomfort and expense? It is a while since I wrote an elopement into a book – I wonder, should I be thinking of another one?

If you are intrigued by the experience of travelling in Georgian Britain you can retrace some of the iconic routes in Driving Through Georgian Britain: the great coaching routes for the modern travellerAvailable in paperback and ebook it allows the modern traveller to drive the Great North Road, the Bath Road, the Brighton Road and the Dover Road finding what remains and discovering stories of elopement, murder, good meals and bare knuckle fights along the way.

 

 

 

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Queen Victoria’s Papa Designs a Clock Tower

In my last blog post I described my Canadian encounters with William, Duke of Clarence, destined to become William IV, and his beautiful, somewhat older lover, Mrs Frances Wentworth. Now to discover what his brother Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathern, was up to in Canada – and why he had cause to be grateful to Mrs Wentworth.

Edward (1767 – 1820) was the fourth son of George III and, like his older brother William, eventually married as part of the desperate race to produce a Hanoverian heir to the throne after the death of George IV’s daughter and only child, Princess Charlotte. Edward married Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield, widowed sister of Princess Charlotte’s husband Leopold. In 1819 Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent was born, destined to become Queen Victoria. But that was all in the future when Edward was in Canada.

Edward

Destined for a career in the army, all went well at first and in 1789 he was appointed Colonel of the 7th Regiment of Foot. However he returned home without leave and was sent to Gibraltar in disgrace on a much-reduced rank. He found the weather too hot for him, requested a transfer and was sent to Quebec in 1791. He was joined by his mistress, Julie St. Laurent (who eventually spent 28 years with him) and soon settled into Canadian society, although his military service did take him down to the West Indies where he served with distinction.

There are even rumours that Edward married Julie in a Roman Catholic ceremony in Quebec, but I cannot find any proof. It would have been invalid in any case as he needed the King’s permission to marry and a Roman Catholic ceremony would not have been accepted, even if, improbably, Julie had been.

Edward travelled widely in Canada and I encountered him in Annapolis Royal, a delightful historic town on the Bay of Fundy when I stayed in The Bailey House (shown in the photograph below). Edward was entertained here in the 1790s by the Totten family, refugee Loyalists from Westchester, New York. The house retains all its original 1770 features and it was a thrill to stay there.

Bailey House

From 1794 Edward was stationed at Halifax, Nova Scotia, as Commander in Chief of Royal forces in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Halifax has a magnificent harbour and was the Royal Navy’s North American base. Towering above the harbour is the Citadel, a massively fortified military complex. I toiled up the hill in sweltering heat to view it and it is certainly impressive!

Edward brought Julie St. Laurent with him. She had been shunned by Quebec society so he must have been delighted to make the acquaintance the civilian Governor, Sir John Wentworth, and his wife Frances, who had been the lover of Edward’s brother, William.  They welcomed Julie, and the couples became close friends. Perhaps Frances understood the stresses of being a royal mistress!

Edward secured funding for the defenses of Halifax and was instrumental in many improvements in the city, including the building of the Round Church and the Garrison Clock which he apparently helped design. Unfortunately it is covered in netting and scaffolding for restoration at the moment, but it remains a significant landmark.

clock 2

Edward left Canada in 1800, still accompanied by Madame St. Laurent who remained with him until his marriage in 1818. They never returned to Canada.

 

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A Valentine Gift?

I have a tiny enamel box, just 4cm by 2cm high, that was surely given as a love-token, perhaps for Valentine’s Day.

Bilston 1

It is almost certainly a Bilston enamel patch box and, although the lid has suffered some damage a long time ago, the two lovers on the lid and the inscription are still clear.

 Sweets the Love That meets Return

reads the caption and a dashing chap with a curling feather in his hat and a dramatic cloak makes lingering eye contact with a fair maiden carrying flowers.

Bilston 2

You can tell it is a box for patches, or beauty spots, and not for tiny sweets or snuff because of the mirror inside. It is a pleasure to hold – the waisted design means that it fits securely between the fingers of one hand to hold it steady while the patch was applied with the help of the mirror.

The box itself probably dates for the 1770s or 80s when the fashion for patches was at its height. They served to cover up skin blemishes or to draw attention to a pretty dimple or to the eyes. In this portrait the lady is seated at her dressing table, about to apply a beauty spot. The patch box she holds has a mirror inside the lid and on the table is another box, much the same size as mine.

689px-Anne_de_La_Grange-Trianon_by_Circle_of_François-Hubert_Drouais

Circle of Francois-Hubert Drouais (1727-65). Via Wikimedia

Craftsmen in the small town of Bilston, just to the South-East of Wolverhampton, began to make enamelled items in about 1745 when Huguenot refugees settled there bringing the technique with them.  The industry was still flourishing in the early 1800s producing snuff boxes, trinket boxes and similar items, but by the 1820s it was in decline with the reduction in snuff-taking and the improvement in manufacturing techniques for fine bone china objects. Bilston enamellers had vanished by the 1850s.

Today Bilston enamels fetch hundreds of pounds. Mine, with its damage, was a very cheap auction bargain!

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St George’s Hanover Square – and Its Remarkable Neighbour, Trinity Chapel

 

A marriage between the aristocratic hero and his true love in St George’s Hanover Square forms the climax of many a romantic historical novel, and I’ve used that scene myself. The church, completed in 1724, was built to serve the new and expanding residential area between Piccadilly and Tyburn or Oxford Road (now Oxford Street). These handsome streets and squares were a magnet for the upper classes in Society and handsome St George’s was the perfect place to be married or to have your children baptised. The 5th Earl of Jersey, husband of Lady Jersey one of the famous Patronesses of Almack’s, was a churchwarden here, although their marriage was a private one by special licence in their Berkeley Square house.

In a detail from John Roque’s map of 1747 (below) the new church sits with Burlington House to the South and Berkley (as it was then spelled) Square to the South West.

True, it is not in Hanover Square at all, but on the East side of George Street and its position gives the West front a cramped outlook, almost but not quite, looking down Maddox Street. The view at the top of the post (1812, from Ackermann’s Repository) is probably the best angle, then and now.

It is sometimes easy to forget that the occupants of these fashionable squares, great mansions and elegant terraces were serviced by a multitude of tradesmen, servants and labourers, all of whom ‘lived in’ with their employers or set up shop close by or who lodged within easy walking distance of their employment. St George’s was their church too and in between the glamorous christenings and marriages the humbler parishioners were in and out, tying the knot, naming their babies and being buried.

This was brought home to me by discovering my great-great-great grandfather James Wood marrying Mary Baldwin at St George’s. This was a surprise – James was a humble labourer turned chair mender and caner from Berkhamstead in Hertfordshire. What was he doing in London, let alone getting married in Mayfair? Then I discovered that he was a ‘servant’ (no idea what kind) of the Earl of Bridgewater whose country house was at Ashridge, close to Berkhamstead. The Earl had a London home in Albemarle Street (bottom, centre on the map), so presumably James Wood was there serving his employer in some capacity.

After that discovery ancestors marrying or having children baptised at St George’s in the 18th and early 19th century started appearing in large numbers – all from the concentration of piano makers in Marylebone, just North of Oxford Street. Possibly St George’s was seen as an aspirational place to be married because the Marylebone piano key makers, piano string makers, piano striker coverers and occasional dolls’ eyes makers did have other options in the various chapels of ease that had been built to help ease the pressure on the churches in these new and crowded districts.

One of those chapels  can be seen on the map on Conduit Street facing up George Street. This was Trinity Chapel and had one of the strangest histories of any London place of worship. A Chapel of Ease was a chapel either built before a parish church was in existence or added later to take the strain in a very large or crowded parish. This one started life as a moveable Roman Catholic chapel on wheels used by King James II. After he fled the country in 1688 to be replaced by William and Mary, the chapel was abandoned on Hounslow Heath where James had abdicated. Probably he took mass there in one of his last acts as king. It was transported to Conduit Street and turned into an Anglican Chapel of Ease on the initiative of Archbishop Tenison. Later it was acquired by bookseller and High Bailiff of Westminster James Robson, who had it demolished and rebuilt in brick, but because it was on leasehold land it was not eligible to be a parish church, hence the need for St George’s to be built. Unfortunately no images of the remarkable ‘traveling tabernacle’ seem to have survived and Trinity Chapel was demolished in 1875, the owner of the ground having decided that secular buildings would be more profitable.

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A Ceremony Never Omitted Among the Vulgar

letter-on-balcony

“It is the ceremony…never omitted among the vulgar, to draw lots, which they term Valentines, on the eve before Valentine Day. The names of a select number of one sex are, by an equal number of the other, put into some vessel; and after that, everyone draws a name, for the present called their Valentine, and is look’d upon as a good omen of their being man and wife afterwards.” (Bourne Antiquitates Vulgares 1725)

lottery

By “the vulgar” Bourne means the common people, but Valentine’s Day customs appear to have appealed to all levels of society – and nations. In this French fan of the end of the 18th century young women have lots drawn by cherubs for the name of their lovers, each of which has a list of their virtues attached – one young man has none (hence the weeping female in the centre!), one has one virtue and so forth. The luckiest young lady – whose name is Clemence – scoops the jackpot and her lover will be handsome, brave, honourable, true… I found the fan at auction at the same time as I was writing The Piratical Miss Ravenhurst – the heroine of which is called Clemence. Naturally, the hero has to find the same fan in a shop and buy it for her.

John Brand in his Observations on Popular Antiquities (1813) quotes examples of names being drawn for Valentines and also of various ways of divining who your lover will be – for example taking five bay leaves, pining one to each corner of your pillow and one to the middle the night before the 14th and you would then dream of your beloved. The  sending of written Valentines or cards appears to have developed as the postal service improved at the end of the 18th century and the unimaginative male could turn to The Young Man’s Valentine Writer (1792) and copy out one of the sickly-sweet verses it contained.

small-kiss-biggerWhether you picked your bay leaves, sent a card or received a delightful verse – happy Valentine’s Day!

(The little detail of the kissing couple and the naughty young lady at the top of this post are from the French series of prints Modes et Manieres)

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A Tenant For Life – the Georgian Husband

The two illustrations of courtship and the unwanted baby below are details from a fan dated 1797 entitled The Lady’s Advisor, Physician & Moralist which takes a sharp look at everything from spinsters with cats to the unwelcome effects of jealousy.

fan courtship

The image of the courting couple above is captioned  “Look upon or listen to or an object which is agreeable to your mind & if you have the least sensibility you will most probably be over head & ears in pickle.” They are going to end up married out of an illusion of love, at least on her side, according to the cynical writer.

However they ended up in wedlock, most Georgian husbands probably liked to think of themselves as ‘the Cove of the Ken’ – the master of the household, according to the slang dictionaries – but that might not be how their wives, or other men (including their fathers in law), saw them.  Wives acquired a ‘tenant for life’, and he might acquire a ‘petticoat hold’ on her fortune or, if he had a generous father-in-law he might receive ‘hand-basket portions’ or gifts from him.

But what if she has a lover, thus rendering him a cuckold? If he’s an old man with a young wife she might well have a ‘court of assistants’ who ensure that he is wearing ‘the bull’s feather’ and ‘horn mad’ with jealousy. Or she might be a nag – a ‘buttock and tongue’ – and the poor man lives ‘under the cat’s foot’ ‘in Queen Street’. He might then turn to drink, although if she is tolerant she might accompany him to the alehouse which makes him a ‘freeholder’ although if she marches down there to drag him out he will have been ‘arrested by the white sarjeant.’

He could, of course, be very happy with his ‘comfortable importance’, his ‘lawful blanket’ or his ‘rib’ but he might be ‘flying the kite’ with his mistress and if that leads to rows he might ‘divide the house’ with his wife, giving her the outside while he keeps the inside – and the front door key. Certainly someone turning up with a baby to lay at his feet would result in a serious rift, as in the scene below, captioned ‘The Unwelcome Present.’ the husband, looks very shifty as the old lady presents him with his child – and his wife is giving him a decidedly frosty look. Or perhaps she is simply appalled at what he is wearing.

baby

Of course the Georgian husband might be delighted with the arrival of babies – brats, chips, squeakers or bantlings – and I will leave you with this picture of domestic bliss – the happy father pulling his two youngest children in a ‘shay’ up Highgate Hill on a pleasure outing accompanied by his lovely wife and his son. Doesn’t he look happy with his lot in life?

Highgate

The Highgate Hill print is from a book of satirical verse, Takings, or the Life of a Collegian by R. Dagley (1821).

Lots more slang and cant may be found in Regency Slang Revealed

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The Earl of Wittering Goes to the Seaside: Part 11 Porrett Saves the Day!

The Georgian SeasideThe Earl of Wittering, his wife, son and daughter in law and grandchildren are all at the theatre, accompanied reluctantly, by Porrett the Earl’s secretary who is in the throes of a violent, whispered quarrel with his granddaughter, Emily.

‘I love you, Frederick!’ says Emily, her declaration covered in the shrieks from the stage where the melodrama put on by the touring company is reaching its climax with bodies strewn in all directions.

theatre

‘You cannot,’ he whispers miserably. ‘Look at the play – it was a wild success in Chichester.’

‘I don’t care if that is Mrs Siddons out there,’ Emily snaps. ‘Do you mean you do not love me?’

Poor Porrett – to do the honourable thing is to lie. ‘Of course I love you,’ he admits miserably. He cannot lie to his beloved even though, as a gentleman, he should. ‘And it can never be. Your grandfather is the Earl, my employer…’

‘Do not be so feeble,’ Emily says, almost in tears. ‘Tell them all how you feel, ask for my hand!’

‘No,’ says Porrett, resolute in his anguish. ‘I cannot.’ The villain stabs the hero on stage and then falls on his own sword. Porrett knows how he feels. ‘You deserve better.’

Emily makes a sound like a furious kitten and turns her shoulder to him. In the interval her father, the Viscount Ditherstone, announces his intention of taking out a pleasure boat and having a family picnic further along the coast.

‘The fishermen expect high winds tomorrow, my lord,’ Porrett, points out. ‘It might be safer to leave it for another day.’

‘Oh, don’t be such a coward,’ says Emily, nose (somewhat pink) in the air. ‘Papa knows all about sailing, don’t you Papa?’

The Viscount, who has spent two days being seasick on a friend’s yacht ten years ago, smirks ‘No need, for you to concern yourself, Porrett. My father will want you to do some work, I’ll be bound. You needn’t be nervous about getting your feet wet.’

Porrett is still smarting from Emily’s disdain the next morning and indeed, the weather looks set fair as everyone except himself and the Earl set out with picnic hampers to hire a small sailing boat. His last-minute plea to Emily to stay behind was met with a reproachful look and a muttered accusation of not having the courage to stand up to Papa for her sake.

But by midday, as he looks out of the window yet again instead of taking the Earl’s dictation , he sees the black clouds boiling up from the west. The wind is beginning to snap the flags along the promenade. ‘My lord, I have the gravest apprehension about the safety of the sailing party. I should hire a boat and go after them.’

The two men run to the harbour and Porrett hails a pair of fishermen who are just tying up. At first they refuse to take him out, but the sight of the banknotes the Earl is brandishing changes their mind. With Porrett clinging grimly to the mast they set sail. By the time they reach the stretch of coast the Viscount intended to land at for the picnic they see no sign of the boat – but then Porrett spots a slim figure on the shore waving a handkerchief. Emily! And, ‘There’s the boat, sir!’ cries a fisherman and, sure enough, mastless, the little sailing boat with a green-faced Viscount clinging to the thwarts, is just before them. They grapple it and haul him aboard – when he attempted to take the party off again in the face of the rising wind, he was washed out to sea, the mast snapped and the ladies and young Arthur were left stranded on the beach, trapped between the cliffs and the rising tide.shore

Porrett does not hesitate, he leaps into the fishing smack’s rowing boat, casts off and rows for shore. It is rough, dangerous and he is exhausted, but he makes it to land, runs onto the beach, helps the Viscountess and young  Arthur in, then takes Emily in his arms, kisses her passionately and wades into the sea to set her gently into the little craft. He feels he could swim back, he is so elated, but he rows back to the smack and is disconcerted when the Viscountess throws her arms around his neck and kisses him, declaring that he is their saviour, their Galahad, their knight in shining armour. Emily just sits and gazes at him with tears in her eyes. When they reach the jetty the Earl, with a look on his face that promises retribution later for his feckless son and heir, hurries his womenfolk and grandson back to the lodgings. Porrett is left to trudge, wet and exhausted, behind.

He is disconcerted to discover a note commanding him to attend the ball at the Assembly Rooms that evening, wishing instead that he could just put his feet up and nurse his broken heart in decent privacy. But an order is an order. He comes down to join the family in the drawing room and, to his amazement, the Earl embraces him warmly, hails him as a hero and announces that he has secured him an influential post in the Home Office. ‘You’ll need it to keep my little Emily in the manner to which she has become accustomed,’ he announces. ‘I’ve had my eye on the pair of you and you, young Porrett, have the makings of a great man about you. More than my clodpole of a son,’ he murmurs in the stunned secretary’s ear. ‘Well, get on and ask her, don’t stand there like a looby.’

So Porrett finds his voice and, in front of the entire family, goes down on one knee and begs Emily for the honour of her hand in marriage. And Emily, throws her arms around him the moment he stands up (almost knocking him flat), bursts into tears and declares that no-one was ever such a hero as he is.

So off they go to the ball. You can see them just slipping off to the terrace (which leads to the gardens) in the far left of the picture. Sometimes Porrett is not quite such a saint as the Earl believes him to be…

ballroom

Pleasure boats were an essential part of the Georgian seaside holiday, but accidents were not at all uncommon, including one Margate party who were tossed around at sea for more than 24 hours before being rescued – no mobile phones, no life jackets…

You can find out more about the perils of the seaside, the Assembly Rooms, the theatres and their travelling companies of players, or, in fact any aspect of the life of the coastal resorts before the railways came in The Georgian Seaside.

 

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